It happens. I remember one orchestra holding an audition for the same spot year after year and never finding the person they wanted. Sometimes this happens because the person everyone really wants didn’t play the best audition and they are waiting until that player does, so they can honestly hand them the job. But other times who knows? You can read this article about those unfilled chairs.
I dislike the audition process. It’s unnatural and doesn’t tell the whole story, but as Douglas Yeo says in the article, “It’s a terrible process, except no one has come up with a better one,” said Yeo, the bass trombonist. “It’s like what people say about our government – it’s the worst system of government in the world, except for all the others.”
One thing the article implies that I certainly haven’t encountered is that once someone wins an audition they are in for life. I’ve never heard of an orchestra that doesn’t have the tenure review process. We have that for a reason: as I wrote, the audition doesn’t tell the whole story, and we need time to determine if the player is truly the right person for the job.