The Berlin Philharmonic's members cloistered in an undisclosed location Monday to elect their next chief conductor, one of the most prestigious jobs in the world of classical music.
The orchestra's 124 permanent musicians, who have been sworn to absolute secrecy until the ballot and asked to leave their mobile phones outside, will democratically choose their next maestro, who is to replace Britain's Sir Simon Rattle in 2018.
The global community of classical music aficionados has been abuzz for weeks about who will take up the baton and assume the title of artistic director in Berlin -- the mystery heightened by the fact that "every living conductor" is a potential candidate.
The Philharmonic asked journalists to meet at 1200 GMT at a church square in Berlin's leafy southwest to await the announcement, warning them to prepare for "possibly a long wait".
Among the names being talked about have been young stars such as Latvian Andris Nelsons, 37, who heads the Birmingham and Boston symphony orchestras, and curly-haired Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, 34, who is nicknamed "the Dude" and now conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Also often mentioned are Berlin native Christian Thielemann, 56, now at the Staatskapelle Dresden, and the musical director of the Berlin State Opera, Argentine-born Israeli Daniel Barenboim, 72, although he recently said he is not a candidate.
The Berlin Philharmonic -- founded in 1882 and seen by many as the best orchestra in the world -- is unique in that its musicians chose their chief conductor themselves, in a conclave vote often likened to a papal election, minus the white smoke.
Everywhere else it is boards and trustees, or sometimes politicians, who decide.
- Secret ballot -
In the secret vote, which national news agency DPA said was underway, the orchestra's members were to first propose a list of candidates, then discuss them and vote to create a shortlist.
Further rounds of voting, which is taking place somewhere in western Berlin with a lawyer in the room, would whittle down the list until one candidate emerges with a "clear majority", said the orchestra's spokeswoman Elisabeth Hilsdorf.
The exact number of votes cast for each candidate will be kept secret, however.
Once a candidate is picked, a member of the voting committee calls the person to offer him or her the job.
Should the person refuse, the orchestra would reconvene to discuss how to proceed. The winner was expected to be announced sometime on Monday afternoon.
- 'Hardest, best job' -
Rattle, who has led the "Berliner Philharmoniker" since 2002, will take over as chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2017.
He will spend his final year commuting to London from Berlin, where he lives with his third wife, mezzo soprano Magdalena Kozena, and their young family.
The 60-year-old Liverpudlian, with his characteristic white mop of hair, said in a recent newspaper interview that Berlin was "simultaneously the hardest and best conducting job in the world."
With still three more years to go in the German capital, he said his time in its iconic concert hall, the Philharmonie, has been "exceptional".
The Berlin Philharmonic tours tirelessly and has recently pioneered the online streaming of its concerts via its ground-breaking Digital Concert Hall.
It has one of the world's most prolific recording contracts and a massive back catalogue, a reference for classical music aficionados worldwide.
Around 30 of the world's best conductors are regularly invited to direct its concerts and it is from that pool that the new chief is likely to be chosen.
The vote would normally have been held in the Philharmonie.
But a special ceremonial concert is being given in the building Tuesday to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel, forcing unusually tight security measures.