This past year, I started down the orchestra audition trail. I’ve learned a lot and gotten better for it. I’m not an expert but I wanted to share a few of those things.
Lesson 1: You really do have to prepare that exhaustively.
I always knew the level of preparation it took to succeed at an audition in my head, but in my gut, I thought it was overkill. I didn’t think anyone would really be sitting behind the screen with a tuner, making sure all the notes are in tune. Turns out people really do that. Contrary to other types of performances, there aren’t really forgivable flubs in the first round. You get 5 minutes to prove that you’re a person they should hear play more, so those 5 minutes need to be the best you’ve ever had. This gets me into mock auditions. Plural. One isn’t enough. You should do a mock audition everyday for a couple weeks before your audition. Playing an audition should feel as natural as playing your scales.
Lesson 2: Really know the whole pieces.
This is more of a one-time thing, but you need to know the pieces the excerpts are from like the back of your hand. Play through the entire piece, with the recording, even if only a ten bar excerpt is on the list. Listen to the recordings for the entire work, not just the movement you’re doing. Excerpts are often solos where phrasing and style can be informed by what was happening before the solo starts or by the accompaniment. Sometimes, the solo brings back a previous theme, and you can show that in your playing. The more informed you sound, like you’ve actually played all the pieces before, the better.
Lesson 3: Listen to recordings that are at the tempo you want to play the excerpt
Picking your tempos is a bit of a job all in itself. Rob Knopper has a great post about how to do this. After you’ve picked your tempos, listen to recordings that are at the tempo you want to play. This should be obvious, and maybe it is to everyone but me, but I just picked the best recordings I could find, and generally played the tempo they took, but for the major excerpts, like Leonore 3 or Mendelssohn Scherzo, I had set tempos I played them at already, and didn’t take the time to find reference recordings at my tempos. And of course, in the moment, I tried to play both the tempo in my head and the one I had practiced, and was all over the place. Don’t do that, listen to recordings that will help you.
Lesson 4: Auditioning is a full time job.
Looking at above lessons learned, you might be thinking, this is a lot of time put into taking one audition. And it is. It’s hard work, and while some of it you do once and then have forever, (like finding good reference recordings for major excerpts, or getting parts and scores), there are always a couple random excerpts that you’ve never had to prepare before. Just looking at how much music you have to prepare, (usually over an hour of notes) to such a high level, of course it’s time consuming. This is hard for those of us who have to work for a living, but not impossible. It won’t be fun to work all your normal jobs, and then spend 5 or 6 hours working on audition repertoire (practicing, listening, reading scores, finding recordings, etc.), but it helps knowing that it’s only for 6 weeks.