The past two days we held viola auditions for a section viola position here at the Oregon Symphony. Turnout was relatively low, around 40 people actually showed up for the preliminary round. A position has been offered to one of the finalists, but I can’t give any more information than that at this time.
It’s always a learning experience for me to sit on an audition committee (nine players, including the five string principals, members of the section, and an at-large member of the wind-brass-percussion section), and this time was no exception. A couple of thoughts about the process for participants and interested observers over the last two days:
- The concerto is just as important as the excerpts. Why? Because that initial impression that the committee gets from the solo is hard to overcome if it’s a negative one. You’ve eliminated virtually any benefit of the doubt that you could have earned from those who are evaluating your audition.
- The spiccato stroke is vital to a good audition. That’s why everyone asks for the Mendelssohn Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A good, even, controlled spiccato indicates a high level of bow control and sophistication of technique. Basically, if your Mendelssohn Scherzo is not good, don’t bother showing up at an audition – it will eliminate you.
- Rhythm in the concerto/solo matters. Yes, you do have some leeway that you might not be allowed in the excerpts, but all of us on the committee know how the orchestral accompaniment goes, too, and if you’re doing some wacky stuff that clearly would not fly with an accompaniment, it’s going to cost you some goodwill.
- Play in tune. Seems obvious, but it happens much less than one would suspect in auditions for most orchestras. Play both with a orchestral tuner (the kind with a needle display) and play against a droned pitch. It will work wonders in centering your pitch. I wrote “pitch” in my notes for 95% of the candidates. Our winner played absolutely in tune for all three rounds.
- Dynamics are your friend. A lot of people play in the range of mp to mf. In excerpts that require pp to fff. This isn’t good. It’s hard to play well from very soft to very loud, but it is essential (especially in the softest dynamics, which are the acid test for the best orchestras) to show the committee that you can play the extremes and all the gradations in between.
- Use up-to-date editions. In Mozart and Beethoven, especially, it’s important to have parts that are from a good scholarly edition that has the latest iterations of articulations and errata. Call the personnel manager and find out what parts the orchestra library is using. Then order your own parts. It will help you not only to play the articulations and notes that the committee is reading from the orchestra’s parts, but also will help you to mark the exact excerpts with the same rehearsal letters and bar numbers that the principal will be using at the audition.