I LOVE auditions. Have I mentioned that before? It is so inspiring to hear wonderful players performing beautifully for us, and I always learn something that I can apply to my own work.
Friday we listened to Cello, Bass, and Violin auditions here in South Bend. In each case, the candidate was asked to start with the exposition of a “standard concerto”. In practice, this means that everybody played a different piece, which in many cases was unfamiliar to me. A concerto that bass players learn as a “standard” is not necessarily one that is frequently performed in the orchestra, and even a piece I’ve played many times, like the Sibelius Violin Concerto, sounds different when I’m listening from the house and not playing at the same time. How, I asked myself, is this segment of the audition relevant to me? As the token wind player on the committee, I figured I’d just wait for them to get to the excerpts; since everyone would be playing the same material I could then compare apples to apples.
But that’s not how it felt at all. Even having never heard a piece before, you can tell if a person is playing in tune. Even the first time through, it’s apparent if the rhythm is insecure. And most importantly, you can tell immediately whether the player is communicating or not. A surprising number of people in our first round played fairly proficient concertos which just didn’t mean anything. Strings of notes with no purpose. Some who started out with a lovely singing line lost track of that line the first time the piece became technical. As though at that moment the metronome was the only thing they were trying to channel. As though getting all of those triplets or doublestops in was what making music was all about.
I would not say that this was the case for any of the outstanding musicians we hired. The attention and care that are required to really understand your music and the ability to communicate that understanding to a listener are, unsurprisingly, transferable skills. Although a section violinist IS much of the time a technical workhorse, with little personal discretion as to how a line is phrased, and although the orchestral excerpts are primarily technical and permit little interpretation, still the players with a sense of line, style, and communication rose to the top of our consideration immediately.
The entire day, there was only one candidate I heard whose concerto moved me but for whom I did not vote. You’ve got to prepare the excerpts too - even an excellent player can make just too many mistakes to be advanced. But in general, a beautiful, singing, communicative opening to the audition led to more beautiful, intentional, well-directed playing thereafter. Great players just can’t be ignored.
So it matters. The Standard Concerto clause of the audition repertoire list is a candidate’s chance to speak directly to the committee. To make himself a person worth working with, and a person worth getting to know, musically. Without words, and behind a blind screen, you can reach out and touch someone - which is always worth doing.
I was honored to have heard so many outstanding performances on Friday. Thank you, everyone who played for us! I’m inspired and enriched by your work.