Tips for successful auditioning
- Do your research (see below)
- Ask what sort of repertoire they would like you to perform. If they send set pieces, learn them inside out so you perform at your best.
- Choose solid pieces - The auditioners are listening to see if you will blend in, so if the choice of material is left up to you, pick a solid piece that you know very well.
- Dress smartly and comfortably
- Relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing and stretching, will get your energy flowing and could enhance your playing technique.
- Speak clearly and confidently when asked questions. Even if you do not feel confident, act as though you are, and you will appear so.
- Concentrate on your playing and how much you love the piece. Get inside the music — do not analyse it, trust your body to take over.
- Glide past mistakes - as with any performance, if you make a mistake, just smile and keep going as if nothing untoward has happened.
- Be gracious. When you are finished, thank the auditioner and accompanist. Manners and people skills are high on any employer’s checklist.
Look out for the MU’s Audition Masterclass series. These events are designed to help musicians with professional orchestral experience to refine their audition skills.
Do your research
When embarking upon the journey towards a position in a professional orchestra, it is important to do your homework by researching not only which orchestra or ensemble may fit your requirements, but also what they might expect from you, the potential member, during the audition process.
The goalposts are different for each organisation — always try to find out as much as you can before applying. Most music colleges, conservatoires and universities have career counsellors who can help you gather information and give you advice — perhaps including personal anecdotes — on auditioning for a particular group. You can do some research of your own by going online.
Should I audition?
Consider the level at which you are aiming — there is no point in applying for a first flute seat in a large orchestra if you do not possess any experience playing the same position in a less high-profile ensemble.
Discussing your aims with a trusted tutor or fellow players who possess greater experience than yourself can be extremely valuable. This would effectively enable you to ascertain whether you are at the right stage to audition for a particular position — both in terms of your own talent and the needs of the ensemble in question.
The Application Process
1. The application
A good CV is essential and you must tailor it for each prospective group. A one-page CV that packs a punch will be far more impressive than reams of information.
Some ensembles will have an application form that spells out exactly what type of information you are required to include.
However, many ensembles do not and if this is the case, then call or email the relevant staff for advice on the best format for your CV, or details of what information they want to see on an application form. Some orchestras will want you to include a CD of your recordings; whereas others may only want to hear you play in front of them — find out as much as you can, as they all differ.
For example, the Southbank Sinfonia uses a detailed application form which makes it clear exactly what information you will need to include, such as referees, education, photo and CV. In fact, the lack of guidance on an institution’s application form may be part of the process itself, to weed out inexperienced players when there are vast numbers applying, as Claire Mera-Nelson’s experience bears out.
‘One London orchestra wanted to see things such as music qualifications, education work, prizes or scholarships, teaching experience, professional experience, solo or chamber music, recording, etc,’ explains Claire, ‘but didn’t want to see college orchestras, pieces played or conductors worked with.’
2. The audition
Audition requirements can also vary wildly, with some groups leaving it up to the player to choose repertoire, while others give general guidelines, and some may specify set pieces for each instrument.
Whichever set pieces you choose to play, make sure you know them inside out so that you will feel confident. If you are asked to sight-read cold, it may be a sign that you have caught the interest of the audition panel, rather than having displeased them.
The BBC Concert Orchestra’s audition process combines set pieces with unseen sight-reading.
When we hold auditions, we always send out excerpts for the candidates to prepare, so that every section would have their own preferred excerpts.’ ‘Usually, the people auditioning would be asked to prepare something such as a movement from a concerto or a couple of contrasting pieces, maybe one Baroque and one modern — we would really leave it up to them. Then we'd ask them to play from the excerpts we send out, so it’s prepared sight-reading. We also might give them something as they arrive at the audition, and say: “We may ask you to play this”.
Finally, we may also give them completely unseen sight-reading,’ he continues. ‘We may not give a player all of that, but if we’ve got two people whose playing is pretty close and we might be interested in trialling, then we’d give them some kind of unseen sight-reading on the day.’ Sight-reading is a crucial skill for players in the Concert Orchestra.
Alex Walden, Orchestra Manager
3. The trial
If your audition has been successful, it’s likely you will then be invited to play a series of trial dates. The orchestra will try a selection of musicians and, after a period of time that could be a year or more in length, decide which players to offer positions to.
‘We would try to bring the players in for a block of time, and hopefully give them contrasting work,’ says Alex. ‘As the diet of music in this orchestra is so widely varied, we might give them something classical, something that’s light; we might give them a concert and a recording — a mixture of things.’
As with all occupations, someone with well developed communication skills who is pleasant to work with has a much better chance of gaining a permanent place following any trial period, as Claire Mera-Nelson’s experience attests.
‘You’ve got a lot of talent out there, and when you bring someone in on their first day, if they get on with it and muck in, they’ll get invited back,’ she says. ‘It’s not necessarily the people who are technically the stars.’
What if I can’t get in?
Because there is a glut of talent in the UK, many young musicians may find it difficult to get into any professional orchestra or even an audition. Therefore, some players are travelling further afield in search of their first professional job.
Not only does this provide auditioning experience, this can provide an alternative opportunity to get a first ensemble position . Upon returning home after playing abroad for a couple of years, many UK players find this experience then helps them to gain a successful foothold with an orchestra in the UK.