College audition repertoire...ACK!!

November 14, 2007 at 06:51 AM · I am a junior in high school who will be applying and auditioning for music schools next year.

At this moment, my teacher and I are looking at New England Conservatory, Eastman, Oberlin, Indiana, Cleveland, and Peabody.

The main problem right now is repertoire. I can't decide what concertos are actually good for college auditions. I keep hearing, "Oh, this piece isn't advanced enough", or, "This piece is way too difficult and overplayed". Basically, what I want to know is what pieces are actually going to be an asset to my auditions.

I have over a year to prepare, but I want to know my piece well. My teacher has suggested Wieniawski No. 2, Prokofiev No. 2, Glazunov, or Saint-Saens No. 3.

I've already ruled out the Glazunov because it doesn't really have separate movements; the entire piece is really meant to be played straight through, and that doesn't work for schools that only want the first movement of a concerto.

I've played the Saint-Saens before (granted, it WAS a long time ago), so I'm not necessarily eager to do it again, but my teacher says it is a good audition piece.

I know it's my choice, since it is my future, but I don't know what to do. I think all of the concertos I listed above are good, and they're definitely not overplayed, but I wonder if they are "hard enough" to get me into a good school.

You've all been through this, or are currently going through this process. Do people who play the pieces listed above (like the Wieniawski or the Saint-Saens) stand a chance of getting into good schools against people who are playing the Tchaikovsky or the Sibelius or whatever? If I play the Saint-Saens really, really well, can I still get into a good school, even if I'm not doing the "most advanced" piece out there?

Any comments, insights, or input would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much!


Replies (40)

November 14, 2007 at 07:14 AM · Madelein,

You goal with a college audition is to do what? Get in. You're not auditioning for Mehta or Baremboim to play a solo with their orchestra. You're auditioning for bachelors. Use Saint-Saens. It's hard enough to show them the goods, but it's easy enough that you can totally play the s--- out of it and make a real impression.

There's enough kids who will show up (even at Juilliard and other places) and puke through Sibelius or flog and flail through Tchaikovsky (playing it in time and time doesn't count as a good performance). Familiar rep is always preferable. For grad school, I'd say Saint-Saens is a bit soft, but undergrad it's perfect, especially if you're comfortable. However, an American girl just got 3rd in an international competition with Saint-Saens. You can still learn new rep in the meantime, but something familiar like that would really allow you to show them who you are as a performer, and given that you can handle it technically, can show them that side of you too.

Brian Lewis told me he got into Juilliard with Wienawski 2. Some of my friends also used similar repertoire for comparable schools. If violinists like Jacha Heifetz, Perlman, Oistrakh, and anyone else of their stature has recorded it (and played it with NYPhil, Berlin etc...), it's good enough for you, and anyone else.

Hope everything goes well, and that you have a wide variety of schools to choose from. Apply widely, and have fun when you play.

November 14, 2007 at 07:34 AM · Just not Weiniawski...I don't know, I"m having similar problems because I"m familiar with most of the major concerti, so I don't know which one to really focus on, I like the idea of Prokoviev though. Saint Saens would be good if you can play it perfectly. Best of luck. :) (I'm a sophomore just fyi)

November 14, 2007 at 09:32 AM · Madeline,

I'm a senior this year and on my last leg before auditions. When picking a concerto, keep in mind that it has to be something you really want to play, because you will spending hours and hours (and hours) perfecting it. It has to inspire you. Personally I picked the Sibelius because, although some say it is 'overplayed', there was no other concerto I wanted to play more. I've not regretted the decision. Even if you pick a more common concerto, what will distinguish you is in your understanding of the music and your interpretation.

Your teacher knows your capabilities and what will help you shine the brightest. Also keep in mind you will most likely be playing some Bach and an etude/caprice.

Good luck to you! I'm auditioning for Eastman and Oberlin as well.

November 14, 2007 at 06:24 PM · Play whatever you play the best. Like Pieter said, a teacher would MUCH rather hear a great performance of a less challenging piece than a butchery of a very challenging piece. To go along with that, if you decide to do Saint-Saens 3, this is your chance to truly make it your own. Explore the piece a bit more, and look at different musical ideas. At the end of the day, you are just one more person who auditioned at X school. But if you do something interesting with the music, it definitely improves your chances.

November 16, 2007 at 08:21 PM · Thank you all so much for your wonderful responses! You all offered really great advice, and I'll definitely keep it all in mind as I continue on my path to college. :D

Good luck with the auditions and the Sibelius, Lauren!

Again, thank you, everyone! I'm really grateful for all the advice. :)

November 16, 2007 at 08:36 PM · If you return to the Saint-Saens, this time around you might consider using the Sauret edition. Emile Sauret made substantial changes (of which Saint-Saens disapproved). As a result, it's harder and probably more technically impressive than the "authorized" edition.

November 17, 2007 at 01:00 AM · ...but if Saint-Saens specifically disapproved of Sauret's changes?? *cringe*...

November 18, 2007 at 10:55 PM · Greetings,

Mara, I thought Sauret`s imrovements were crap so I made my own. The opening is played in octaves. Except I can`t play them in tune so I have scored them as quarter tones and explained to the Julliard that this is `in the style of Stockhausen` in the same way Kreisler wrote `in the style of Pruneagni.` Forty years later I still haven`t got in Julliard. Thank God.



November 19, 2007 at 01:11 AM · The only useable change by Sauret to SS is playing octaves instead of harmonics starting 5 measures from the end of the piece. It doesn't really matter there because you will be covered up by the orchestra anyway.

If you audition at Indiana for Miriam Fried, do not under any circumstances play Khachaturian concerto. I understand she has a sign up on the wall of her office saying, "NO KHACHATURIAN!" She apparently despises the piece.

Of the pieces you mention, you might consider Prokofiev 2, if you memorize well and have good intonation and rhythm.

November 19, 2007 at 03:30 AM · Prokofiev 2 is overkill for an undergrad audition...

November 19, 2007 at 04:40 AM · I recently heard a high school age student play a very fine performance of Prok. 2, so if one has the ability to play it why not?

November 19, 2007 at 04:46 AM · my point is, if it's a stretch for you (and for must high school kids I think it probably is), then I wouldn't recommend it. It's awkward and difficult to put together with piano... I really wouldn't recommend it.

November 19, 2007 at 04:55 AM · i think fried is at new england conservatory now

November 19, 2007 at 05:02 AM · I think you're correct about M. Fried now being at NEC. So it's now ok to play Khatchaturian at Indiana, but not at NEC.

November 19, 2007 at 05:43 AM · Madeline, I got into Mannes for my masters' playing Barber. Audition committees want to see potential, not virtuosity. I would go with what you're most comfortable with. If I were you, I'd choose the easiest piece I possibly could, and make it the most musical, exciting performance I possibly could.

November 19, 2007 at 05:25 PM · I don't think you could get into major conservatories with Barber, I know this because I asked. I wasn't planning on using Barber for my concerto, but wanted to use it for Juilliard's modern composition requirement, which they let me do. But for places like Juilliard, MSM, NEC, USC, and CIM, you definately would have some trouble getting in by playing Barber.

Maybe if you play some of the 3rd movement and the 1st, they can get some idea of your abilities. Unfortunately, though difficult, the 3rd movement doesn't show that much and by itself the 1st movement proves to them that you have a nice sound but that's really it. They're going to want to see some good passagework and double stops, none of which the Barber has.

November 19, 2007 at 07:23 PM · I got into all the schools I applied (Indiana, Eastman) with Mendelssohn. It's not one of the most technically challenging pieces, but it does show off intonation and musicality.

If you have a piece there you've worked to understand and really enjoy playing I'd say go for that one. You'll be more inclined to practice it hours on end as well ^^

If you feel you really need to show off some more technical skill, polishing a tough etude should help cover that (I played Paganini 23rd).

Good luck, and +1 vote for Indiana when you get to your decision :)

November 19, 2007 at 07:45 PM · There's a world of difference technically between Mendelssohn and Barber, they aren't even close.

Mendelssohn is probably one of the hardest concertos.

November 19, 2007 at 10:58 PM · yes. Thanks Pieter.

November 20, 2007 at 12:13 AM · Dear Pieter,

Thank you for jinxing my grad school auditions with your slander of Barber. Did you ever consider that most of these school incude more repitoire than a single movement of a concerto (especially for Graduate studies). The reason may be (correct me if I am wrong) because those in charge would like to see other sides of the students' playing. For example, a Paganini caprice (voila! double stops...) and a modern solo violin work paired with a few movements of solo Bach and some (god forbid) Barber may be just the thing. But I may be slightly biased since this is also my own plan. ;) P.S. sounds quality is NOT the only thing that one can take away from a good performence of the Barber. I beleive there to be some intense and multidimensionsonal aspects to the piece, that can only be realized with an intensly personal and well thought out interpretation of the music.

November 20, 2007 at 12:28 AM · Valerie, (don't you go to McGill?)

I don't know which grad schools you are applying for, and I think that you are right in some respects. What I am saying is just the case at the schools which I am applying for (some of which I listed above). I know this because I simply asked the teachers I am going to play for. If you care for specifics I can tell you which teachers think Barber for a major audition is a bad idea, (in an e-mail.)

I love Barber, and I think it's a great concerto. I studied it at ENCORE and then played it in a public masterclass with Vadim Gluzman at Keshet Eilon, so I think I'm fairly familiar with the piece and its challenges, having spent 2 solid months on it.

Unfortunately at many auditions (and this I just found out), they don't even hear much of your Paganini. It's concerto, and Bach. Maybe if you show up with Barber it will be different. If you are relying on Paganini to demonstrate strong facility, you'd probably want to stay away from the more elementary ones. Many good schools at the graduate level are looking for a some technical facility, and I think you'll struggle to demonstrate that with Barber, but that's just my opinion, based on what I've been told. I'd opt for something with a bit more meat to it, but that's just me.

November 20, 2007 at 12:38 AM · Hi again,

Yes I do go to McGill (until the end of this year). The schools which I am applying for are more varied than the typical 'prestige' imposed ones, but they do include Rice and Michigan, which are tough to get into. It's funny, because I am defending Barber partly because Ellen Jewett (remember her?) recommended that I play it for auditions. The difference between the first and third movements alone shows a wide range of the students' skills and almost all of the schools to which I am applying require two movements of a concerto. Michigan also wants another piece (20th c.) to go along with the Paganini and Bach, and though they may not hear all of each piece they will listen until they have enough information to go on. A mediocre performance of Barber will not win a teacher's heart, but neither will one of Tchaikovsky. (By the way Arron won the concerto competition with Barber this year).

Anyway I suppose the concerto is not as important as the way in which it is presented...

November 20, 2007 at 02:55 AM · Thanks again, everyone; it's really wonderful to get so many different perspectives on this issue. :D

I just had a lesson today, and I finally caved; I've been flatly refusing to even consider doing the Bruch concerto for the past three or so years, because I have always harbored some unexplainable hatred for that piece, but I gave in. I realized that if I don't do it now, I'll have to do it in college, and I really don't want to do that. :) So I told my teacher I'd do it now, in addition to the Saint-Saens Concerto, the Saint-Saens Intro and Rondo Capriccioso, and the Bach Sonata in G minor. My plate is pretty full right now, but that's good, because it gives me even more reason to practice.

My teacher was really happy, because she keeps saying how good of an audition piece the Bruch is, but I don't know if I want to do the Bruch (not a very long first movement, and it goes straight into the second movement) or the Saint-Saens concerto for auditions. I am also (maybe) auditioning for Curtis ( teacher says she is willing to give her blessing if she thinks I have a chance and if I prove to her that I will work really hard), so I also don't know what the expectation is there as far as concertos go.

One of my teacher's other students is a freshman at Curtis this year, and she got in playing Prokofiev No. 2, which is very difficult, but not quite as well-known. So I don't know what I would be playing if I auditioned there.

Anyway, if anyone would like to share any wisdom/advice on these new questions, please go right ahead. I will be most grateful. :D

Thanks so much!


November 20, 2007 at 04:53 AM · I don't know if you have to worry about the length of the movement you will audition. You will find that in most cases you won't get through the exposition before you will be stopped. The jury will be able to tell how advanced you are technically no matter what you choose to play. Play what sounds best musically.

December 15, 2007 at 05:51 AM · Hello, and thanks again, everyone!

Another update on the college repertoire front: I'm now choosing between the Conus and Goldmark concertos. I played the last movement of the Goldmark last year, but I have never played the Conus before, and don't know much about it.

I like the idea that both of these concertos are not overplayed, but I would also like to make sure they showcase everything I have to offer. Again, the problem with the Conus is that there are not decisive pauses between movements. :P

Thanks so much, and I know I change my mind frequently, but I want to be sure I've made the best possible decision for my auditions, so I can hopefully be accepted into the best school possible! :)

Thanks again,


December 15, 2007 at 06:53 AM · I think that what matters most of all is that you play whatever you choose to the best of your ability...if you play the "what should I choose to impress the judges" game with yourself - which you are by asking these questions - you will continue playing that game with yourself, even WHILE you are playing whatever repertoire you choose for your audition.

As one of my teachers said, "Make your decision and go!"

Good luck.

December 15, 2007 at 05:56 PM · I would suggest a Bach concerto. I doubt there will be many people playing a Bach concerto for a conservatory audition.

December 15, 2007 at 07:17 PM · Have you ever considered why?

December 15, 2007 at 09:27 PM · No kidding...

I guess that rules out my plan to play a few pieces from one of the suzuki books for my graduate audition.

To the author of this topic, please pick a piece you will enjoy spending a great deal of time on.

December 21, 2007 at 06:17 PM · I think you're partly right, Samuel. I am worried. I think I'm more concerned about how I measure up to the competition/how I will stand out among a sea of excellent players than I am about impressing the judges with a difficult piece, though. I understand that what I play means much less than how I play, but if a panel's decision is between me and an equal player, I don't want my piece to be the deciding factor. If I played Conus, for example, and the other person played Tchaikovsky, I wouldn't want that to be the only reason I wasn't accepted.

I guess I just have to bite the bullet and decide. :)

Once again, thank you to everyone for your advice. :D

January 28, 2008 at 04:55 AM · Michael is right; as a matter of fact, I played Tchaikovsky for an audition yesterday and I didn't even get to the cadenza. On average, you will probably have ten to fifteen minutes (twenty if they're very generous). I wouldn't rule out anything just because of the transitions between movements.

January 28, 2008 at 07:57 PM · Don't spend all your time trying to "trick" the judges into thinking you're clever, or psychoanalyzing what you think they want to hear. It doesn't matter to them at all what you play as long as you play it well. You could play a D major scale and they will be able to judge your playing.

The truth is that if you went in playing a piece that is wayyyyyy above your level the only person who looks bad is your teacher for letting you do it. Listen to your teacher! Wienawski is lovely by the way.

I don't care what they say about Mozart - if you can play Mozart well you can play anything.

March 5, 2008 at 03:57 PM · Joshua,

Five live auditions, and I never got more than five pages into the Tchaik. No cadenza. Nobody asked me to skip. No one heard the second or the third movement, even though they were on lists of requirements. I'm not advising anyone not to practice those things, but they should prepare to be frustrated if they do spend a lot of time on them.

March 5, 2008 at 08:01 PM · Juilliard gives undergraduate applicants a ten minute audition unless they let you run overtime which will set them behind on an already very long audition process.

Think realistically - if your concerto movement by itself is over ten minutes, you're probably not going to be playing that much. But at the same time, you can't really predict which sections you're going to be playing either.

Oh, and by the above logic, they'll probably skip your Paganini caprice :P

March 5, 2008 at 07:56 PM · Having just been through four live auditions, my advice is don't focus on the sea of other auditioning students. It will only make you either more nervous or too comfortable and the key is maintaining your concentration so you can have your absolute best performance. My longest audition was 12 min., and it went overtime.

These teachers hear sometimes up to 30 auditions a day, and I'm guessing they've seen it all. No matter what you play, they will be able to see your level and abilities. Work hard this year, and enjoy your auditions because you will have put in all the hard work. And don't worry! I'm sure you'll do wonderful.

March 6, 2008 at 10:42 AM · Danny, they probably won't skip the Paganini. I played my Paganini, Bach, and the first part of Sibelius in all my auditions. I even played the whole Paganini in one audition. In another audition I played the whole Bach G minor Adagio. No, you can't predict what they will ask, but yes you must be prepared to play any part of any of your pieces.

March 6, 2008 at 02:00 PM · Coming late to the discussion, but I want to emphasize that what you play is not so important as how you play it. While I don't teach at a major music school and my college students mostly don't play at this level, I am on my orchestra's audition committee and we hear all the same pieces. Tchaikovsky and Sibelius are the most frequently played but people don't get bonus points for playing something else--there's a reason why so many people choose Tchaik or Sibelius--they're excellent audition pieces. Mendelssohn is a really hard piece to audition on and if you play it well, you will make a great impression. Even professionals don't always get those first page octaves in tune. Saint-Saens 3 is another great audition piece and I wish more people would play it. It's hard enough to show plenty of chops and it can be very beautiful. Prokofiev 2 is a wonderful concerto with an orchestra but not my first choice for an audition piece. I don't recommend Wieniawski #2 unless your upbow staccato is impeccable, in which case go for it!

BTW, I got into Oberlin on Bruch g minor, but that was 1978....

March 6, 2008 at 02:24 PM · "Prokofiev 2 is a wonderful concerto with an orchestra but not my first choice for an audition piece."

Mary Ellen, can you elaborate on why you feel this way about Prokofiev 2? Thanks!

March 7, 2008 at 01:48 PM · Regarding the Prokofiev, the beginning requires a great deal of control, and you have to maintain that level of playing for a relatively long while (in terms of audition time) before you can cut loose and show your chops. I prefer not to have to do that when I am already tense. In the Tchaikovsky. you can work out your stress right away, digging in and playing out, and while the Sibelius also starts quietly, you can play out much sooner than in the Prokofiev. You also have to consider how a piece sounds without accompaniment, which may not be an issue at a college audition but is when you are trying to get a job. I don't think the Prokofiev works all that well as a standalone part. Of course if you play Prokofiev well at an audition, you are just as likely to advance as someone who plays Tchaikovsky well.

I'm guessing that many violinists must feel similarly, because in all the many auditions I've heard (twenty years' worth at two orchestras), I can count on one hand the number of Prokofiev 2's.

March 7, 2008 at 09:06 PM · Hello, everyone!

Regarding Barber: my teacher has been telling me for a while that it's a good audition piece. She said people have both gotten into Curtis and won the Philadelphia Orchestra Greenfield Competition playing Barber. AND, if that isn't enough evidence for you, an acquaintance of mine just got into Curtis playing Barber, and she's a sophomore in high school. :)

So it's still definitely an option for me at this point. I played it this past summer, but never really worked on that killer third movement! :D

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