Advice needed on audition excerpts?

February 9, 2018, 9:40 PM · I just found out my college orchestra auditions are in the first week (quite soon) and I don't have a teacher yet & haven't had a lesson for 2 months for various reasons. Therefore I will be preparing for this on my own (possibly with one or two lessons towards the very end of the process).

I really want to get into the orchestra, and seeing as a lot of members here are very experienced with this side of things, I was wondering if you would be so kind as to share some of your tips for preparing excerpts?

I have already been told to look at the full score, listen to the pieces, and make sure to stay in time - all fairly obvious.

Thank you in advance :)

P.S. I don't expect you to give specific advice but in case anyone is interested, or if it's relevant, the excerpts are from the following pieces:
- Debussy's La Mer
- Tchaik symph 5
- Shostakovich symph 5
- Haydn symph op. 100

Replies (12)

February 9, 2018, 9:44 PM · Take your time to learn these slowly at first even though you feel that time is short. You're much better off playing in tune and perhaps slightly under tempo than you are playing way out of tune at tempo.

If there are no bowings provided in your parts, check out the NY Phil website for some bowing ideas:

When you have learned the excerpts up to about 80% mastery, it's time to start recording yourself and listening to the playback with pencil in hand. Mark the spots where you need to woodshed intonation and/or rhythm. You will get a lot better very fast if you are in the habit of recording yourself and listening critically to the playback.

Metronome, metronome, metronome!

February 9, 2018, 10:11 PM · Thank you, that seems like great advice!
February 9, 2018, 10:54 PM · A couple of weeks for Debussy and Shostakovich and you haven't had any lessons for two months?

Oy vey.

February 10, 2018, 4:50 AM · Thanks for your insight, it really helped me prepare!
February 10, 2018, 9:30 AM · Definitely metronome, learn it slowly. You'll waste a lot less time if you learn it right instead of having to go back and fix mistakes. Your first priority should be the basics of good playing - good sound, good rhythm, good intonation. Remember that you're playing music and make it sound like something you would want to listen to.

I like thinking of excerpts as tests - each one is a chance for you to demonstrate specific skills. Ask yourself what aspect of your playing the passage should show, and go from there. La Mer, for example - there's a lot of dynamic swells and crescendos to nowhere, there's instructions in french about changes in speed, and the concept of sound is going to be very different from how you play the shostakovich or tchaikovsky. Think about the characters of the pieces and how they're the same or different from each other. Practice finding your tempos and starting the excerpts.

Good luck!

February 10, 2018, 9:21 PM · That makes sense. Thanks for the advice and the good way of thinking about excerpts.
February 10, 2018, 11:19 PM · Are you polishing excerpts that you've recently studied, getting excerpts that you already know back into your fingers, or learning these excerpts for the first time for this audition?

In addition to good sound, good rhythm, good intonation, make sure that you strictly adhere to the printed dynamics, as well as the expected articulations and style. (Listen to multiple recordings of those excerpts, and choose the least idiosyncratic interpretation.)

To check if you're keeping a steady tempo throughout, record yourself, then play it back and see if you can tap a pencil steadily with it -- or better yet, set a metronome to it and see if you remain precisely with the metronome.

February 11, 2018, 2:32 AM · I am learning these for the first time, despite how common they seem to be for orch auditions.

Thank you - the metronome tip especially is very helpful.

February 11, 2018, 8:14 PM · Gemma,
What is the situation--conservatory? School of Music? Liberal arts with a college/community orchestra?

I don't know if this situation is the same, but I had a liberal arts college student come asking for audition help. The faculty, in their "wisdom," had assigned an unrealistic list of excerpts, including concermaster solos, with little time to prepare. I told her that rather than half-ass and fumble through the whole list, she should pick just two of the most doable contrasting ones and a short solo and just say "sorry" if they asked for the rest. The gambit worked, and she won the audition (I believe she got concertmaster).

This wouldn't work in a professional situation, but in some other circumstances it's better to just say "look, this is what I've prepared" and play what you have well.

February 11, 2018, 8:37 PM · It's a conservatory, so I don't think it'd fly, although that's a good tip for less competitive situations.

February 11, 2018, 10:15 PM · If you really put a lot of work into two of those excerpts, I'd focus on the Debussy and the Shostakovich, simply because you will undoubtedly see those two over and over again in the years to come -- assuming they've chosen the usual excerpts from those, anyway.

February 12, 2018, 12:12 AM · They're also the hardest, IMO.

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