masters level repertoire

March 21, 2018, 10:46 AM · I am 2 years out of undergrad (BA in music) and have not had a teacher in a while. I am looking to get back into a program (either masters or post bacc diploma) to develop my skills and hopefully get back on track for a career as an orchestral violinist.

I had some setbacks due to panic attacks and general anxiety that has really inhibited my performance in auditions and concerts but feel that as time has gone by, I can better manage this and am ready to continue on my path.

Right now I am leaning towards auditioning for the post bacc diploma at Curtis before pursuing a masters degree since I have been without a teacher for so long. I have a lot of time (almost a year) before the auditions will be held and although I know none of you have heard me and my skill level, I'm looking for some recommendations on a programme for the audition. Perhaps an aggressive set of pieces as well as an easier level recommendation (but still within the realm of a post bacc level) The requirements are as follows:

Screening Repertoire

Applicants should submit a video (recorded in 2017) of the following. Movements may be individual recordings, but each movement should be one uninterrupted recording; please include at least one slow-tempo movement:

One movement from a Mozart concerto
One movement from another standard repertoire concerto
Two movements from a Bach solo sonata or partita
A Paganini caprice
Live Audition Repertoire

All string applicants must be prepared to play all major and minor scales and arpeggios in fluent tempo. Applicants will play from memory:

A complete concerto by Mozart
A complete sonata or partita for violin alone by J. S. Bach
A caprice by Paganini
Another complete standard concerto for violin

Any additional advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

Replies (19)

March 21, 2018, 10:52 AM · Hi Dakota, it could be helpful to list any applicable repertoire you have already studied. It will probably be easier to work from stuff you've seen before, depending on if it shows off your skills.
March 21, 2018, 11:01 AM · The last pieces that I was working on in my last year of undergrad were:

1. Saint-Saens Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso
2. Grieg Sonata 1
3. Bach solo sonata 1
4. Mozart 5

after school (and without a teacher) I began some of the Tchaikovsky and Paganini 24 as well although I would need quite a bit of work before either of these would be ready - I think I skipped a few levels here.

But again, I am ready to take on new repertoire, as I have plenty of time and motivation! I really want the pieces to compliment each other and show off an array of skills :)

Edited: March 21, 2018, 11:34 AM · Are you getting a teacher now, to help you prepare for auditions? I'd imagine one would be useful. If you didn't want to take weekly lessons, for whatever reason, I expect you'd still benefit from seeking out occasional coaching.

But this seems like a good time to call your old teacher, explain you're interested in auditioning at Curtis, and ask for their help in putting together a program. They know your strengths and weaknesses best. Also, presumably, if you've been studying at a level that makes Curtis a logical next step, your previous teacher either knows people on the Curtis faculty, or is friends-of-friends with people on the faculty. Ask them to help you connect and get an introduction. (Or you might already know some of the faculty, in which case you could just reach out yourself.) You'll want to play for the teachers you might be interested in studying with, well prior to the audition, just like you presumably did for your undergrad studio.

Given your Curtis ambition: The last works you were doing don't reflect the maximum difficulty you're capable of, correct? i.e. even if you didn't do Tchaikovsky as an undergrad, you studied concertos of similar or higher difficulty -- Brahms, Sibelius, Paganini, etc.? Was there a reason that you weren't taught Paganini Caprices during your undergrad (or for that matter, didn't start learning them in high school)?

Did you originally not intend to be a performer? (You mention you got a BA, rather than a BM.) Are you still practicing intensively now, and if you're not, how much time will you have available to do so prior to auditions? Pre-screening recordings would be due in the fall.

March 21, 2018, 12:12 PM · Hi Lydia!

Thanks for all of the posed questions. Curtis definitely is a little bit ambitious for my current level but I am willing to do what it takes to get there. I have an extremely flexible schedule with my current job (full time but work from home and can create my own schedule) and can spend many hours practicing between now and when I decide to audition (this could be the following round of prescreenings if I am not ready by this fall - or even in a few years, I am not going to jump the gun). Originally I was in school for math and then marine chemistry, I auditioned for the studio very late in undergrad which is why we decided on the BA route. This, unfortunately, did not give me the same benefits as the BM students, I only had two years with a major teacher and one year (i did 5 years) with a graduate student. I would say I didn't get the complete training of a BM.

Correct, the last works don't reflect my maximum capabilities. There was no reason for not studying the Paganini Caprices, we just never got around to them. Being that I was a BA, I also had to spread my time around a lot of other studies so I didn't cover as much material as I could have. I also was still very unsure of going down the performance route due to the anxiety etc. I am now sure that I want to at least start putting in the time and effort that I need in order to audition in the future which is why I am looking for an example repertoire list to aim for. I probably wouldn't jump right into the Sibelius right now but, instead, would work up with my technique studies and repertoire to get to the point that I feel comfortable in starting.

I have been looking for teachers (probably for a coaching once a month due to finances) in the Philadelphia area, any recommendations would be great!

March 21, 2018, 12:13 PM · I will also be looking into local performances to get back in the groove of playing in front of people as well as potentially playing in competitions as I progress through the repertoire level
March 21, 2018, 12:35 PM · Sadly, the teachers I've been familiar with in Philadelphia have passed away. But my guess is that if you reach out to your old teacher, ask for an intro to someone on the Curtis violin faculty, and then go play for that person, they'd probably be able to tell you who they think would be suitable to help you prep for auditions. (They can also give you an honest assessment of whether or not you're likely to be a viable candidate for Curtis. AFAIK, a Curtis post-bacc has higher audition expectations than most master's programs.)

Since prescreening recordings are due in the fall, it makes most sense to use works you already know. You apparently know the Sibelius even if it might feel challenging at the moment, but presumably it won't take too awful long to get it back into your fingers, and that's a perfectly fine choice for an audition concerto. You know at least Mozart 5; either 4 or 5 is an acceptable audition choice. You presumably know a good chunk of solo Bach, so you can pick one of the ones that you know in their entirety. That leaves you with picking a Paganini caprice.

I can't imagine studying the caprices without a teacher, but I'm also not a Curtis-level player. :-) I imagine if you've done enough other Paganini, especially the concertos, the range of tricks looks more familiar, though. (Ditto if you've done the Ernst usual suspects and whatnot.)

Your old teacher, who presumably knows what Bach and highly-virtuosic repertoire you've previously studied, could likely suggest which sonata/partita and caprice would round out that program well.

I think people tend to lean on the same audition concertos -- Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius -- because they work well under audition conditions, and for orchestral players, that's probably what you'll play for orchestral auditions, too. If you deviate, it should probably because something else really speaks to you and you do a knock-their-socks-off Prokofiev No. 2 or Shostakovich No. 1 or something.

Edited: March 21, 2018, 12:56 PM · Thank you! This has been very helpful! I actually didn't know that the post bacc program had higher audition expectations than most masters programs. I guess because its Curtis haha
March 21, 2018, 1:18 PM · I'm wondering if I've made some unwarranted assumptions about your background...

What would prevent you from going and just taking orchestral auditions after taking, say, a couple of months to polish up your Sibelius first movement and your excerpts?

Are you freelancing now, and if not, why not?

Edited: March 21, 2018, 2:22 PM · I actually never learned the Sibelius- so that was an assumption :) however, I don't think it's out of my reach with some practice and time (I have all the time I need! Nothing is urgent, I don't need to rush into auditions)
I don't feel ready for orchestral auditions, I want more studies at a conservatory before attempting this.

I was teaching after undergrad and not freelancing, mostly due to the panic attacks that started during my 3rd year at school. I feel now that I have them under control and am ready to get back into my work as a musician.

I am taking my time with everything because I want this to be an enjoyable and not anxiety driven process, this is how I will thrive and express myself the most. However, once I feel ready for post-bacc or masters audition, I may try some orchestral auditions as well to see what happens, because..why not!

March 21, 2018, 2:53 PM · Disclaimer: this is not my lane. Others know way more. That said...

there are a bunch of interesting threads in here about conquering one's performance anxiety (if that was the source of the panic attacks). One key tip that comes up over and over again is, well, performing. Starting with low stakes opportunities, e.g. busking or playing in a retirement community, etc.

I think auditioning is its own kind of nerve-inducing splendor, and there are numerous threads here on that, too. If orchestra is really what you want to do, Nathan Cole has led a NYPhil audition challenge ( that could be a helpful, illustrative process for you. A former teacher of mine took a student through it recently and said they both learned a ton.

I struggle a lot with performance anxiety and know that the longer I go between auditions, the more painful they are for me. It might make sense to do some lower-stakes auditions (e.g. for a community orchestra), even though you don't feel ready for prime time. Of course, this will mean that you spend some time playing orchestral music instead of working on audition repertoire. Trade-offs...

How did you land on an orchestral career specifically? Did you do a lot of orchestral music in college/summer festivals?

March 21, 2018, 3:17 PM · Hi Katie,

That is great advice, I'll look into the audition challenge. I definitely want to do some performing before I get to auditions. I was planning on playing in some churches and different venues around Philadelphia to start.

I grew up playing in orchestras and I fell in love! I also played in chamber groups, orchestra and baroque ensembles in college, it was extremely enjoyable and I love playing with other talented musicians

March 21, 2018, 3:58 PM · May I respectfully suggest that you have a plan B, plan C, etc., if Curtis doesn't work out. It is very, very, very, very hard to get into Curtis. I also agree that you should get some lessons ASAP with a teacher who is familiar with what it takes to get into Curtis.

I only auditioned for one graduate school--Indiana--the hubris of that now takes my breath away. Fortunately I did get in. But even the brashly overconfident 20-year-old me would not have tried the same trick with Curtis.

March 21, 2018, 4:44 PM · On my list of potential masters programs are msm mannes, Amsterdam conservatory, and a back up would be boyer. But aiming for Curtis as my goal, hense why I used it in the original post
March 21, 2018, 4:47 PM · Everyone's posts have been so helpful so far! I am still looking for more suggested lists of repertoire that fit the Curtis guidelines. Thanks everyone!
March 21, 2018, 4:55 PM · I think I made the assumption that you (the OP) were at a very high playing level in high school (i.e., at a level where you would have considered Curtis as an undergrad), but chose to go a non-music route instead at a school without a decent conservatory to switch back to when you changed your mind, and are now trying to get back onto that track. It doesn't seem like that's your situation, which probably means that your targets for post-grad work are likely to be more similar to other students coming out of your college teacher's studio.

That leads me to recommend another reason to call your old teacher -- to ask where their students usually attend grad school, and what teachers they tend to study with, when those students play around your level.

If you want an orchestral career, it's useful to build a resume starting now -- indeed, many students begin to do so during their undergrad years. Pro orchestras are really different than youth and community orchestras. When you go for orchestral auditions in the future, you will be trading on the strength of your teacher's name, and where else you've successfully auditioned and played before. So if even if you start with the worst freeway philharmonic in town, it's still a stepping-stone to the next job. Join the union and take pick-up orchestra gigs if you don't feel ready to take an audition.

Also, there are solid reasons to do your master's sooner rather than later. Violinists are more flexible when they're younger, and the pure wear and tear on your body from intensive practicing will be easier when you're younger. Nontraditional (i.e. older) students are less attractive admissions candidates as well, as far as I know. Alternatively, you could forego the master's and just find an excellent teacher and spend a lot of time practicing -- although really, this should probably be your path regardless, since it would still leave you the option of getting into a better school for your master's.

I think you can make progress as an advanced student, without a teacher, if you are a disciplined practicer and your previous teachers have taught you well. But I think it's hard to make big leaps without a teacher, or to correct the subtle technical malformations that might be holding you back.

March 21, 2018, 5:16 PM · Hey Lydia, although I will never know whether I would have gotten in, I think my playing was quite advanced in high school. I began my studies at age 2 (my father being a composer and my mother a pianist). I think you are pretty spot on in your first paragraph with the route I took. I will definitely contact my old teacher, she may even be able to take me on in her private studio. This would be a good starting point at least. I have gotten very disciplined in my practice and am strong when self-teaching but a teacher will definitely help, especially with subtle technical malfunctions as you mentioned.

I really like the idea of taking pick-up orchestra gigs as a starting point for getting back into performing in front of people before auditions. Do you have anymore advice on this?

March 21, 2018, 5:43 PM · Do you have a professional network? I have the impression that you went to school in Philly and probably know the other music majors from your program, some of whom have likely stayed in the city and started to play gigs. Reach out to your friends, tell them you're trying to get back into performing, and ask them to recommend you.

You may see things advertised in the union paper, too, but personal contacts generally work best. You land a gig, you nail it, the contractor contacts you in the future for other gigs. Other people there remember you as a good violinist and they recommend you in the future when a contractor says, "Hey we need another violinist, do you know someone?" Some unions do union showcase days where you arrive and play in front of contractors, which might be a possible alternative, as well.

Also, I'm betting that your musical parents have a network. Don't be afraid to ask them to use it. :-)

March 31, 2018, 2:11 PM · Must the 'standard concerto' be a concerto, or are you referring to generally a standard violin repertoire piece?
March 31, 2018, 3:11 PM · Not the OP, but a "standard concerto" means a concerto. It isn't ambiguous.

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