Getting a concerto gig as a soloist?

May 6, 2018, 9:14 AM · So the past few years of my life have been a mess. I have burned a lot of bridges in my career and have seen stupid mistakes that I have made in my past as a musician. Over these few years I have not been gigging (since no one wanted to hire me due to unprofessional reasons), but I have fixed almost every single technical issue. I would not say that I'm "amazing," but my technique/musically has grown on a tremendous scale. I want to get back into gigging now that I know how to be professional. There is a nearby community orchestra which I have never worked with; I would like to Solo with a simple concerto with them to help get my name back into society. Should I email this orchestra up and ask to schedule an audition? What would you all recommend I do? Or don't do?

Replies (21)

Edited: May 6, 2018, 9:49 AM · I would schedule some solo recitals that show off your abilities. Make sure you publicize them so the right people attend, especially the conductor of said group. You'll need some solid connections. If you really are a brilliant player with orchestral solo potential you'll get noticed. And get professional quality recordings of your live performances made - they'll come in very handy at some point.

If you have no reputation as a soloist I doubt even a regional part time orchestra will engage you for a solo performance without something tangible to go on.

I think auditioning and becoming a section player is also a good step to increasing the orchestra's familiarity with your playing. Blow them away with your audition.

I'm an extremely part time soloist; I've soloed with orchestras seven times in all of the years since leaving college. In only two of those cases was I contacted directly by a group that I was not familiar with, and it was only after I had established a good reputation as a player in the general area.

May 6, 2018, 11:27 AM · Perhaps you could arrange to give a free recital ag a local church or library to ease back into the swing of things. Put a hat at the door asking for a donation to a good cause you want to receive this money and see how it goes. Pay out of your pocket for some advertising two weeks prior. That is my 2 centimos.
May 6, 2018, 1:40 PM · Please don't contact a local community orchestra that you have no prior connection with, asking to play a solo with them. That's presumptuous. It's fine to schedule an audition to join the orchestra as a section player, if they have openings.

I agree with the suggestions above to give some free solo recitals.

Edited: May 6, 2018, 1:51 PM · OP, your post raises some interesting questions about just what you mean by a number of your phrases.

When you say you "burned your bridges", does that mean that you made professional mistakes that earned you a bad reputation locally, or simply that you made career choices that you can't go back on? For instance, are we talking "left a more rigorous course of study that left me unprepared to take orchestral auditions" or are we talking "showed up drunk to concerts, ensuring that no one involved will hire me again?" And if it's more like the latter, do you still live in the same area (i.e., people remember your reputation locally), or did you move?

Similarly, when you say "no one wanted to hire me due to unprofessional reasons", did you word this oddly, i.e., "for non-job-related reasons", or did you mean "I behaved unprofessionally?" It's the difference between, say, "I lived too far away to commute to rehearsals" and "I was chronically late for rehearsals"? Or did you mean, "I was unable to prepare the music to the expected professional standard"?

If you behaved unprofessionally -- you were late, drunk, high, didn't follow the dress code, were unprepared, etc. -- you're probably going to have to work hard to fix your reputation if you still live in the same area. Your best bet there is probably demonstrate sterling reliability when you're playing for free (say, with a community orchestra), do weddings and the like (again with impeccable reliability), and slowly trying to work your way back up the gigging ladder.

If you were simply not technically good enough to play professionally previously, the same pretty much applies. Play with a community orchestra, audition for the local freeway philharmonics, work your way back up. Go to the union showcase if there is one, and surprise some contractors.

I think that playing free recitals might be useful as well, if they're well enough attended by members of the local musical community that you can pick up a reputation for having improved. (My guess is that if you simply weren't good enough before, you probably didn't really play that many gigs in the first place -- not enough to have truly picked up a bad reputation, just enough that you didn't get invited to anything else.)

Your likelihood of playing a concerto with a community orchestra probably depends on your past experience as a soloist, and your ability to draw an audience. Are you currently active enough as a teacher and/or in the community that you'd have a significant draw as a soloist, for instance? (If you teach two dozen kids, would all of them and their parents come to your concert?) Would a conductor already know who you are?

Chances are, under the very low odds that your cold-call works in the first place, that the music director (conductor) is going to pick what concerto they want (and you will be asked to play for free). There's a goodly chance it won't be a "simple" one. If you're good enough to play a concerto with orchestra, why would you need it to be simple? If a community orchestra wants to play a simple concerto, they'll probably go find a cute kid to do it, honestly.

No one auditions to play a concerto with orchestra, as an adult, unless it's explicitly a competition.

May 6, 2018, 2:19 PM · I think the people above are very well informed, how it is in music classical world etc. But just to intertain you a bit, I can share, experience of my friend to came back on the stage as a danser.

Scandals, misunderstanding, unmature behavior etc led her to stop her a danser's path, when she was 17. Some years later, she decide, that she wants back on stage.
The first thing she did, she anounced in all the local newspapers and town's forum, that she is going back. It was a big "hipe", a lot of discussions etc. So, she made her own show with all the support from closer friends, in the main concert hall of our town. She invested about half of her year sallary that time.
Everyone in our town bought a ticket either to support her, or to see the fail. Anyway it was no a single empty place in the theater. So, she got all her money back.
Her show was good enough to get positive feed back, most of the "young" dansers wanted to work with her, she had a "big" dance company, who served all public events, concerts, and backstage for the stars visiting our town. and now, after 15 years, she leads a dancing school in the capital.

And sure, the most important fact is, that she is extreamly tallanted both as a danser, and as a showman.

May 6, 2018, 2:28 PM · I also want to add that if a community orchestra wants a soloist, they tend to go in one of two directions: Hire a name soloist if they have the money (not likely at the Joshua Bell level but there are plenty to choose from who do not charge as much), or engage someone who is locally well-known: a local university violin professor, member of the closest major professional orchestra, or perhaps the community orchestra's own concertmaster. There is virtually no chance of engaging a newcomer with no professional history to be soloist.
Edited: May 6, 2018, 3:17 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen Goree.

Our community orchestra already has a list of local names of soloists with whom they have already invited for other performances.

A concerto is key to this performance. I cannot imagine why an orchestra would chose someone they have never known anymore than appoint a first chair who had never demonstrated their skill. It just doesn’t make sense.

Edited: May 6, 2018, 3:18 PM · And if you want to approach an orchestra, I wouldn't do it by email. I'd go to one of their concerts, find the concertmaster after the performance, introduce myself, offer my congratulations on the wonderful job they did and how great the orchestra sounded, and then leave. Then, before their next concert, you could make a comment on Facebook about how you saw the last one and the Gluck Overture was heavenly and you are looking forward to the next performance. Then you attend and do the same thing you did before. Business relationships are built (or re-built) in stages. When that person knows you by name, then you're ready to offer your card and say that you're looking to get more involved in the local scene and you hope one day the two of you might be colleagues. Just my two cents.
May 6, 2018, 3:36 PM · Adding to Mary Ellen's list, there are two more types that get invited. One are youngsters who look like they're going to be headed for major careers in the future -- usually local teenagers who have won a major international competition. The others are college students or young professionals who are starting to make a name for themselves, may have won local competitions, and attend schools / have teachers that have a relationship with the conductor and/or orchestra's board.

Paul's advice on the card is a good one, although I don't think you have to wait. Players who are new to town sometimes introduce themselves to me during the intermission of my community orchestra's concerts (I'm the concertmaster), and hand me a card. I do in fact remember, "Oh, hey, I have a card" when someone asks me if I know any more string players who might be willing to do X thing.

Edited: May 6, 2018, 5:53 PM · There's one more, but it's rare: occasionally a community orchestra may engage a soloist on the recommendation of a member of the orchestra. But that tends to be either a soloist who may not be known locally but has a good reputation elsewhere and some kind of connection to an orchestra member, or a soloist recommended by a person whose judgment the conductor trusts.

Auditioning for the orchestra you want to play with may be a good idea, especially if you think you have the ability to audition for a concertmaster or section leader position. Orchestras sometimes introduce a new concertmaster or section leader with a solo performance. The only time I ever performed as a soloist was a few months after joining a community orchestra as principal violist; I was their first newly appointed string section leader in several years, so the conductor thought it was a good idea to highlight the change with a solo performance. Similarly, in orchestras I've played in, on two different occasions I recall newly appointed concertmasters playing a concerto as soloist in their first or second concert with the orchestra.

May 6, 2018, 6:03 PM · a lot of the above advice is about soloing with an orchestra. Fundraising opportunities are great ways to play for a good cause.
May 6, 2018, 6:05 PM · And it's reasonable, in my opinion, to skim an appropriate accompanist's fee from the proceeds when doing a pro bono charity recital.
May 6, 2018, 9:09 PM · The OP was asking specifically about getting a gig as soloist with an orchestra.
May 6, 2018, 11:12 PM · Hi J,

This kind of stuff is always done by personal relationships and referrals.

Your post is hard to decipher:

"...since no one wanted to hire me due to unprofessional reasons), but I have fixed almost every single technical issue." — I think you're conflating two separate things here (unprofessionalism, which is different than deficient technique). It sounds like you want to get gigs again using the spotlight of playing a solo with an orchestra...(which won't really work...)

I don't know what you had done, but unfortunately getting out of people's unofficial "black list" is difficult. As a professional I want to deliver what was asked of me, deliver it well, and not show up late and be a positive influence to colleagues. I will never refer or hire someone that will harm myself or my friends.

If your goal is to get back into gigs...start small and show those who will give you a second chance that you're reliable and nice to work with and can nail the notes. Or move to a brand new area and start fresh.

May 7, 2018, 3:55 AM · Or you could hire the orchestra... :-)
May 7, 2018, 8:12 AM · "Or you could hire the orchestra... :-)"

Stan stole my suggestion. I've put on a church concert where I played a Bach concerto and had colleagues play in a small orchestra. We split the proceeds.

You could do that and invite a conductor (don't count on them coming though if they don't know you...).

No one in their right mind will hire a soloist without first hearing them play a complete concerto with an orchestra. I wouldn't.

Edited: May 7, 2018, 2:27 PM · "burned your bridges"(?) It can take a very long time to repair a damaged reputation. It might take less time if you move to another major city : LA, NY, Nashville, Texas, etc, then do auditions for lower budget orchestras, volunteer, sponsor your own demo recital. It will take about one year to make yourself known.
May 9, 2018, 7:28 AM · "It will take about one year to make yourself known...."

...and then burn those bridges too.

May 9, 2018, 7:46 AM · I don't know about burning bridges. Seems like it would make the strings too low to make a decent sound.

OP (if you're still around), how widely were you known in the first place? Since it seems you're trying to rebuild from the ground up, it might make sense to simply relocate. I'd think that it would be easier to start fresh than to make people forget.

May 17, 2018, 3:21 PM · Are there reputable competitions he could enter as an adult?
Edited: May 17, 2018, 6:35 PM · There are, but they're intended for players who are at the level of an internationally-competitive soloist. That doesn't sound like the OP.

Also, winning a competition won't do anything to repair a damaged professional reputation.

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