Should I go for the lesser played violin concerto's?

September 4, 2017, 9:02 PM · Hello I was wondering what you guys thought about lesser played repertoire compared to popular repertoire and which one is better for auditioning with? I am currently thinking about learning De-Beriot's concerto no.2 but it is a not very well known piece and so I am wondering if I should learn this or something else that is more popular? I will be playing this for fun and for auditions.

Replies (26)

September 4, 2017, 9:12 PM · Auditioning for what?
Edited: September 5, 2017, 10:37 AM · For an audition of any kind, definitely play a standard, familiar piece. With something unfamiliar, a listener focuses on trying to quickly make sense out of the piece more than how it is being played. With a familiar piece, they can focus on the player and have standards of comparison.

It took me a while to learn that lesson. One favorite piece of mine, which I eventually recorded is an Allegro by Veracini - the finale to a sonata in A of his and I used to like to open with that for an audition. It's very effective and somewhat similar in its overall technique and effect to the Bach E major Prelude from the 3rd Partita. So why not play THAT? Another personal favorite of mine to play and audition with was the Mozart no. 2. Once I announced my piece by saying "Mozart Concerto in D, K 211" Who thinks about Koechel numbers? And why didn't I say "no. 2"? Probably just a nervous oversight. The guy was obviously expecting no. 4 when he heard me say "Mozart in D". Just before I started, he took a sip of coffee - and when I began he was so startled that he spit his coffee out and almost chocked! I kid you not! It was like a scene out of a movie! I stopped and apologized. He said "that's OK" and asked me to begin again. Oddly enough, I did not get that job.

Also, for some major orchestra auditions they give you a short list of concertos you can choose from. You might want to play the Bruch no. 1 but they might not want to hear it.

I see that OP is a student, but just a general fyi.

September 5, 2017, 7:29 AM · Outside of your auditions, however, feel free to explore and perform whatever non-standard pieces you had in mind, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. Especially since it looks like you don't have some uptight donor or manager breathing down your neck about ticket sales. Those standard pieces had to become standard somehow, you know. And classical music especially surely could veer off the beaten path for once. Every little bit of support for a "new" work helps. Even if just five people learn about a piece they have never heard and enjoy it, that is five more people who can then go spread the word.
September 5, 2017, 7:51 AM · No comment on auditions, but for fun check out Romantic Violin Concerto series of discs/downloads from Hyperion. Many fantastic rarely played works (as well as some standards) in fine performances. They did the same for the piano too.
September 5, 2017, 8:26 AM · As someone who listens to student auditions for youth orchestras, I strongly recommend playing something familiar. It's much easier as a judge to evaluate a student's playing on a piece that I know well and have a standard in mind for comparison.

If you must do something off the beaten path, do your judges a favor and bring a copy of the sheet music for them to look at while you play. Otherwise they may have no idea whether you're playing something correctly.

For pro auditions, unless you want your committee whispering to each other "What is THAT?" instead of actually listening to your playing, please play something that you can reasonably expect any professional string player to be familiar with.

September 5, 2017, 9:43 AM · My teacher for the latter part of my childhood tended to pick things that other students weren't playing, and I missed playing a bunch of warhorses of the student repertoire as a result (no Accolay, Meditation from Thais, etc.). But the things that he chose were still within the realm of the common-enough student repertoire that other violin teachers were likely reasonably familiar with, even if they weren't popular with other local teachers.

In other words: You don't have to play exactly the same thing everyone else does, but within the realm of familiarity is a good idea, if you're playing a competition.

September 5, 2017, 11:30 AM · Prokofiev 1 and the Dvorak are amazing concerto yet they aren't played or used as much (for auditions) which is really weird to me. I think most judges wouldnt have a hard time figuring out the concertos. The same goes for Korngold, Kachaturian, and Glazunov concertos in some cases, although they aren't as good audition pieces like the Tchaik, Brahms and Sibelius, because they display very little technique in the first couple of minutes. I may be completely wrong though.
September 5, 2017, 11:31 AM · Lydia, what were some of the less-common works you learned which you have in mind here?
September 5, 2017, 11:47 AM · Prokofiev 1, Dvorak, Korngold, Khachaturian, Glazunov, are all well-known pieces and wouldn't be any problem for a pro orchestra audition committee although I agree that some are not particularly good audition pieces.

I was once on an audition committee that never could identify the concerto played by a candidate--this was a committee that included seven very experienced professional string players--and of course we could not ask the candidate behind the screen. I still have no idea what piece that was. Not recommended.

September 5, 2017, 12:48 PM · Advice will vary on this, but I agree with the previous posters that in nearly all audition settings, a standard piece is the best choice. I know it feels restrictive and forced (at least, it always has to me), but that's the way it works. This is why many professional orchestras will give a short list of concertos to choose from, typically Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius or Mendelssohn. If you're playing de Beriot, then those are almost certainly out of your league, but my point is that it's better to err on the side of overplayed than the side of obscure.
Edited: September 5, 2017, 12:49 PM · Jason, I pretty much skipped most lyrical music -- no Vitali Chaconne, no Thais, no Kreisler Liesbesleid/Liebesfreud or Gluck Melodie, no Elgar Salut d'Amour or Rachmaninoff Vocalise, etc.

But I also missed out on various other warhorses. No Csardas, for instance (I did the Ten Have Allegro Brillante instead, which is a staple of the student repertoire but I never heard another kid play locally). No Wieniawski or Sarasate works. Student concertos swapped out -- Rode No. 7, for instance, which nobody seemed to play locally, rather than Spohr or Kreutzer. No Bruch No. 1 -- the Mendelssohn was my first Romantic concerto.

I am now blanking on the rest of the less-common intermediate works that I learned, though. They weren't much fun. :-)

September 5, 2017, 12:52 PM · No Thais, seriously, Lydia? Okay, you're officially kicked off of
September 5, 2017, 12:53 PM · Achuth, Prokofiev No. 1 isn't a particularly good audition concerto. You have a slow opening that demands a ton of control, and probably a good two minutes past before you start having a chance to show that you have decent technique, and the pyrotechnics don't start for a good while after that.

Good orchestral audition concertos give you the opportunity to showcase core violin technique (both left and right hands) in a short period of time -- to establish "yes, this person can play the violin" in a handful of measures.

September 5, 2017, 1:20 PM · Yeah. :-)

I binged on slow works when I started playing the violin again as an adult. Thais was one of the first things I learned then. I had really wanted to play it as a kid!

Edited: September 5, 2017, 3:35 PM · @Samuel, the first question (and the main one) you really like the concerto you mentioned? If so, go on. I don't think it's on the "blacklist" of the-concertos-that-nobody-knows.

Personally I would feel more anxious if the audition committee were having scores of what I was playing in front of them. Of course if they know the concerto you are playing, having or not having the score means nothing, but you know, in psychological terms it could be very tense. I guess it's better for everybody that the committee is relaxed, so auditioning with something that most people are familiar with, could be better.

September 5, 2017, 3:48 PM · What everyone is describing is somewhat of a viscious cycle that perpetuates the classical masterpiece syndrome. Most serious players spend a good deal of their time focused on auditions, thus they work on mostly the most standard warhorse fare. And one day, a few of those aspiring players will end up on a committee themselves, and guess what pieces they will know then? Wash rinse repeat.

I suspect that it will take the forces of at least one astronomically big name along with quite a few ordinary players of music to champion enough obscure works to break the canon mentality.

September 5, 2017, 4:38 PM · Big names are playing unusual stuff all the time. But that's the things ... only the biggest names seem to be able to get away with it. How many folks are going to buy more than one recording of the Schoenberg? And if you are going to buy one, is it going to be Hilary Hahn or some 2nd-tier player?
September 5, 2017, 5:46 PM · I don't think it's really a masterpiece syndrome, so much as that there's a known set of decent pedagogical pieces that accomplish a given set of teaching objectives as well as work decently for auditions, and therefore nobody ends up deviating from them. Most of those pieces aren't masterpieces -- nobody plays DeBeriot concertos on the professional stage, for instance, although they've gotten recorded for the sake of library completeness and students that need recordings, it seems.

There are plenty of players who champion contemporary and rare repertoire, but what they play is much more likely to be recital fare, rather than concertos with orchestra. Hilary Hahn and other first-tier soloists can, to some degree, push to play what they want, but only to a limited extent -- just look at the careful warhorse pairings in Hahn's discography, for instance. Most other soloists play what orchestras ask them to play. (And many orchestras have to pay for rental parts when they play more obscure works, which means money out of their budget, which little regional orchestras probably don't like much, especially when said obscure work may fail to draw the audience that a warhorse would.)

Of the contemporary concertos championed by Heifetz, only the Korngold seems to have really gotten adopted into the mainstream repertoire, and at that, relatively recently -- long after his death.

September 5, 2017, 6:14 PM · Actually, there certainly are regional efforts to perform new music. I know, because I have done it. :) We're talking about auditions, though, which are an entirely different animal.
September 5, 2017, 8:51 PM · There's a reason why warhorses become warhorses; it's because they meet a need extremely well. In the case of auditions, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius are two concertos that allow a violinist to strut his/her technical stuff in the first three minutes, are forgiving of minor errors, allow a nervous violinist to dig in and work out some of that stress, and have beautiful melodies to boot.

I enjoy hearing unfamiliar music in performances, but I'm not listening to auditions to hear new and/or unique music. I'm listening to determine how someone plays, and if Sibelius is the shortest route to that, bring it on.

September 6, 2017, 7:32 AM · Yeah, I was struggling with the question of whether an audition is a "performance" or not in my previous post. I think it isn't, really. I mean, technically, yes, you are performing for people, but the purpose of an audition is not at all the same as the purpose of a concert. I am not especially good at auditions, although I did manage to audition my way into multiple regional orchestras, which is actually pretty decent considering I never went to music school and I have IU students for competition. That being said, technical perfection under pressure is absolutely not my forte. People who are impressed with my playing are impressed by the "soul," which--while certainly not irrelevant in an audition--is not the primary focus either. I can attest from personal experience that being able to captivate an audience with your magic sauce and being able to dead nail an excerpt in front of a screen in an empty theater are completely different skills. The warhorse is the fastest way to uncover who can do the latter, because if you can, your technique is probably unshakeable.
September 6, 2017, 8:11 AM · While I do agree that the warhorses have certain qualities that make them ideal for testing certain skills in an audition setting, I don't think that this is the only, or even the main reason they became so standard. It runs much deeper than the audition setting. Classical music has a mentality in performance, that only a small canon of pieces are the "masterpieces", and thus the only ones worth our time. It has been that way since roughly the 19th century. It is unfortunate for talented living composers because they will always be seen in the shadow of the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms.
September 6, 2017, 8:24 AM · I agree with you there, Lieschen. And I do think it is definitely a problem.
September 6, 2017, 8:46 AM · Some claim that it's because audiences "got smarter"-I believe the opposite: it's easier to manage and promote a smaller number of "warhorses" at a Concert Hall, with the aim of "filling" them and get more $, than going through the "trouble" of advertising "minor works." This not only affects modern composers, but MOST composers of all eras, alive or from other generations. Is it "smarter" to know less music, by depriving oneself in favor of the "true masterworks?

Appreciating many "lesser" works and composers doesn't in any way "taint" your musical appreciation. All the opposite; it will make you a better rounded listener and/or musician.

September 6, 2017, 8:50 AM · I actually think it's just audiences being audiences. Top 40 musicians have the same problem. They've recorded twelve albums since that big hit in the 90s, but all people are interested in is what's still played on the radio.

Also, it's not an either/or scenario. Everybody, and I do mean everybody, programs warhorses. But most orchestras program at least some new music as well. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a paying orchestra that *never* performs anything by living composers.

September 7, 2017, 7:28 PM · Thank you guys so much!!! I have been away for a bit so I couldn't reply sooner. After what you said and also with a lot of thought I think I will learn Bruch's 1rst concerto and learn the De Beriot 2 for fun. Thanks again for all of your amazing insights and advice:)

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