I'm very much a beginner, so I'm not thinking of auditioning this summer or anytime soon. I like setting goals though, and would like to get a feel for the skill level these guys are looking for.
The audition pieces they had folks play for violin last year are:
Mozart: Symphony #39, Last Movement, Beginning – Bar 41
Mendelssohn: Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Beginning – Bar 99
Beethoven: Symphony #9, 3rd Movement, Bars 99 – 114
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet
Based on that, is this an intermediate level orchestra, or closer to semi pro?Tweet
I agree with going to a concert and hearing for yourself.
If you live in a large enough city, perhaps there are multiple community orchestras of various skill levels.
Fortunately for OP, there are multiple community orchestras in the area. Consider the Really Terrible Orchestra of the Triangle first; that's more of an intermediate level group.
Sorry the video and audio are not perfectly synchronized ...
I figured it was way up there when they had an audition. I was looking up the pieces on youtube and someone was talking about how to play it for an audition. They spoke of flying to auditions all over the country...
I saw the Really Terrible Orchestra of the Triangle. It's in Cary though and is a bit of a haul for me. There's also a Durham Community band that I may check out in the future.
There were no videos on the Durham Symphony's website, and I didn't think to check youtube. Sure enough:
It could very easily be this. Then again, it could also be a very high level community orchestra. Some directors, however, have a tendency to hand their members music that is a beyond their ability.
My own story:
I had been playing the violin for exactly one year. However, I was progressing rapidly. Having just won an award offered by a former member of this orchestra, I was offered a seat in the orchestra. My first exposure to that orchestra was the Storm from Beethoven's Symphony #6. Oh boy, I was not the only one who was lost!!
I played with a college orchestra during fall term, and we played the Schumann Piano Concerto, among other selections. Given COVID, auditions (informal when required) had been suspended. What fun! I had to practice hard, but as a 2nd violin, I was able to contribute.
All that changed during winter term, which rehearses for the spring pops concert. After our first rehearsal, which included playing John Williams Harry Potter piece with all those glorious, 32nd note runs, I came to the conclusion that the music is over my head. Rather than beat said head against a wall trying to play that level of music, I decided to focus my practice time entirely on lessons.
But there's a local, true (non-college) community orchestra that I'm looking into. It's my understanding that they pick selections to match the skill level of he orchestra.
In our area, orchestras play concert by concert, and they have rehearsals scheduled for each. So, joining this or that orchestra doesn't doesn't entail playing for an entire year. This enables me to scratch my orchestra itch by picking and choosing my concerts.
My daughter was in her junior district orchestra last week, and they were playing pieces that were probably sight readable for most of them. I think that makes sense, especially since they had roughly 12 hours to put together 4 or 5 pieces. They sounded absolutely glorious, despite the pieces being so simple.
By contrast, the senior district orchestra that came after them, was a disaster. They opened with Russlan and Ludmila, and never recovered from it. It was likely well above their abilities (it turns out that the aspirational kids do regionals, not district), and there just wasn't enough time to do it well.
I feel that the new conductor for my daughter's youth orchestra is also in danger of choosing pieces that are above what her kids can do. She started with Dvorak #9 for their first concert, and ended up having to drop movements. So naturally, she chose Tchaik #4 for the upcoming concert. She has had to call out kids in violins, because the first two chairs in each section are carrying the entire section.
My first orchestra experience was 2 months before my 10th birthday. I had been taking violin lessons for 5 years and at my first private lesson at the MSM in New York my teacher suggested I go down to the auditorium after my lesson and try playing with the youth orchestra. So I did and I was a disaster! I had had some confidence in my sight reading ability, but the rest of the kids played everything so well and so fast. It was only about 70 years later that I realized they must have been re-playing their Spring concert - so no one else was sight reading. I actually went home crying. But I continued 30 minute private lessons with that teacher at MSM as well as the hour-long theory class later the same day with a different teacher, every Saturday of the next 2 academic years.
I actually quit lessons and playing before I was 12 for more than a year and never took another violin lesson; I've been "self-taught" ever since. I never played in an orchestra again for 4 years when I joined my high school's orchestra as a beginning freshman. I've been playing in orchestras and other ensembles and I have never had the same problem in the 76 years since.
Choosing repertoire is tough, and rarely successful. Those orchestras need a mix of pieces that are manageable challenges to bring them on, and others that they are able to work up to high performance standard so they get a sense of what is possible.
And ideally those conductors, having coached and cajoled the orchestra to be able to play the pieces to a moderate standard, can then switch to interpretation mode so the musical shape is brought out in the final performance. Really hard.
Also, if my memory serves me correctly, and I'm remembering the name of this person correctly, the principal second violinist of that youth orchestra is now the concert master of the Toronto symphony.. and I mention that, because so often these community orchestras and youth orchestras, are the breeding ground for the next generation of great players in major Symphony Orchestras. Inappropriate music selection, can damage or defeat this benefit for these young people.
The first thing I saw on my stand in an orchestra rehearsal was Brahms's 1st Symphony, and I ended up faking the vast majority of it in the concert. This was at a small school with no music department; there were some excellent players and the front half of each string section had no trouble with the repertoire, but they also let in people who really weren't able to keep up a lot of the time.
But not everything in Brahms 1 was unplayable. I was able to play some of the familiar themes, and that was enough for me to be happy to continue trying to play a little more and fake a little less each concert, and get as many pointers as I could from other people. After I graduated, I dropped down to more intermediate-level ensembles, and worked my way up over the next decade to auditioned orchestras that could play standard repertoire. I now play in an orchestra that takes on even the most challenging pieces in the repertoire on just 4-5 weeks of weekly rehearsals.
This is my current orchestra:
Looking up the Durham Symphony, they classify themselves as semi-pro, with both professionals and volunteers; I assume that means that they pay some but not all the players. They are tiny -- chamber orchestra sized.
They are not the right group for you, OP. The type of player they seek is likely either a music educator with a strong command of their instrument, or a really excellent amateur. Look for a different community orchestra in your area, one that accepts casual hobbyists.
Community orchestras vary really widely. I posted a tiered classification here some time back, and I turned it into a blog post: LINK
That said, all the pieces that are used in that audition are fairly commonly played in community orchestras, and I originally learned them that way (and the first time I played that Scherzo for an audition, it was for a community orchestra re-auditioning existing members).
When I was very young, I was the assistant CM in a community orchestra that had an absolutely fantastic brass section, pretty good woodwinds, and average-quality-for-a-community-orchestra strings. Well, the thing about brass is that in the right repertoire, they can cover an amazing assortment of ills, especially in the strings. We did a lot of big bombastic works that were a delight to participate in but had utterly murderous string parts that were largely drowned out. (This is how I learned a good chunk of the common Richard Strauss works...)
There's also the question of the length of a set and the number of rehearsals therein, and whether or not what is a total mess in rehearsal #1 and possibly #2 will fix itself by the time you get to the concert and everyone has the weeks they need to learn the repertoire (or gets over the procrastination hump and panic practices).
And much of the time it's not the difficulty of each individual work as the total amount of practice time investment necessary to get the whole group of works for the concert to a decent level. A single really difficult but has-to-be-right transparent segment of music can eat ridiculously disproportionate practice time.
Player mix in the strings is a huge factor also. If you've got big string sections you'll likely have more of a mixed bag of skill levels. A handful of strong players can often carry a section, but conversely a handful of weak players can really mess up the precision of sound of an otherwise excellent section.
Community orchestra concertmasters are likely to get some input into the proposed sets for a season, especially when the conductor isn't a string player. That serves as a bit of a balancing mechanism against the risk that a set is too difficult in ways that aren't necessarily obvious to the conductor. (In general, conductors have the sense to recognize themselves that notes in the stratosphere will be a problem for most community orchestra 2nd violinists, etc.)
In the end, in the community orchestra context, for strings the expectation is usually "contribute what you can, fake the rest", with some reasonable floor to the minimum skill level expected. For first violinists that tends to be a Bruch level, maybe deBeriot 9 at the low end. For second violinists it's solid intermediate technique, comfortable in 1st position, reliable enough in 3rd position, and maybe occasionally able to manage what my teacher jokingly calls "emergency position" (5th position) -- where Accolay level is considered good.
Lydia, the second sentence of your paragraph seems to contradict the first and is completely at odds with the zeitgeist in the UK. Nobody I know "in the community orchestra context" thinks in terms of a "minimum skill level" determined by what grade of showpiece you can get your fingers round.
Our community orchestras try hard to be welcoming and in my experience never audition aspiring string players. If there happens to be a vacancy pretty much any applicant will be invited to occupy it and first of all judge for themselves if they are a good fit. Of course some selection takes place in determining who sits where, but this is determined by getting to know each player in context. Musical sensitivity is a highly prized quality that isn't, in my view, reliably indicated by any player's performance as a soloist.
But then my area has a big gap in community orchestras. By the description in Lydia's blog post, locally there are three "elite" community orchestras where most of the 2nd violin section can play a reasonable Bruch or Mendelssohn. All the others are either in the lower half of "casual" orchestras or expressly adult beginner orchestras, with one of those casual orchestras hitting its ability limit at early Romantic symphonies and the others mostly playing arrangements. Oddly, nothing in between.
I'm using "Bruch level" and "De Beriot 9 level" as proxies for general technical level, as opposed to anyone being asked what they've learned in the past. However, auditions are moderately common for American community orchestras. Some have a "come play with us and we'll mutually decide if you should stay" attitude, and that's probably the bulk of the orchestras, especially outside major metro areas.
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