CONCLUSIONS AND REFLECTIONS
Undertaking this research paper has provided me with extra insights into the preparation of auditions for violinists. It has been an enriching experience for me to be able to be in contact with colleagues in great orchestras at home and abroad and receive their input on their audition experiences. The confidence I had felt about the writing of the first chapters based largely on my own experience has been supported by very similar thoughts which I have received from experts in response to my questions. Coupled with the information I have received from candidates, I feel there are some general conclusions which can be made about how students can perform better at auditions and how their preparation could be improved. I have drawn some general conclusions in the following section in relation to the questions which I have posed in my survey.
In my first question about what experts are looking for in an ideal violin audition candidate, and what the candidates themselves think this is, there is a clear and obvious difference. The candidates seem clearly almost obsessed with trying to play as perfectly as possible at an audition, whereas experts (and myself) are looking for an artist and someone who is really involved in the music. It appears that candidates generally are not even really considering style differences in their presentations, or even considering variations in sound or vibrato to enhance a certain concerto or excerpt. “I hear few candidates who have a special, personal sound, a sound which is beautiful and intriguing, that draws me in. I want to hear musicians who have a clear conception of style: candidates who play a different sound and approach for Mozart and for Brahms for example, and show me that they understand these composers.” From my research, this quote by the first Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic sums up the differences in the approach of candidates and what audition committees want to hear.
The attention to beauty of sound is considered one of the most important qualities by all experts. As I have mentioned in Chapter 3, students can easily lose sight of this aspect when delving into concentrated preparation for an audition. Playing your entire audition program perfectly and even with some sense of artistry will not help you get a job, if not all played with a beautiful sound appropriate to the style of music. “I’ve been on both sides of the screen often enough to know that perfection rarely persuades. What a committee craves is a candidate that makes their choice easy and enjoyable.” As I have mentioned in Chapter 3 about audition preparation, one should “search for joy in movement and expression” when preparing repertoire for an audition and not just be preoccupied with playing perfectly. Also in my chapter about mental preparation, I emphasize that striving for perfection should not be the underlying thought in audition performance. This was indeed the most important aspect about audition preparation and performance in which I felt there would be the greatest difference in outlook between experts and candidates as mentioned in my hypothesis in the introduction. This has proven to be the case.
Going from question to question in my survey, the tendencies are clear. In the question about difference in criteria for first and second violin auditions, once again the experts clearly state that they are looking for all-round good musicians and not for a more brilliant first violinist. In fact, if anything, they are looking for a more brilliant second violinist. The candidates on the other hand seem to be stuck in a way of thinking in which, just because a first violinist does play music in higher positions on the instrument, that they would be expected to more of a soloist. This clear differentiation in the candidates’ minds about first and second violin attributes, once again shows that being an artist at an audition, whether for first or second violin placement, does not seem to have the upper hand.
Speaking about chamber music at an audition, I was very happy to hear various experts speak about the importance of playing chamber music in their lives in general and how this has helped them to get a good orchestra position. They consider studying and playing chamber music as an ideal preparation for good musicianship and also for an orchestra audition and career. This is also something that I feel very strongly about as I have mentioned in Chapter 3. Chamber music should be an integral part of training at a Conservatoire and not just an elective. Students should be playing chamber music early on in their studies and creating opportunities for themselves to do so, if for instance, they do not have this opportunity at home. This is valuable information for candidates in their general preparation towards auditions and becoming a worthy orchestral musician. Although preparing orchestral excerpts and having a broad knowledge of orchestral repertoire is a necessity, one should not become “obsessed” with the preparation of only the orchestral excerpts to exclusion of playing chamber music and solo repertoire. Working and reworking excerpts for years, asking “what is the right way to play a particular excerpt for a particular orchestra?” can have a stifling effect and reduce spontaneous music-making. It is important for candidates to realize that developing their general musicianship should be paramount and that they should be curious about all types of repertoire.
Continuing with the following question about what extra criteria committees consider if they have to choose between two candidates, personal style and conviction are often mentioned as well as experience as the most important factors. Candidates here again are mentioning perfection and the person who will fit in the best in the orchestra as their choices. As I have mentioned previously, the general tendency is that experts answer all questions if they can, with the fact that they are looking for general musicianship in a player. Candidates seem to be locked into the perfection state and also trying to play in a way which would serve what they believe to be the style of the orchestra, rather than relying on their own convictions. This is not a thought shared by all candidates, but more than three-quarters mention this in response to my survey.
The whole discussion about the use of screens at auditions is on-going. I was very surprised to hear how happy candidates are to play behind a screen, even though they do find it difficult. Somehow, they feel their concentration is better and they do not feel intimidated by the presence of the committee. This seems to fall into the same pattern of candidates not really wanting to express themselves and communicate at an audition, but rather hide behind the screen and try and play as perfectly as possible. These thoughts are in striking contrast to the opinion of the experts, who would all, without exception, do away with the screen altogether so that they could to be more involved with the candidate and their performance. They realise, however, that this is not an option, as the screen is regarded as a way to create equal opportunities for all candidates.
The quality seen as most lacking in a candidate at an audition, is also seen quite differently by both parties. Once again, experts are citing musical personality as the factor most absent at an audition. Candidates are mentioning more or less basic qualities, such as bad intonation or bad rhythm as what they expect committees to miss the most. They also list these qualities as what they lack in themselves at an audition, and often think that they were not successful at an audition, because of a wrong note or a single mistake in rhythm. As the survey goes on, it becomes more and more clear that the experts and the candidates are mostly at opposite ends of the spectrum about what really matters at an audition. This does support my initial thoughts about the results of this research.
Most candidates have mentioned that they feel considerable stress at an audition and wished they had had more mental skills training in their education to help deal with this. Having more confidence at an audition and being able to concentrate more would certainly help them overcome their anxiety at an audition. This in turn would perhaps help them to be more involved with the actual music which they are playing, instead of not getting past trying to play perfectly. In this paper, I have devoted a lengthy section to mental and physical preparation as I also see this a way for candidates to feel more confident in displaying their personality and therefore musicality at an audition.
I was also interested in the responses to my question about how experts and candidates would like to change the audition procedure, if given the opportunity. I must say that although the experts allowed me to quote them on all of their answers, this was one question which I was asked by some to not quote them directly, as they did not want to create friction with their colleagues in audition committees. All of the experts would do away with the screen, but that was already obvious in the earlier question about the use of screens at auditions. An interesting point raised by some was they feel that the audition process is bogged down by rules to make it as democratic as possible. They would like to see more flexibility in the process, more contact with the candidates during the audition and slight variations in the process if the situation, in their minds, would require it. This is also a point which I feel strongly about. As Glenn Dicterow stated, “there was something okay about the old-fashioned way of auditioning”, meaning greeting the candidates, asking them to play an excerpt in a certain way, instead of sitting behind a screen and not being able to say anything.
Reflecting upon my own writing in this paper, so basically the first six chapters, and the information I have received from experts and candidates, I feel very strongly that are certainly recommendations to be made regarding what one should consider in audition preparation. I feel the experts have affirmed my own feeling that true musicianship at an audition should be upmost in the candidate’s mind as a goal and not trying to be the perfect violinist. Trying to develop as an all-round musician, being a great chamber musician, developing your sight-reading, really studying the orchestral repertoire, combined with developing your technical skills on your instrument are all important. It is the combination of all aspects which add up to more than the whole, which will help you most at an audition. Of course, I stand by all of the methods which I describe in preparing for auditions, but this should be done with the focus always on trying to convey the music. Students should be more curious about all genres of music-indeed listen to Mozart Operas-listen to Schubert Lieder-go to as many orchestra concerts as you can-go and play chamber music-get involved in modern music projects! It is this general knowledge which will act as a cushion at an audition and help to give them the confidence to stand up and really convey what they feel about the music, and not what they feel a committee is expecting.
Developing mental skills should be a more integral part of Conservatoire education. All candidates suffer from dealing with the mental stress of auditioning and should receive more support in this direction during their studies. This is reflected very much in the responses of the students as to what they missed in their schooling. This is also certainly an aspect of audition preparation on which I shall focus more in my own teaching. I was happy and surprised to see that some of the techniques which I use in mental training which I have developed myself are well-documented and researched methods.
Experts also feel that students should be trained in their skills for receiving and giving feedback in the orchestra. This is of course after successfully completing an audition, but certainly an aspect to speak about at the Conservatoire level to help students function better in an orchestra.
Practising behind a screen should be more a part of audition training. Most candidates feel that this was lacking in their training. It is possible that if the students gained more experience with this aspect of audition preparation, that they would feel more confident about expressing themselves musically while playing behind a screen, instead of just hiding behind it.
Conservatoires should offer more audition training in their curricula as well as in-depth study of the orchestra excerpts. Mock auditions organized at conservatoria would be a great opportunity for students and potential audition candidates to practise their artistry and musicianship. Having recently attended a conference in Geneva devoted to speaking about training orchestral musicians, it is clear that conservatoria are taking the challenge seriously of preparing students for auditions and orchestral life. Perhaps this paper can offer suggestions for this all-important task.
All students preparing for auditions should see all aspects of audition preparation discussed in this paper as a means to an end. They need to dare to be musicians, and not just play mechanically. They need to develop valid, sophisticated ideas with the technical means to support them. Clearly this is the message given by the experts contacted through the research in this paper. Although there are definite aspects specifically associated to audition preparation as discussed in this paper, the ultimate goal must be to reach the core of the music. Of course, there are no guarantees that if all aspects discussed in this paper are followed, that one will automatically be successful at an audition. There is no magic solution which will get you a job. However, taking the guidelines seriously as outlined in this paper, always keeping in mind that all preparation should lead to a musically convincing performance, will help to make the journey to a fulfilling orchestra job more rewarding and successful.
 Dicterow,G. Stated in our Skype interview 29-3-2016