Violin Orchestra Audition

Many young violin students dream of pursuing a career as a professional orchestra, but are not familiar with the audition selection process, or the minimal requirements that are often required.

First, as one would imagine, it is and can be a very competitive and exhaustive process.  'Winning' a professional orchestral job is a culmination of a lifetime of preparation, hard work, talent, expense (it costs money to go to these) and an element of luck!

If you are thinking of embarking on a professional career of playing the violin, then this means, that you love the violin!  Good for you!!  There is a common belief (which we share here) that whatever it is that you dream of doing in life, the passion and love that you have for that particular interest will carry you through some of the toughest times and all the hours of dedication.  Love for what you do, is the key.

Professional Orchestra Violin Audition Process:

Let's first assume that the violin applicant already has a considerable educational background (a Bachelors degree of some kind).  Yo Yo Ma I think was a History major!  Mostly though, people will have music degree backgrounds and from some top tier school. We're not going to get into “which" schools here as that could easily develop into wholly dedicated web site just for that alone.

  • most all professional orchestra auditions (in the USA and Canada) are advertised in the International Musician trade magazine that tends to advertise vacancies months or weeks in advance.  You have to be in the musicians union to get one of these.  If you are not, (still a student) just borrow one from your teacher or from someone that belongs to it and receives it in the mail.
  • you then send in your resume and there is usually a deposit required at time of application.  The deposit is usually required because so many players just want to inquire or see what the list is, but for that orchestra's personnel manager trying to slot all these players in, it is really difficult to do if bunches of people do not actually show up the day of the audition.  The deposit usually guarantees that people don't do this and requires that they give a notice of not coming.  No one's trying to make money on auditions here and the deposits are given back if the player lets them know that he/she is not going come.  Orchestra players joke that when some of the top vacancies attract 150 players, there must be some kind of conspiracy with the local hotels!  Not true, but think of the logistics involved with 100 bass players showing up in one city at the same time!!!
  • upon receipt, you will get your audition repertoire list.  There is always bound to be something strange on the list that stands out, but most usually it is from the standard repertoire and again, should not be a total surprise.  If everything on the list is new and different, thing twice before you book that expensive air ticket.
  • again, usually a 'candidate' will receive the list in due time and have weeks to practice the parts. You can buy excerpt books, but it is always better to find the whole and original part.  From this you can copy what you need from that, or just highlight which parts they say to prepare for.
  • The first round is usually behind a screen.  This is to try to ensure complete anonymity so that there is no chance of any kind of pre-judging based on race or gender, or whatever would effect anyone's judgement (trying to be fair!) Preliminary rounds are usually around 10 minutes each.  (Sometimes even shorter.)  You are given a number and usually groups of 5-10 people go out and play (one by one) and after each person, the committee people listening will vote.  Each orchestra is different.  Some (like in Cleveland) do not use screens and some orchestras keep the screen up all the way to the end (I think the Met. Opera does that now.)  Some auditionees find it comforting to actually play or practice behind some curtain (even that can make you nervous) and practicing this, can really make it less distracting.  Less distraction is always better.
  • These days, audition committees like to even give measure numbers so that there is very little guess work of just what you might be asked to do at the audition.  They are not trying to trick anyone here and if you everyone will be playing the same parts and excerpts.  Easy to compare apples to apples this way.   Sometimes, if the committee is unsure on whether or not you have played or showed your best, they might ask you to play on a couple more excerpts that person before or after didn't have to yet play.  That's ok, this is usually good for you.
  • For auditions with bigger numbers, there is often semi rounds (and these usually behind the screen still), but not always.  Most usually, you will be asked to play more (different) excerpts than before.
  • Finals.  Ok baby, this is why you are here…shine.  The screen is down, so I hope you shaved or wore something other than your favorite T-shit!  Dress and look professional.  For men, I really think neck ties are needed.  Wear something acceptable (not jeans!) and ladies, don't were high heels or anything that you won't feel totally at ease and comfortable playing in.  Comfort…is good.
  • Often, the 'winning' candidate might be asked to sit in with with the orchestra for a week or two.  You are paid and your (future) colleagues just want to make sure that you are 'ok'.  For instance…you don't stand up in the middle of the concert and stretch!!  That would be weird and a bad career move.  (This just proves that we have a good sense of humor here.)

Taking auditions can be a physical and financial drain.  At the same time, in a strange 'twisted' way, they can be really fun and so often educational.  You can find out where you 'are' just by showing up, hearing other people play and hang around.  This was a simple and quick scenario on taking a professional orchestra audition.  It is (very) brief.  For more detailed information, there are books and masterclasses that teach violin orchestra repertoire.  Good luck!

  • with a good luthier, you can find that happy medium that with the proper sound post adjustment, he can find a good bridge height and sound post fitting that should work all year round.  This is especially true if you have a new violin or 'new' to you or to the area.  For example, you bought the violin on the west coast and brought it home across country to a new and different climate.
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