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The audition is, in every respect, an exceptional situation for both body and mind. Every candidate has to prove him-/herself within a very short time; often, they are only allowed five minutes. Therefore it is necessary to deliver a good performance at the right time.
The first impression
Just before entering the audition room, the applicant tends to become overly nervous. Nevertheless, it is necessary for him/her to present him-/herself perfectly from the very beginning. The first impression plays a role in every decision. Almost everyone of the interviewed orchestra musicians admitted to react also to the bearing and appearance of the candidate.
As a general rule, a friendly greeting and looking briefly at everyone around (provided there is no curtain) are noted positively. The same applies to a neat appearance suggesting that the applicant takes the audition seriously and has due respect for it. The style of clothing is part of the applicant's personality; therefore, there are no specific guidelines as to how to dress. One musician wrote: 'The clothes should be clean and sufficient.' That means anything goes between evening dress and suit (both would appear too put-on) and belly shirts and tattered jeans. The applicant should do without conspicuous details such as visible piercings, etc. in order to leave him-/herself open to emotional attack as little as possible. Entering the room calmly and with great concentration conveys a positive, self-confident and convincing impression. A winning first impression increases the chance that the members of the orchestra can well imagine the candidate to be their future colleague.
The musical performance
The most important aspect of an audition still is the musical performance. All interviewed orchestra musicians said that their priorities during the assessment of an applicant lay in the musical components of intonation, sound, technique, phrasing, articulation, tone, rhythm and dynamics. It goes without saying that each applicant has to master the compulsory and optional pieces perfectly. Besides, it should also be expected that the performance is not necessarily cut short at the end of the development. It is especially the first movement of the compulsory concerto that has to be mastered completely. Also important is a clear stylistic distinction between compulsory piece and optional piece. Flexibility of vibrato, tone colour and phrasing are positively assessed. It is therefore essential for the applicant to stand out from the mass of other applicants in the first rounds by his/her special musical personality.
Upon preparation, the orchestral passages are often underestimated. But if necessary, it is they which decide on the filling of the vacancy. It is advisable for the applicant to acquaint him-/herself with the works from which the passages for the audition were taken in order to be aware of the tempo, dynamics, rhythm and the musical environment. The candidate should show his/her musical creative drive here as well. Whoever wins the orchestra musicians over with his/her performance of the orchestral passages at the end of a long audition, has good chances of succeeding. Excessive tuning or too long warm-up exercises before the individual pieces should be avoided as this draws the attention from the actual musical performance.
Extra-musical aspects are taken note of as well. This includes the handling of the instrument (is the candidate confident or tense?), his/her reaction to mistakes (does the candidate ignore them or is s/he strongly affected by them in the following?), instrumental confidence, posture, dealing with nervousness as well as the adoption and implementation of suggestions for improvement made by the orchestra musicians. The communication with the pianist is given special attention because this is where the candidate's ability of ensemble playing becomes apparent. The candidate should, in any case, turn towards the orchestra while playing and avoid hiding behind the music stand – this would just be a sign of a lack of self-confidence.
From the beginning, it is advisable for the applicant to not only focus on the preparation of the pieces but also work on his/her appearance. Put-on acts or exaggerated movements may appear odd. 'Too much show and movement are deceiving,' said one of the interviewed musicians. Asking an unbiased person for their objective opinion or videotaping might help to counteract too many physical peculiarities and peculiar facial expressions. Audition training might be helpful as well. During such sessions, the teachers not only set store by the perfect mastery of the musical works, but also work on appearance and impression.
But even the best preparation is not necessarily a ticket to employment. It is essential to suit the orchestra's subjective taste which does not always have to be the same as the applicant's. More and more frequently, positions remain vacant, and orchestras cancel auditions and set new dates because none of the candidates meets their requirements. Forty attempts to get a job are not uncommon. Perseverance, that's what's needed.
To many an applicant, the content of this article should not be new. It has been written for the others. For only if an appealing application leads to an invitation to audition and a winning first impression at the audition to a certain degree of interest, will that become the focus of attention which the applicant has worked on hard and for a long time: the musical performance.
Sara Täuber: Über die Kunst der gewinnbringenden Selbstdarstellung. Kleiner Leitfaden für angehende Orchestermusiker
published in: das Orchester 1/2009, Translation into English: Esther Dubielzig