THE MARCH AUDITIONS – And, why NOT to use the Prelude of the 6th Suite (Bach)

In March, I took two more auditions, numbers four and five this year. After the experiences of February I felt like my process of preparation is in constant improvement and development, and I am extremely fortunate to have had many opportunities for lessons with Associate Principal Viola of the Houston Symphony, Joan DerHovsepian (more on that later), and this month I also got to play excerpts in a masterclass for Basil Vendreyes, Principal of the Colorado Symphony. Hearing his advice and playing was such an inspiring part of the preparation process this time around, and really helped me in keeping up the momentum for these auditions as well as the next ones a little further along the line.

 

The first of the March auditions was for a title chair and so it involved learning a lot of less familiar solo excerpts. Perhaps most notably, this was my first experience of the Ginastera Variaciones Concertantes. Other solo excerpts included the typical Don Quixote solos as well as the beautiful but treacherous Ravel “Mother Goose” solo.

Both of the March auditions also included less-standard excerpts from Don Juan, with passages from later in the work (from letter R to a few bars before T, and then from 14 after V to letter Y) so that gave me some new excerpts to add to the Strauss rotation.

To cut to the chase: I did not advance at either of these auditions. I felt that I played well, and in both auditions they heard a lot more of the Bach than I was expecting (which was both a good and a bad thing!). The second audition had six excerpts on the list for the preliminary round, and I was quite pleased not to get cut off, in fact they listened to the ENTIRETY of my Bach Prelude, which was the one from Suite 6. It was also my first real-audition experience of playing Copland’s Appalachian Spring, so it was nice to get that experience for the next time that one comes up. I am still using the beta-blockers and am slowly but surely getting more comfortable playing on that audition stage. Sometimes it even feels good, when I am able to relax and appreciate my sound in the different acoustics of the hall that I am in.

 

Now, let’s talk a little bit about that Bach. I have now benefited from the advice of several orchestral section leaders of major American orchestras, and I do not think that any of them have recommended the Prelude of Suite 6. I do know that a couple of them have outright discouraged the use of this particular Prelude for orchestral auditions. I remember first playing it for CJ Chang, Principal Viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra in a masterclass at the Aspen Music Festival, and he objected to its transposition to G Major from the original key of D, and did not encourage its use for auditions. More recently, Basil Vendreyes gave me the advice not to use it because it is not very musically dynamic with its constant stream of 8th notes, and it is also very long, and one never knows when one will get stopped. And that’s just not a great feeling to have during your audition.

After the March auditions I can attest that Basil Vendreyes is absolutely, 100% right about this. The first audition began with Bach, and then three more excerpts. I felt reasonably good about the opening of my Suite 6 Prelude, and as I continued to play things were generally fine. But after all the major cadential points had passed and I was somewhere at the end of the third page, approaching the fourth, things began to deteriorate as I grew more concerned about when they would stop me rather than playing the music. Silly mistakes began to creep in and when they finally stopped me (somewhere on the last page of the piece), my confidence was not at its highest to switch gears and approach the excerpts.

(I did not have time to change my Bach this time around but you can be sure that I have since changed my Prelude to that of Suite 3.)

 

The second audition in March was just a week later. (Both of these were during Spring Break, one at the beginning and one at the end. A relaxing holiday, for sure!). I learned enough from my experience at the first one to expect to play the ENTIRE Bach, even if this was highly unlikely, because it is better to play as if you will perform the whole thing. And lo and behold, Bach was there on that preliminary list. The proctor warned me as I was going onstage that the panel was stopping Preludes (the Bach could be any movement at this audition whereas the last audition specified only Preludes), and to expect to be stopped. Luckily I had decided beforehand to disregard this thought and to play as if they were going to hear all of it – and they DID. So, even though in the end I did not advance, they must have heard enough that they liked to want to hear more – and with these experiences I was able to move into the preparation for my last three auditions of this season (late April and early May) with renewed motivation and a more refined plan of action!

Strategies for next time: sort excerpts into an order based on the standard “preliminary round” selections, and prepare those as the front line. There are always some common excerpts (Mendelssohn Scherzo, Don Juan, Mozart…) and if these are strong enough to get through that first round, then that may help my confidence in the future. I really want to start advancing at these auditions!

 

Until next time,

Alexa

 

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