I was watching the US open golf tournament last week and they kept talking about when to be aggressive and when not to. It was a difficult course so a good score was par, which ended up winning, or close to it. I started thinking how close this strategy is to competing in an audition. When is a good time to go for par and when to attack and try for a birdie? In golf it depends on the difficulty of the hole, and in auditions it depends on the difficulty, and style of the excerpt.
Let’s go through some of the standard excerpts and ponder whether to attack or go for par. The most common except on auditions today is the solo from the Mozart Requiem. It’s usually one of the 1st excerpts on an audition, so it probably won’t win for someone, but it can make the audition committee look up from their crosswords and pay attention. Since it’s technically not difficult and in a middle register, many people will play it fairly well. To stand out it must be played with a superior quality sound with some creative phrasing. Most people play with a MF dynamic throughout. This might get someone to the middle of the pack, but not where they want to be. A better way is to have multiple dynamic changes, with phrasing that is always heading toward a destination. I prefer building toward all the flat notes in this excerpt, and starting the final phrase pp, building and receding until finishing with a full round sound.
The Ravel Bolero solo is on almost every audition these days and is an excerpt that can score big points. Since it was written for a small bore, French trombone I feel it should be played in a modern commercial, ballad style, as opposed to a big symphonic style. Even on the modern large-bore trombone it is possible to imitate a small bore trombone by the use of a small focused airstream. The use of vibrato is recommended, and if jaw vibrato is used it should imitate a slide vibrato, which with practice is possible. I like to imagine playing a ballad-type solo into a microphone to get the original style Ravel intended. The current practice of slurring the entire solo in vogue at present is a mistake I believe, because unless it is technically flawless, demonstrates the worst shortcomings of the slide trombone; slurred continuous sixteenth note passages. A careful mixing of slurred and tongued articulations is a wiser choice. The tendency to finish this excerpt fortissimo is another common mistake, and can spoil a well played performance. A mezzo-forte dynamic with a more intense vibrato will give a much better effect.
The William Tell overture appears on most auditions, and is an excerpt that is intended to see if someone can get through it in decent fashion. You can’t win an audition with William Tell, but you can sure lose one! There are a few excerpts where this holds true, and it’s good to know which ones are which. Another excerpt in this category is the solo from Saint-Saens 3rd symphony. Since it’s in the lower middle register and fairly soft, it doesn’t give us a chance to show off much musicality because we are the lower octave of 2 other instruments. It’s a sound oriented excerpt as opposed to a technical excerpt, such as William Tell. To play this well a full sound in piano must be achieved. This is not an excerpt where a player shows off their soft playing. This excerpt requires as full a sound as possible in a soft dynamic, something different than a real excerpt to test the ability to play soft, such as the Schumann Rhenish.
Berlioz’s Hungarian March is often thought of as a technical excerpt but I believe if taken at a proper tempo it becomes a sound excerpt and one that can score points, (although not a win in itself) toward a favorable outcome.
The solo from Mahler’s 3rd symphony is an excerpt that can win an audition for someone if other things are in order. It gives us a chance to show full dynamic playing and soft, expressive playing too. The louder portions should be played with a full round unforced sound. It is better to under play the dynamic than over play. A good concept would be to think of a full orchestral forte, but not fortissimo.
Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is a common excerpt on auditions. It’s another one that you can’t win with but can knock someone out if played roughly. It is an excerpt that is a test of sound control in an extreme dynamic. Therefore the rule should be; only play as loud as you can make your best sound. Of course the rhythm has to be correct but if the sound isn’t under full control at the dynamic chosen it won’t score the desired points.
Next month, I’ll write more thoughts on audition strategy.