Geoffrey Collins' 9 Tips To Orchestral Auditions and Excerpts
Are you a budding flutist looking to have a career in a symphony orchestra? Or have you just wondered what it takes to win a post with a professional orchestra? Geoffrey Collins, Flute player with the Australia Ensemble UNSW and Principal Flute with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra takes us through the process, step by step and explains how to best prepare for the audition of your life.
1. Get used to anonymous audition conditions
In order to conduct fair auditions, the first round is often an anonymous audition. That means there will be a curtain or some acoustic baffle furniture between you and the panellists. Practice with a curtain or some hanging towels, and invite some friends around to sit round at your place around the other side, so you get that rather disconcerting experience of coming into a room and playing into nothing, because it can really throw you.
2. Ensure you are very precise and count the rests
You have to convince a lot of non-flute players sitting on the audition panel about your credentials as a musician. What they are looking for is basic musicianship and skills that are across all members of the orchestra, this includes very precise rhythms, excellent intonation to be compatible with other instruments, and very exact preparation of the material.
Something that the panelists are going to be trying to trip you up on is if you do not count your rests correctly, in material where there is just a few beats rest. The panel will be counting along with you once you have established a rhythmic feel and if you don’t accurately count the rests because you think “oh it doesn’t matter, it’s only rests, I’ll just come in when I feel like it in the next bit of the excerpt”, you will get marked down for that, instantly.
3. Research the excerpts
Understanding the historical context of a piece can greatly aid your interpretation. For example, Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 comes across initially as being conservative and celebrating Joseph Stalin's regime, but once you understand the context - that Shostakovich faced significant backlash for his Symphony No. 4 for being too adventurist - you understand that when Shostakovich is apparently humorous, its generally sarcastic, and there is a hidden message. Using this information in your interpretations is important to demonstrate your understanding of the music to the panel.
4. Listen to a range of recordings of the pieces
You should listen to two or three versions of this excerpt as with all of these and find an average tempo. While there is no such thing as “the right” tempo, there is a standard tempo. That’s what you need to choose in order to present and to convince people that you know how this piece goes and what the standardised interpretation of this piece might sound like.
5. Stick to standard interpretations of the excerpts
You have to convince a lot of non-flute players about your credentials as a musician and what they are looking for is basic musicianship and skills that are across all members of the orchestra. The panel don’t necessarily want you to be a super star who is revolutionizing the way these pieces are played. They want a standardised approach to demonstrate what you can do. Of course, conductors then go and they change things and you have to demonstrate later in the process that you are able to adapt and change, but don’t try and present material in a kind of revolutionary new way, go for a very standardised approach to the material.
6. Start learning the 30-40 standard orchestral excerpts before you even apply for the job
There are probably 30-40 standard excerpts that reoccur in many auditions. Before you start this journey of trying to succeed in the area of orchestral auditions, try and get hold of that material. There are many volumes of orchestral excerpts which you can purchase, or you can ask professional players to find out which are the most common excerpts.
You should do this before you’ve even applied for a job. You will save an inordinate amount of time because you will already be half prepared with the excerpts.
There will always be some curve ball excerpts that they put in deliberately just to show something fresh and different and new. But if you are on top of those standard, top hits in the orchestral except space, you will be in a much better position to approach this task. Otherwise it can seem like an overwhelming amount of material when you first receive it.
Typically you will receive at least two or three excerpts from Baroque and Classical period, there will be a several excerpts from the Romantic era, wide ranging from different composers from different countries, then there will be quite a lot of twentieth century music in different styles as well.
7. Be prepared to do a video audition
More and more there are requirements to be able to provide video and audio material for auditions. So, another skill you need is home recording, and this is of course a very useful tool for you for assessing yourself anyway. But, even with a modern smart phone it is amazing the quality of sound that is possible from your living room.
8. Understand what skill set is being examined for each of the excerpts
The first question you ask when preparing an excerpt is “why has it been chosen?” What’s in it? What are the skill sets required in this? What are the difficulties? For example, Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, mvt II doesn’t seem like it’s all that hard. The notes seem quite simple but this excerpt it is all about the execution: this excerpt has quite a difficult kind of tonality, sort of A flat major, F minor, that sort of thing, the top E flat can be a bit sharp, the top D flat can be a bit flat, it’s can be hard to get a perfect interval. These are the kind of things you must be acutely aware of for each excerpt you prepare.
9. Know when to sound like a flute and when to not sound like a flute
There are times in each excerpt when you will have a soloistic line, in which case you will want to play soloistically, but there are also times in each excerpt when you will need to match the other instruments. A lot of playing in the orchestra is about sounding like someone else. It’s about blending and being part of the team.
For example, in Brahms' Symphony No.1 mvt IV the important thing to understand that you are imitating the French horn, which comes eight bars earlier, it plays the same thing, so you are supposed to sound like some sort of extension or version of the French horn, noble and grand. Unfortunately, flute players tend to see something like this and they don’t think of it in that sense, and they tend to overcook the vibrato and it sounds like a shrieky and unpleasant version of the horn solo.
In this video, Geoffrey Collins selects four standard orchestral works and talks us through some sample excerpts that you might come across when applying for a position in an orchestra. Watch Geoffrey's full guide below:
Excerpt 4: Shostakovich Symphony No 5 mvt I from 8 bars before Figure 40,
then mvt II from the upbeat to Figure 59 – Flute I (Scroll to Excerpt 5 & 6 on link provided)
Hello, my name is Geoffrey Collins. I’m the flute player with the Australia Ensemble based here at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I started way back as a member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and for the last twenty-two years, I have been Principal Flute of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. So, I have some experience very much of the question of, preparing for, presenting and assessing orchestral auditions and that is what I thought would be nice to talk a little bit about today. So today will be in two parts. First of all some general comments about my experiences and preparations and tips for people who might be interested to explore this and then later on, I am going to quickly look at four very basic standard orchestral excerpts with a few comments on how from a practical point of view a panel will assess your results when you present material to them.
I think having sat both sides of the orchestral divide, it’s important to try an understand the process. In the old days, in Australia, the major symphony orchestras were all part of the ABC and as such they had a fairly standardised procedure of how they ran auditions for prospective members for their orchestras, but in recent decades, of course, the orchestras have been divested from the ABC. They are now separate companies and so now each orchestra now has a slightly different process, although there are some commonalities in the procedure.
1:45 - Anonymous Auditions
First of all, of course, is an attempt to create a process that is scrupulously fair and open for all comers whether they are known or not to the panellists. It’s a small world, everyone knows everyone else in music, it seems. And so, to make sure that there’s, you know, that it is a very clean process, almost always the first round or two rounds of an audition will be anonymous as much as possible.
If it is a live audition, that means there will be a curtain or some acoustic baffle furniture between you and the panellist, who are listening to you so that is kind of a weird thing to get your head around. I’d suggest if you can’t handle that idea that you practice with that, try and set up a curtain or some hanging towels or anything and invite some friends around to sit round at your place around the other side, so you get that rather disconcerting experience of coming into a room and playing into nothing, because it can really throw you, if you are not at all comfortable with that. So, that is just one thing to consider that you will most likely will encounter about that physical difficulty about doing an audition.
3:03 - About the Panel
About the Panel itself, typically a panel for an orchestral audition will, of course, include some other flute players from the orchestra, some other woodwind players, probably some string players, a person who is there as a representative of the Union to ensure fair process, and representatives of the management. So, it can be a panel of up to ten – twelve people and what’s important to note about that is the majority of them are not flute players. They are there to see how you would fit in with what they think about where the flute fits in the orchestra, but they may not particularly even like the flute, that’s hard for a flute player to imagine that you are playing to people who are not necessarily fans of the flute and so, therefore they are not at all interested in what kind of flute you play, who you studied with particularly, except for in a general experience sense, what fingering you use for F sharp, all those kind of minutiae are no interest to most of the panellists. Of course, the flute players are very interested in all of that and they will have opinions about all of that.
So, you have to convince a lot of non-flute players about your credentials as a musician and what they are looking for is basic musicianship and skills that are across all members of the orchestra. Very precise rhythms; very exact preparation of the material and understanding of where these music pieces have come from; having listened to many, many recordings of the pieces so that you understand exactly all the ins and outs and subtleties that are contained within; and excellent intonation to be compatible with other instruments. So, it is very, very basic what they are expecting, they don’t necessarily want you to be a super star who is revolutionizing the way these pieces are played. They want a kind of, kind of a standardised approach to demonstrate what you can do. Of course, conductors then go and they change things and you have to demonstrate later in the process that you are able to adapt and change, but don’t try and present material in a kind of revolutionary new way, go for a very, very standardised approach to the material.
5:32 – What it is like for you, the candidate
OK, now we are going to move on, we are going to look at it more from an experiential point of view, what it is like for you.
When you apply for a position in a symphony orchestra, you will receive a considerably large bunch of excerpts or material that you had to prepare in addition to which you will probably have to prepare a standard concerto, typically Mozart and maybe another piece that the panel might choose. So, it is quite a lot of preparation involved. The list of excerpts varies a lot from orchestra to orchestra, but typically you should expect at least in the order of twenty excerpts to prepare, to test out, depending on which position it is that is available within the orchestra, Principal flute, Second flute, Principal piccolo and so on.
They will have different amounts of material and they will all look at these things in different ways. None the less, I guess there are, I guess, probably, thirty-forty standard excerpts that reoccur in many auditions, and before you start this journey of trying to succeed in the area of orchestral auditions, you really should try and get hold of all of that material, and there are many volumes of orchestral excerpts, and by asking professional players, you will be able to find out which are those, you know, the top twenty or thirty excerpts that you just need to be on top of before you’ve even apply for a job. That way you will save an inordinate amount of time because you will already be, you know, half prepared with the excerpts.There will always be some curve ball excerpts that they put in deliberately just to show something fresh and different and new. But if you on top of those standard, top hits in the orchestral except space, you will be in a much better position to approach this task, because otherwise it can seem like an overwhelming amount of material when you first receive it. They do this for several reasons.
First of all, they have to cover a variety of stylistic skills. So, typically you will receive at least two or three excerpts from baroque and classical music to discover whether you have an affinity with that style and can adapt your playing to play that kind of music and the notation and the exactitude of those composers. Then there will be a bunch of music from the Romantic era, wide ranging from different composers from different countries. There will be quite a lot of twentieth century music in different styles as well. So, in order to have representative samples of that, then it adds up to usually about twenty excerpts, can be more, can be a little bit less.
8:30 – On the day
During the course of the day of an orchestral audition quite often there are two or three rounds so it is not just a question of having a lot of material, different material to listen to, it is also about stamina.You have to demonstrate stamina. You have to front up and play two or three times and keep your standard for the whole time.
And that’s particularly not so bad for the flute but for some other instruments such as brass instruments for instance that is, sort of, quite indicative for them, because playing in the orchestra can be quite a gruelling process as the orchestra works twenty four to thirty hours a week, that’s a lot of playing and preparation when you add all that together. You need to demonstrate that you have the physical ability to be able to play well, day after day after day so that needs to be tested in the audition space.
9:32 – Technology
As I mentioned before, orchestral auditions have been traditionally been done face to face with some sort of anonymous set up. That’s changing, of course, as technology is changing and I think you need to be adapted to that.
More and more there are requirements to be able to provide video and audio material for auditions. So, I think another skill you need to work on particularly for the modern musician going forward is home recording, and this is of course a very useful tool for you for assessing yourself anyway. But, even with a modern smart phone and so on, it is amazing the quality of sound that is possible from your living room.
And we’ve had some overseas applicants for jobs that have presented very respectable auditions via just very simple set ups from home. So that is also something you should also consider investigating as part of your skill set in presenting as a professional audition, is being able to send material in as requested for a panel which may be sitting remotely particularly in this COVID year.
So, these procedures are always evolving and changing, so don’t get fixed on one way of doing it, there will be a variety of requirements as technology increases, in particular the ability to present video material from home.
10:59 – Sample excerpts
I’m going to move on now and take you through fairly briefly four very standardised excerpts that I’ve just managed to rustle up. And, I want to - they could occur quite easily in any of the auditions I mentioned. Please try and seek the excerpts online. A lot of this material is available either in excerpt books or pretty easily online these days and it would be great if you could follow along so I can talk more specifically about what’s contained in the material.
11:40 - Excerpt 1: Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, mvt II Bar 132
The very first excerpt is one of the classical ones that I mentioned. There will always be some classical material involved in a orchestral audition. So, this is the slow movement of Beethoven Symphony no. 5, we all know the first movement of Symphony no. 5, it’s been done to death but you may be a little less familiar with the second movement. The first question you ask when you say “oh ok, Beethoven five, second movement”, “why has it been chosen?” That is the question you ask about each excerpt as you go through the book. What’s in it? What are the skill sets required in this? What’s, what are the difficulties? It actually doesn’t seem like it’s all that hard. The notes, you know, in a way, seem quite simple but it is all about the execution, and this particular excerpt, it’s quite a difficult kind of tonality actually, sort of A flat major, F minor, that sort of thing. The top E flat can be a bit sharp, the top D flat can be a bit flat, it’s can be hard to get a perfect interval
[Geoffrey plays rising and falling arpeggio/scalic sequence in A flat major]
So I am just trying to get my head around A flat major because this is really important looking through this excerpt. He writes “dolce” at the very beginning – this is measure 132 we are starting from in the slow movement of Beethoven Symphony no. 5. And he has a series of slurs, and the trouble with the flute is, in the orchestra, it is kind of a bit - can be a bit of a poor relation of some of the other woodwind instruments in terms of maintaining the line. Oboe and clarinet has this great thing of the reed vibrating and they have more air at their disposal. We loose half of our air creating the sound, and so, flute players tend to have a fairly weak line compared to oboe and clarinet. I spend a lot of time in the orchestra trying to match them, in fact, a lot of playing in the orchestra is about sounding like someone else, not just a flute player and trying to avoid sounding too much like a flute player, like a solo flute player, like you would do as if you were playing a sonata or some other solo piece. It’s about blending and being part of the team. OK, so we have these slurs.
[Geoffrey plays section from excerpt with slurs]
But we don’t want to have them chopped, we want them to have a, sort of, slight sense of floating from one slur to the next.
[Geoffrey replays same section from excerpt with slurs]
I hope you’ll notice that I am actually keeping my embouchure in place in the silence and not dropping off, instead I am trying to create a taper on the long quavers so that, that gives a slight sense of resonance and carries the sound forward and at the same time as respecting the break in the slurs.
[Geoffrey replays same section from excerpt to demonstrate the passage with slurs]
The next feature we notice there is the hairpin up and down, crescendo diminuendo but think of context, is that - what is that? It’s still within dolce and it’s still really within piano, so don’t over cook it, keep it delicate and restrained. That goes on for a while and then, we get to the next interesting thing that I think you’ll notice and encounter doing these classical type excerpts and particularly Beethoven, is this very strange marking in bar 142 which is called a kyle, K-Y-L-E. We also call them “carrots” in the vernacular because we didn’t quite know what kyle means. And it is a particular kind of articulation that Beethoven uses.
[Geoffrey plays an example of kyles from the excerpt]
And no one really knows what it means because he is not around for us to ask him what it means. And there has been a lot of conjecture and there’s questions about how much it applies when you see it written. For me, it means extremely well-articulated, but it is not the same as a sforzando or an accent, it is just clearly articulated. But it still depends on context. Here is it within a diminuendo so it is quite delicate.
[Geoffrey replays example of kyles from excerpt to demonstrate]
And then it changes into some regular articulated notes and a crescendo up until a large tutti.
16:48 - Rests
A word about rests in orchestral excerpts, because this is one where sometimes some very good flute players can fall over by just not paying attention enough to the written material and this refers back to what I was talking about with regard to panellists being not flute players.
What they are going to be trying to trip you up on is if you do not count your rests correctly, [Geoffrey clicks five times] in material where there is just a few beats rest. At other times, when there is a big group of rests, like five bars or ten bars that are included in the excerpt, don’t bother counting those, but rests that are of a short duration, only a beat or two, or bar and a half or something, whichever, of rests, count them rigorously, because the panel will be counting along with you once you have established a rhythmic feel and if you don’t accurately count the rests because you think “oh it doesn’t matter, it’s only rests, I’ll just come in when I feel like it in the next bit of the excerpt”, you will get marked down for that, instantly.
17:52 - Tempo
What should you do? You should listen to two or three versions of this excerpt as with all of these, this is just a general comment and find an average tempo for that. There is no such thing as “the right” tempo, but there is a standard tempo. That is what you should choose. Don’t choose one, if you get a recording somewhere, and you think “I love that” and think “but it’s so much faster than the others”, don’t do that. Sure when you are in the orchestra you can do whatever you like but in this process you want to come up with the dead standard, it might be a little bit square, you might feel a little bit musically repressed by it, but that’s what you need to choose in order to present and to convince people that you know how this piece goes and what the standardised interpretation of this piece might sound like. Nothing radical. Nothing wacky.
18:45 - Excerpt 1: Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, mvt II Bar 132 continued
Figure D, Measure 148/147, fortissimo. Here you are trying to emulate trumpets and timpani in an orchestral tutti so your sound needs to change from the dolce sound. Fortissimo!
[Geoffrey plays example of excerpt from this section]
And so on, so you are trying to sound like something else again. When you are playing some solos you sound like flute and then you can use your sound. A lot of time you are playing as part of a team, and the teams constantly change, so you are constantly listening to develop your sound according to what else is going on. Then we are going to skip forward to 166, where we have a whole bunch of kyles, piano and articulated, and this is a very difficult passage to demonstrate your skill of articulation, because, you can, if you are not careful, the articulation can be too dominant for the piano dolce approach and the calculation of the thirty-second note, the demi-semi quaver is extremely important and the rest.
[Geoffrey plays example of this section]
Subdivide that very, very carefully, make sure there is exactly the right amount of day light in there for the hemi-demi semi-quaver rest.
So there is just one other feature I just want to point out, in this excerpt and that is at letter E, about 176, we have something that happens quite a lot in classical and baroque music which is the sudden occurrence of a hemiola in other words, we are playing in triple time, in 3/8 time and here we have in third bar we have [Geoffrey sings the example] groups of two. Make sure you show that you understand that concept of the hemiola [Geoffrey plays example of hemiola in excerpt] and that continues on in the orchestra even though you’ve got rests. It’s debatable, there’s four bars rest there, it’s almost too long to bother counting out, you probably could leave that out. [Geoffrey continues playing excerpt example]
Here we have the same dotted rhythm as before, but this time it is without the rests, so make sure you demonstrate the difference between the material. And then at the very end, you have, return to the dolce again, after a loud finish. [Geoffrey plays to the end of excerpt]. So try and conclude in the dolce way that you started, despite all the things that have happened in the meantime which might throw you off, you have to switch gear backwards, and say “oh yes, I still appreciate that this is was actually sweet and dolce”. So, there are these different voices and components which need to be very carefully assembled, put together and within a very consistent tempo because it is classical. The tempo doesn’t change all that much, a little bit, but only because we are humans.
22:20 - Excerpt 2: Brahms Symphony No.1 mvt IV, Figure A, Bar 22
The second excerpt we are going to look at today is the final, the introduction to the final movement of Brahms Symphony no. 1. This is in almost every flute audition, so this is on that list that I mentioned of excerpts you need to be on top of before you even think of applying for a job.
This excerpt is in two parts, there is a very famous flute solo at the end which is all about projection and filling the hall with a lot of sound and we’ll talk about that when we get to it. But the beginning is rather complicated tutti passage which is at Letter A, Bar 22 in the introduction to Brahms Symphony no. 1.
And why is this here? This is here to check on your reading of the notation in great detail even though it is not a solo because you are playing with a whole lot of, bunch of other people and is it going to work? There is some intonation things here for you to think about, is the D flat going to be in tune, that’s always a difficult note and are the high notes under control and not sharp? And have you observed the rhythm and the counting of the rests. We were talking about that before. There is a lot of in between rests here which need to be exactly counted to demonstrate to the panel that you understand the rhythm of what else is going on. So, it is slightly syncopated, [Geoffrey plays example of excerpt start]
….so it is quite a long line as well, so there is the breathing aspect to it, but observing all of that and not crescendo-ing too soon, he writes crescendo twice which makes it, kind of incites you to get loud very soon, but it doesn’t get loud until the end. So, often in the second measure of that we often come back, in order to give us a second go at getting louder and to create more dynamic room. Look at the rhythm in the third bar [Geoffrey plays example of section] [Counts rests 1, 2, 3, 4]. So, very precise in the way that perceive those rhythms and project them, and somehow you have to give the illusion to non-flute players that it is actually the whole orchestra playing and that you are a part of it, even though you are playing this tiny little excerpt by yourself. And that continues on.
The second part of the excerpt is a very famous solo after Letter B and here you need to understand the context.
Normally I would pull out a little bit, my flute, a little bit here for practical reasons. I would just flatten my flute a little bit because I am going to try and play quite loudly for a second and therefore, it just helps me be a freer in my sound, a bit more relaxed and open if I don’t feel like I am going to have to temper the pitch by not going sharp so I pull the flute out for this excerpt so that I can [breathes out], really try and go for it a bit.
The important thing here is that it is marked forte sempre, so always loud, and passionato, passionate, but it is only forte, it is not fortissimo so that is an interesting kind of, hmm…causes you to ponder he doesn’t mean necessarily flat out, it more about character and the mood. But the important thing about this excerpt is to understand that you are imitating the French horn, which comes eight bars earlier, it plays the same thing, so you are supposed to sound like some sort of extension or version of the French horn, noble and grand. Unfortunately, flute players tend to see something like this and they don’t think of it in that sense, and they tend to overcook the vibrato and it sounds like a sort of very, sort of, shriek-y and unpleasant version of the horn solo. So, try as much as you can to stay noble in the sound.
One things that is difficult about this particular solo is that normally the second flute part, when you are playing it in the orchestra, the second flute player actually plays the second bar with you and covers the crotchet rest gap, so it makes it a continuous sound which is very clever on Brahms’ part, he gives the opportunity for the first flute player to breathe at that point, so that the second flute player is kind of your team in this solo. Unfortunately, in an audition you don’t have a second flute player, so somehow you have to give this impression of continuity even though you don’t have that extra player. So, trying to stay quite open in the sound, not too much hysterical vibrato, broad and grand.
[Geoffrey plays section from excerpt]
Very much about trying to have your head up, look up, and imagine you’re playing in a very large auditorium and filling the room with sound without pushing too hard, and not being tight in the throat, and not over cooking the vibrato.
27:55 - Excerpt 3: Dvořák Cello Concerto Op 104 mvt I, 10 bars before Figure 4.
The third one is a slightly different excerpt in that it is not from an orchestral piece as such, it is from a concerto, the Cello Concerto of Dvořák.
Czech wind writing is fantastic for all of the wind instruments, but Dvořák writes magnificent flute parts in all his symphonies, and in this Cello Concerto, it is an extremely exposed and prominent flute part. So, not all of these excerpts that might land on your desk are necessarily from symphonies and other solo orchestral works, they could be from accompanimental material.Another example of that, of where the flute part is extremely significant is the first Piano Concerto of Tchaikovsky, is another one on the list.
So, the Cello Concerto throughout has a lot of beautiful flute solos, it very enjoyable. So, the purpose of this is to show your singing quality in your sound up high, and also a certain amount of breath control, so that is what you would be looking for.
We are starting in the first movement, before Figure 4, it’s about 10 bars before Figure 4 in the first movement, I don’t have bar numbers for this movement. The first one is just a little rhythmic test to see how well you subdivide and how well you can articulate in the low register. [Geoffrey sings the rhythm while clicking] So, duplet, triplet, quadruplet. That’s got to be very clear and exact with a certain sense of propulsion over on to the down beat.
And then we have a very, very beautiful melody for the flute to play, but it is challenging because it is kind of continuous and we need to work out our breathing to make the distance here, so conserve air when you are playing up high, don’t blow it all in the first bar after you take a breath, conserve the air so you can spend it later in the phrase and go for longer. Once again, one of the great skills for a flute player is to play long phrases that can match oboe and clarinet, and quite often that is where flute players fall down, you can hear them gasping for breath every two bars or something like that. And, you know, that really can mess up the sound of the whole wind section if you have a flute player who can’t play long phrases, so that’s not just about capacity, it’s about efficiency in how you use the air. So, first of all, just this first little rhythmic thing in this first bar, lets see if I can get that? [Geoffrey plays example of excerpt]
The second excerpt is from the -further on, Figure 10, six bars after Figure 10. The same kind of thing. Here we have some articulations within an expressive phrase which you need to convey. First of all is understanding how to do a sforzando within an expressive phrase. It is not the same as in an energetic piece, it does have an element of expression in it, so that’s, and it is still within piano. And then there are these little grace notes which should have a really plaintive, catch-in-the-throat sort of feel.[Geoffrey gives example of someone sighing mournfully] So, those kinds of elements should be demonstrated in this one. Once again, good breath control.
[Geoffrey plays example of excerpt]
There is a fair bit of freedom in this one. Usually the conductor will give you the floor there, and take charge, and do - shape this phrase as you want. So, this is something you need to acknowledge when you playing the audition, but, show it in a subtle way, don’t go crazy and suddenly double the speed of things, move forward a little bit here and there if you want to show that you recognise that this is a genuine solo moment, that it is your turn to shine but still demonstrate good rhythm, at all times.
33:03 – Excerpt 4: Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 mvt I, 8 bars before Figure 40,
then mvt II upbeat to Figure 59.
The final excerpt that we are going to look at today is the, is two excerpts from a very famous twentieth century piece of music, the Symphony no.5 by Dimitri Shostakovich and the first two little excerpts are from the first movement, and then there is something from the second movement.
So, we’re starting from before Figure 40 in the first movement, the very famous flute solo, beautiful solo to play, very enjoyable, and then a little bit from the quasi scherzo second movement. It’s important when you are looking at the music of Shostakovich to understand context.
He lived very much within an authoritarian regime and he had to be very careful with what he did with his music, he got into trouble at various times for being too bourgeois, too experimental. He had to fit within various rigid guidelines in what was acceptable in terms of writing music. He is one of the great composers of the twentieth century and the fact that he managed to turn out this music within these restrictions makes it even more remarkable, I think.
This comes from Symphony no. 5 which on the front page has a sub, sort of, writing that says “An artist’s reply to just criticism”. This is because he has gotten into trouble with one of his previous pieces, the Symphony no. 4 which is leading somewhere really quite remarkable but it didn’t please the authorities, we’re talking about the times of Joseph Stalin here and he was hauled before various committees and so on to be criticized for his adventurist approach in that piece. So, this piece, in a sense, comes across initially as being much more conservative and rah-rah-rah and isn’t the regime fantastic, celebratory kind of thing, and certainly there is probably elements of truth in that in doing that but inside it, the more you know it, there’s more secret code of him keeping the authorities happy but at the same time having deeper messages of music that he wants to convey. So, it is extremely important to understand that, particularly the second one which I will talk about in a minute.
This first passage comes about two-thirds of the way through the first movement, before Figure 40 and it has, it is a solo certainly but guess what, it is another dialogue with the French horn, so it gives you that sort of shape of what you need to sound like, broadness and it has a very motoric accompaniment from the strings which goes [Geoffrey sings the rhythm while clicking his fingers] dah-bom-bom--boom--bom-bom--boom-bom-bom-- boom”, so you don’t have - the freedom that you have to exercise here is come what somewhat limited, ok?, But it is a beautiful shape, so it is another one where you really want to lift your head up and play to the hall.
[Geoffrey plays example of excerpt to demonstrate]
So, it is marked piano but it is within an orchestral context so a piano can mean a whole lot of things, if it is solo, of course you allow the sound to develop, so you will notice I did quite a big shape right up until the high note following the contours of it and then I maintained kind of more of a forte sound right at Figure 40 as I dropped down the register there and made a big shape. I’m looking to try and make a shape which is, like, twenty bars long here, the whole of this excerpt in one big shape. That’s not easy on the flute. Once again, as I said, the air can be fragile and you can hear dropouts, so I am trying to give this sense unlimited space and, if you like, some giant Russian visita, of space. That’s the imagery that I have.
Now the next one comes a little bit later, it is mark moderato (3 bars before Figure 45) and this is very different imagery, this is Siberia, this is cold and the thing about this is, at Figure 45, the F natural is, I pass the baton to the piccolo who plays the F natural in unison with me so I have to end up with some sort of blended sound that is going to, kind of, work with the piccolo at Figure 45, the third beat.
But, here I am not going to use much vibrato, you might be tempted to think “oh good here is a nice tune, I’ll put lots of my solo flute vibrato on this” but don’t, try and kind of look for a, kind of, transparent sound. Not a filled in, dark low register sound. But rather a cold, frigid sound.
[Geoffrey plays example of excerpt to demonstrate]
And that, hopefully will blend with the piccolo. So, try and get your friend or yourself to play a low F on the piccolo and see if you can make, “what sort of sound will I make?” and you will notice, it is a breath control excerpt. It is quite hard in context, because you’ve played a whole lot of loud music and the other big solo and it is hard to just compose yourself inwardly to go to another place and not be wobbly or nervous at the end of this movement because you have got adrenaline flying around, so just go inside yourself for great calmness and clarity for that excerpt.
So, the final one we are going to look at is in the second movement (1 bar before Figure 59). At first glance when you look at the music it looks quite happy, quite humorous even, [Geoffrey sings the excerpt] it could be quite jolly, but the thing to understand about Shostakovich is that when he is apparently humorous, its generally sarcastic, it’s, you know, it’s saying something else, it’s a hidden message.
One of the conductors I worked with, I think summed it up quite, this solo, about the fragility of this solo, that I think comes across, and it is not happy even though it is sort of got happy music, kind of, characteristics, he explained it to me as being a poverty stricken flower seller on the pavement as Joseph Stalin walks by, saying “please Mr Stalin, will you buy some flowers from me to help me feed my children”. It’s that kind of double meaning which I think you need to convey in this kind of music, it is not what it seems.
[Geoffrey plays example of excerpt to demonstrate]
Notice at the end I did a big crescendo because I know, and you need to demonstrate, that the orchestra goes, comes crashing in at the end of that solo. You’re leading the way back into [Geoffrey sings what comes next in the orchestra part], another ironically funny but sarcastic moment in the piece.
41:23 – Conclusion
So those are just a sample of a few excerpts that might appear. A lot of them, so, some of then seem quite short, some of them seem not that difficult in terms of notes but there is a lot contained within them and it is the ability of candidates to look past the very basic notes to understand what it is, the technical skills that are required but also the context. Where does the music come from? What’s its meaning? What’s the style of this kind of piece? Listen to lots of lots of recordings.
It is very clear to a panel who’s done their homework and who hasn’t. Usually you can within 5 minutes. The panel will forgive wrong notes, they’ll forgive all kinds of things but they won’t forgive poor preparation or lack of taking it seriously as an event. The candidates that are serious and that have done this kind of homework, they would have prepared all of the basic excerpts and will have done the background on each of the pieces, that comes through very, very clearly, and those are the people that will progress in an audition.
So, thank you for listening today, I hope that has been of some assistance and we hope to see you at the University of New South Wales soon.