The final hurdle

By Nicole Wilson  -  12 September 2018

Getting your foot in the door in the classical music profession can be one of the hardest moments of your musical journey. Even if you’ve practised hard at music conservatoire for years, the final hurdle to earning money from your art can seem more elusive than entering a secret society… Try as people might, performing audition after audition, bracing themselves for these highly stressful situations, preparing for months and then getting knocked out in the first round, it’s not surprising that so many young professionals give up, unable to fathom what the panel are looking for and unable to give their best performance under stress to win a coveted job.

Robert DeMaine teaching audition technique to an aspiring professional cellist

This year saw the inaugural residential course of AuditionPerform, a course specifically aimed at this group of musicians who need that final push to help them showcase their audition and performance skills in the best light, in a way that won’t destroy them mentally and physically.

18 young string players joined a stellar faculty of principals from Europe and America for an intensive week at Chichester University, honing every aspect of their performances, preparing for auditions and competitions. Everything from solo repertoire, orchestral excerpts and sight reading to performance mindset, injury prevention, CV writing and instrument set up were covered in a timetable crammed with useful workshops, seminars and individual lessons and punctuated with frank panel discussions when the faculty, joined by special guests, revealed their insider knowledge of the differing audition, trial and probation processes around the globe. 

The faculty led by Gary Levinson, senior associate concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, included Robert DeMaine, principal cellist of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, Clio Gould, ex concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and London Sinfonietta, Juan-Miguel Hernandez, viola professor at the Royal Academy of Music and ex violist of the Harlem and Fine Arts Quartet and Helena Wood, ex concertmaster of the RTE Symphony Orchestra. Rarely would you get a faculty with such a varied wealth of experience in the orchestral, chamber and international competition worlds.

"This unique programme fills a major gap between ‘leaving the nest’ of conservatories and the establishment of a career out in the competitive music world" explains Robert deMaine, principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and cello faculty member at AuditionPerform. "By shining a light on every corner of the audition process, the faculty of AuditionPerform provide intensive and specialised one-to-one and group training that stems from their own extensive experience in this often bewildering rite of passage for young aspiring musicians."

Their panel discussions, explaining the huge variety of requirements for auditions, trials and international competitions across the continents were fascinating to the students, many of whom had not realised how differently the processes are depending on where you’re applying for work. “I’m so glad I was able to have the faculty explain to us what to expect in the auditions I will be taking this year” one violin student told us. “ I had no idea auditions would be like this. It’s going to completely change the way I prepare from now on.”

Crucial elements of preparation were discussed including injury prevention by the world’s leading authority on musician’s hand and upper limb injuries, Katherine Butler of London Hand Therapy. Katherine talked to the students about the prevention and treatment of these injuries which happen all too frequently as musicians prepare intensely for performances and as they work in the business putting in punishing hours and often playing in cramped conditions. Discussing posture, conditions such as repetitive strain and tendonitis and the host of physical symptoms which can severely debilitate a musician’s ability to play (and in the worst cases end careers), Katherine was incredibly helpful and spoke at length to the students about how to protect themselves from these conditions and have a long, productive and pain free career.

Mind trainer Mike Cunningham, who works with Olympic athletes as well as world class musicians, spoke about his techniques for helping people overcome the psychological barriers to giving their best performance. Enabling musicians to get in the zone and be able to produce their best work under pressure is a talent which has seen him rise as one of the leading performance mindset experts in the world. The students only complaint was not having long enough on the short course to work in more detail with him, but luckily he conducts most of his courses live online, so the students were able to carry on working with him individually after the course in greater depth.

Of course having a good instrument is crucial for working professionally but we saw the relief in many of the students eyes as luthier and instrument repairer Chris King from Cardiff Violins explained to them how to improve the instruments they already have. He emphasised the enormous benefits of working at length with a trusted luthier or instrument repairer to get the best out of your instrument. Whether your instrument is a Stradivarius or a modern instrument with no pedigree, Chris explained the huge range of differences you can make to your string instrument with expert adjustments. “Whatever instrument you have, make the most of it!” explained Chris “Take the time to find a luthier or repairer who will work with you to make your instrument sound the best it can - don’t just accept that it can only sound one way”. Wise words indeed. Several students took advantage of Chris’s presence at the course to get their instruments checked out and one even ended up purchasing a stunning new viola, a third of the price she had expected to pay…

The course culminated with mock audition and competitions on the last day. The students had a chance to put to the test everything they had learnt during the week. The faculty made up the panel and gave the most frank feedback these new professionals will probably ever get. Some, having never done an audition before, were overawed by the adrenalin and pressure of the experience, others were thrilled that after this intensive week they were able to perform so much better than they had previously. ‘I would never have been able to perform this well under pressure before I came here’ grinned one viola student as she exited her mock audition. ‘Normally I go to pieces, with my hands shaking uncontrollably but this time I was so in control! I feel I have a real chance of making it in the profession now.’

Faculty member Helena Wood was pleased to get the opportunity to help the next generation of young professionals hone their skills and give them the best chance of succeeding in the profession. "It is a real pleasure to hear such superb, hardworking musicians who are keen to succeed in the business”  Helena told us.  “This course is the perfect setting for the faculty to hear the next generation of players and to then help them with their journey into professional life. I have already recommended a number of them to fixers in London and around the UK. This really is a unique opportunity for young musicians to get their foot in the door of what is an extremely competitive industry.”

Evening concerts with performances by the faculty accompanied by the ever versatile Baya Kakouberi, scholarship students and a surprise guest appearance by Aleksey Igudesman provided a wonderful end to each day as all the students joined the ESTA Summer School who had so generously worked in partnership with AuditionPerform to launch this ground breaking course. 

If you are interested in joining the mailing list for the next AuditionPerform course, register your details here or if you would like AuditionPerform to come to your institution, email to find out more.

About Nicole Wilson

Principal freelance violinist in London, ex London Symphony Orchestra and English National Opera, Nicole is also a CD producer, TV/Radio presenter and founder of Musical Orbit.

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