Orchestra auditions and probation – problems and solutions

Figures show that auditions for orchestras increasingly end inconclusive, especially in German orchestras – a puzzling finding, given the large numbers of young musicians. Yet while there is agreement that technical standards are very high, the selection process has, for a number of reasons, becoming more complex and individualized, as a result often leaving positions unfilled. For those on stage it may sometimes look as if orchestra musicians use auditions to settle internal scores, though most musicians largely dismiss this fear. On the other hand, orchestras feel under pressure to prepare carefully for each candidate – which can make cancellations a frustrating business.

Music students are well aware of the audition hurdle and, by and large, they believe that orchestral academies and universities offer adequate preparation. As with the assessing orchestra musicians, interpersonal difficulties in the test situation appear to be a central issue. Criticisms from the orchestras that candidates are insufficiently prepared are often rejected by their teachers. Many students point out that orchestra and audition training accounts for between 33 % and 50 % of their lessons. As they see it, the problem often lies with the orchestras, which have become extremely demanding due to high numbers of graduates from Germany as well as abroad. Both candidates and orchestra musicians, however, agree that the probationary period is a difficult phase – for both parties. Even though musicians often show a high degree of self-reflection when dealing with young colleagues, the balance between creating a welcoming atmosphere and maintaining critical distance remains hard to achieve.

How to improve audition, selection and probation?

Applicants very often meet unsatisfactory répétiteurs, infighting among colleagues, the insistence on repetitive repertoires and inconsistent use of anonymisation “by curtain” as common pitfalls that make it hard for candidates to fully show their talents or to learn from failure.  Chamber music projects during the probation period might be an additional way. On the other hand: exam committees drawn from various ensembles, for example, advocated by many students, are widely rejected, as they would be unable to take into account different orchestra sounds. Social skills are another hot topic, yet as so often, there does not seem to be a one-size-fits-all solution.

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