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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 3

Auditions: What to Expect

by Anaïk Bernèche / November 1, 1999

Version française...


According to Melody McKnight, of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, openings are advertised monthly through the Association of Canadian Orchestras, one to two months in advance. Canadian musicians are their first choice, but if the vacancies cannot be filled, the auditions are opened to foreign candidates. The number of applicants usually ranges between ten and a hundred, with an average of twenty to thirty for each position.

Jonathan Crow, assistant concertmaster for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, shared his own experience with La Scena : "I arrived before 9 a.m. The candidates had to draw numbers to determine the order. Afterwards, the candidates were told what pieces the judges wanted to hear for that round - we were given the repertoire list well in advance. For the first round, the judges asked me for three excerpts and the first part of a concerto." There are two to four rounds in total and different repertoire must be used in each round.

The first round consists of playing from behind a screen for a jury made up of orchestra members, section leaders and principals, who vote on which candidates will pass on to the next round. The committee also take their first look at the applicant's résumé after this first round.

Some orchestras take away the screen after the first round, but the MSO leaves it up for all the rounds. The artistic director usually joins the jury during the semi-finals.

It can take up to 10 auditions to get a job. If the musician is hired, tenure can be granted after two years, but only after an evaluation by the tenure review committee. If tenure is not awarded, the player is usually asked to leave. "The key to keeping a job and gaining tenure in the orchestra is preparation," says David Kent, of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. For section players, one of the most important aspects of the job is to blend in with the others.


Singers do not audition from behind a screen, but the first round sometimes consists of elimination by cassette. The résumé does have some importance in the selection process, but a glowing résumé will not make up for a less-than-remarkable live audition.

Once the cassette has been accepted, the singer then appears before a set of judges. A decision is rarely reached based on one audition only. It is routine for opera houses, young artist programs and voice competitions to hold two, three or even four rounds of auditions.

In competitions, it is expected that none of the repertoire will be repeated in a different round. In the case of a four-tiered competition, this translates into dozens of songs and arias, in contrast to just five or six arias for most opera houses.

An opera house will naturally prefer to hear opera arias, ideally selections from the works being cast at the time. On the other hand, competitions cover more genres or may have special categories for opera, lieder and oratorio.

Lead roles in opera and major solos with orchestras are not normally open to singers without agents. However, solo parts for singers can be found in opera (from principal roles to comprimarios), in sacred music (such as masses and oratorios), and in orchestral works (such as a vocal solo within a symphony). Singers can also choose to forgo the solo experience entirely and join a professional choir or an opera chorus. Also, there are small vocal ensembles which provide the sense of both the autonomy of a soloist and the chorister's sense of belonging to a larger unit.

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