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 “One bit of advice I would give would be not to choose an unaccompanied piece; the panel is always interested in how you work with other people…”

What does the BBC audition process entail?

Well, first of all you have to apply! Now that might seem like an obvious thing, but actually people who are already in the profession often kind of ‘hang around’ waiting to be asked if they might be interested, but it just doesn’t work like that with the BBC. So, you simply have to apply – everyone has to. Then, for those who are selected, there will usually be two rounds of auditions, shortlisting for the second round. Then, we would choose a number of people to go onto trial, usually in my experience far too many! Not that it’s not good to give people an opportunity, it is, but what can happen is that you end up messing around with people’s lives for three to four years, whilst they try to make a final decision about employment. In my mind it’s much better to try to zone it down to a smaller group of people, and not keep it running for so long.

 

What about the two auditions, are they different?

The second audition is just more in depth – there aren’t always two rounds, but if there are, what often happens is that the ‘unknowns’  (those with less on their CV, and less experience in general) will be evaluated in the first audition, then again in the second. Some more experienced players might be invited to audition just once. But, both auditions take a similar format – Mozart, probably (though not always) and a contrasting piece. One bit of advice I would give would be not to choose an unaccompanied piece; the panel is always interested in how you work with other people. There would then be excerpts, and more excerpts in the second round. There are all kinds of other things to consider too, like how to present your self in auditions, but we’ll come to that another time!

 

At what stage would you advise students to start auditioning?

Oh, errmm – easy, when they’re ready! [Laughs]

 

3rd year? 4th year? 1st year?

It could be as early as that actually, if someone is really advanced for their year group – there have been plenty of examples of principal players getting jobs in very early 20s, and don’t forget; there are often examples of postgraduates who are way behind a lot of the undergraduate players, if (for example) they have come to college after studying an academic music degree at university, with not much focus on their individual playing. They catch up very quickly, but it can be very much an open book… So, I’d generally say third year if the student is really impressing me, or more usually fourth year. It’s never a good idea to push it too early. My observation generally though, is that people are too worried about auditions not going well, and being ‘remembered’ for not doing fantastically.

It’s obviously important not to fall on your face! But, I don’t think you should be particularly worried about being remembered for an average audition. It’s more important to build up the skills, by trial and error, through actually dong it, feeling more and more comfortable as you go. In a way there is nothing else that can prepare you for the actuality for stepping into that room and doing it. Auditions are different to exams, concerts and competitions – they have a different kind of feeling about them. One of the worst bits is playing so much unaccompanied music, which should be accompanied (i.e. excerpts). So, I do encourage people out there to do auditions – and especially in other countries, as unless you get the gig, you’re unlikely to be working there, so there is no harm in giving it a go.

 

So, leading on from that – at which point would you encourage students to start learning orchestral excerpts?

My feeling is that they are not given enough precedence early on, and I’m slightly surprised to hear myself say that because it’s a change in viewpoint for me – I slightly downplayed the importance of excerpts early in my teaching career, thinking it was more important that students got themselves together as musicians, as soloists, and then started to focus on orchestra excerpts. But now I see excerpts as a fundamental, core thing. One element of that is just getting them all under your belt, but they are also so important as a musical training, because they are encapsulations of how to approach musicianship, and they’re bite size!

You’re looking at some of the greatest composers, the greatest works of art, and you’re sort of zoning in on what you need to do, to make your playing apt for all those different styles. So, as a development, particularly stylistically, I think practicing excerpts is crucial, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t happen even earlier than it tends to.

 

Would you encourage young players to audition for training academies/orchestras like LSO Academy, Southbank Sinfonia, Britten Pears, EUYO etc.

I can’t see why it wouldn’t be a good thing to do these things, apart from one reservation… in undergraduate degrees today there are so many elements, so many hoops to jump through on a regular basis to get the qualification, that sometimes students are just so busy preparing for and going for different things that they don’t actually have time to nail certain developmental issues to do with their playing. But, as a general rule, I think auditioning for these schemes is a great idea. It’s certainly a good idea to get used to auditioning, so even if you don’t get in they are still a positive thing – as long as you can take the ‘no’ letters! One of the great difficulties musicians face of course, on an emotional level, is getting used to the rejections.

 

You were very successful in competitions especially when you were younger, do you think they are important for kick starting peoples careers?

Well, I’m a bit weird, in this respect actually – in that I had no interest pursuing an orchestral career when I was younger. I did do quite a lot of solo stuff, and I thought that was me, and actually had been fed that from an early age, that “what you want to do is be a soloist”, and I think that’s fine if you’re a fiddle player, or a pianist, but not such good news if you’re a flute player. So, actually I never did any of the NYO, EUYO etc, never applied, because I didn’t think I was interested or that I would be good at it.

So, I did competitions and was really focusing on that. The good spin off from those can be that they can help you get auditions, which at that time was not so difficult anyway, but I suppose it proves you’re a “bright young spark” or whatever. So that was helpful. But other than that, I suppose, as a player now, I’m kind of aware of who’s on the scene. So when someone wins a competition, you kind of think, perhaps – “ahh there’s someone I haven’t heard of before” and then when they apply for something you might be on the panel for, you think – “oh yeah, I remember hearing about that person”. So, it all helps, it all feeds in.

The surprising thing for some of the younger generation to hear perhaps is that older players and those on competition panels are actually all rooting for them, want good things to happen for them and are generally very supportive.

 

We’ve been asking those who ‘like’ our Facebook page to vote on what they would like us to ask you, and the overwhelming vote was for “what do you look for in an extra/freelance player in your section”. So – when someone comes in to play with an orchestra you are performing in, what do you expect from them?

Oh, I’m slightly ashamed about this, as it should be all the niceties of their playing, which it is in a sense, but, the thing is – I hold down three jobs, four jobs if you count the teaching, and actually what I want is someone who’s going to get on with it! They have to be very, very professional, be fun to work with, be really musically alive, but not have their own agendas – you’ve got to to be a team. You want someone with musical personality, but not someone who is going to have very strong ideas about how it’s going to go and say ‘that’s that’. If you’re sitting down the section, then generally I think it’s going to have to be more about going with what I’m up to, I’m afraid! But, the most important thing is that the extra player makes the players in the section feel that they just don’t need to worry about them, that neither as a player nor as a person do they need supporting.
The truth is that everyone is so busy with their own stuff that they just may not have the extra energy to look after others. I think that’s important, and is something that younger players might not realise – the extent of what it takes out of the players, to look after extras. One of the worst things is when a person apologises on a continuous basis “Oh, I shouldn’t have done x, y, z”, “I’m sorry I did that”, because half the time, they didn’t need to – they might have got away with it – it’s just bad psychology! And also, other people in the section just don’t want to be troubled with it.
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