Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Calgary audition odyssey, part I

Before I get started on my Calgary audition story, I wanted to congratulate some New World Symphony musicians who just won jobs within the last 48 hours - violist Chris Fischer at the North Carolina Symphony, librarian Julia Thompson at UNC in Chapel Hill, and violinist Marc Rovetti in the Philadelphia Orchestra. There has been a lot to celebrate as our season finishes, and all these people deserve every bit of their success.

I'll start my own story with the weeks leading up to the Calgary audition. I am not sure if you can ever prepare well enough to ensure audition success - that kind of control over destiny may not be granted to us mere mortals! - but I am pretty sure it's possible to ensure audition failure. That, in a nutshell, was my experience at the Cleveland Orchestra in early January, and I returned home feeling quite discouraged. I had pretty much fallen on my face, I thought, but I was more determined than ever to figure out this whole audition puzzle and do my best.

I was fortunate that the week after I got back, January 15th, the Cleveland Orchestra itself came down to Miami. This was the orchestra's first residency at the Carnival Center, and we at New World got to join the orchestra for two days of readings, under Andrew Grams and Franz Welser-Most. I didn't play for anyone in the orchestra - I probably wasn't in any shape physically or mentally at that time - but I did enjoy sitting next to Max Dimoff and Tom Sperl, seeing how they contribute to the orchestra and picking their brains about articulations and stuff. Kevin Switalski and Bob Vernon both had very kind and encouraging things to say about my audition as well, helping me to see that I hadn't totally bombed after all. I think after any audition, and particularly one in which we're extremely disappointed in ourselves, it's important to get some feedback, if only to begin to regain some perspective and confidence.

I hadn't yet decided which audition to take next - but I knew there would be auditions in Calgary and Bergen, Norway at the end of March, so I was considering the prospect of my first international audition. That's not quite true, I auditioned for the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Singapore Symphony, which offered me a position I turned down. Both of those auditions were held here in the US though, in Chicago and New York respectively. Auditions are pretty high stakes gambles to begin with, and travelling so far can seem like madness - who knows if people in Bergen, Norway are listening for the same qualities we listen for here? Luckily, though, I had some good sources of information and advice about both those orchestras.

One of our NWS flutists, Alice Dade, had actually just returned from a month of sub-ing in Bergen. She had very enthusiastic positive things to say about the Bergen Phil - though strangely, most of them concerned the orchestra's lounge, where people hang out during rehearsal breaks. (I envisioned that scene in the Fellini film "The Orchestra Rehearsal", with all the orchestra members drinking, smoking, and wildly dancing around.)

Another NWS musician, horn player Roslyn Black, grew up near Calgary and was just about to take their horn audition, which was in the middle of February. She had equally enthusiastic things to say about the Calgary Phil - even though they didn't take anyone at the horn audition, she played in the finals and heard the orchestra in concert afterwards. She told me a lot about the hall and the city, and she even had a good friend in the bass section, Jeff White. Another bass player here in Miami, Adam Franklin, knew the principal and assistant principal bassists in Calgary, Charles and Sheila Garrett, and raved about them as players and people.

So I was starting to feel some sense of connection with this distant place in the Canadian Rockies. When I told my parents I was deciding between Bergen and Calgary, they were also much in favor of Calgary, for obvious geographic reasons (I am originally from Tacoma, Washington.) And the prices on Expedia pretty much clinched the deal - not to be cheap or anything, but the dollar really is not strong against the Euro right now!

I think it's important to do a bit of reconnaissance work in advance of an audition - where do they play? are people generally happy there? what kind of programs do they perform? who is the music director, and what kind of work is he or she known for? Perhaps none of these questions will directly affect how you prepare and play in the audition, but they will start to add dimension and realism to the picture you're forming about this potential job. I find that even random facts about the town and the musicians help me to start to humanize them, see them as potential colleagues and neighbors, rather than scary foreigners who are going to judge me.

I've written a lot here about attitude and research - though I don't mean to overlook the musical preparation, which is at the core of the whole story. I probably can't write about every excerpt I prepared, my specific ideas and goals and the evolution and influences that led me there - though that might be interesting, to some... But next time I'll write about a few very important people who I had the chance to play for, and who helped me with both general and specific advice in my preparation for the audition.


Charles said...

Hey Matt - I'm looking forward to hearing how it went. And a shout out from a Puyallup resident and U. of Puget Sound graduate!

Jill Cathey said...

Hi Matt; can't wait to read what happens, please expound on every excerpt if you like, I love the details (and less interested folk can just skip ahead!)

I am also from the Pacific NW, actually played oboe 2 in Tacoma Symphony in the early 90s. Sending good thoughts your way!

Matt Heller said...

Thanks to both of you, my fellow Northwesterners! I also played in the Tacoma Symphony for one season, my last year in high school (1995-96), so perhaps Jill and I played together.

More on those excerpts and other audition hijinks soon!