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Orchestral audition training with Petra van der Heide: Paris 2016

The Camac sponsorship department is an upbeat one. Daily we experience that the harp playing level just keeps rising, that artists’ projects grow ever-more creative, and that classical music is not dying. Nonetheless, there are few things more distressing than witnessing somebody put a huge amount of effort into something, that is doomed to failure from the outset because nobody told them the rules of the game. Poor competition programming is one example, unrealistic preparation management is another – and getting an orchestral job is also not only an art, but a sport.

Stage de préparation aux auditions d’orchestre Petra van der Heide 1Not for nothing is Petra van der Heide‘s orchestral audition training called ‘training’. We have sponsored it before – we ran two sessions as part of our German touring project in 2015. This year, we extended the reach, scheduling it over two weekends in Paris, with a month’s gap for working in between.

“Petra really made us realise the importance of knowing the repertoire for an audition at a level of a 150%. She presented numerous scenarios that could interfere with one’s plan for an audition day, therefore, to know and understand your repertoire to the maxium is the biggest help you can give yourself.”

Casual applications for orchestra jobs almost never work, because what will happen is that you’ll be called to audition at three weeks’ notice, and be given an enormous list of repertoire including lots of Wagner and Richard Strauss. You may or may not be sent the parts; in any case, you will have to have learnt this rep before, as it’s barely possible to attend the audition otherwise. I did, once, do so. It took one of the three weeks to get hold of the parts, ten-hour practice days to get through the material, and I didn’t get the job anyway. The only positive is somewhat muted performance anxiety – as you sit waiting to go on, you are simply relieved that at that instant in time you are not practising the harp.

Llywelyn Ifan Jones

Click on the picture to watch course participant Llywelyn Ifan Jones practise the Force of Destiny…the way you have to

You must not only learn the repertoire before you apply for the audition, but learn it from good parts. The popular excerpts in books are usually too short, and definitely full of misprints. Conductors are not interested in mistakes, regardless of whether or not the orchestral office said you could use the book.

“She presented an in-depth look at the required repertoire and discussed the dos and don’ts in an audition when it comes to presentng them to a jury. She made us live the music, whether it was to beat the Alborado or to waltz the Berlioz, we internalised the repertoire.”

The next defining feature of orchestral auditions is that you have to play a lot of orchestral parts, but solo. This can be frustrating, for example when you are breaking your neck practising Salome’s Dance, all in the knowledge that in the larger ensemble it’s no problem. You’re also going to be listened to by one harpist, and about eighty-nine other musicians who couldn’t care less about the harp part. When you perform your excerpts, you have to give a feeling of the whole, and that also means you have to know it backwards.

“We were put through our paces through a mock audition. We were allowed only 5 minutes to warm up on an unfamiliar harp. She made it real for us, providing a playing field to learn from an audition experience without the consequence of missing out on a job. This made us one step closer to achieving our goal, and for that we are eternally grateful.”

The audition experience is also unforgiving. What harps are used, how well-maintained and how many of them there are vary wildly. It’s not just in the harp world that the audition process is coming under fire – rarely does it make it easy for you to do your best. At the moment of the audition however, there is little to do other than get on with it, and the more trained you are to cope, the better. A mock audition under real conditions allowed candidates to experience how they react to this peculiar type of pressure, and take action for the future.

“She uncovered the world behind the audition screen. She showed us that everything is not as it seems and allowed us not to worry about the concerns that shouldn’t matter. This was a reassuring focus point of the class that gave us the tools to enter our next audition with the confidence and hunger to succeed.”

Another interesting aspect of Petra’s training was a survey for the participants. This addressed many common beliefs: that you need to have won a big competition to win an audition (not true), or that it was crucial not to make any mistakes (not true, either). Petra ran this survey at the end of both sessions, and analysed the shifts in perspective that had occurred in the interim. Above all, Petra is interested in realities: to communicate them, to make they’re understood, and then to show you how to act on them. If you don’t know the game, you can’t play ball. And if you don’t know the game inside and outside, you can’t make a winning strategy.

“I wanted to thank you a lot for those two days; it was such a good and intense experience.For the first time in my life, I feel like I understand how to prepare an audition, and to have a chance to win a position one day. That is awesome! I’m very happy that I had the chance to meet you, you are so understanding, efficient, helpful, human… Thank you again.”

If you are interested in Petra’s audition training, email her at [email protected]


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