how german orchestra auditions work

dudes. you should consider auditioning for a german orchestra. why? well, first of all, according to this blog, it's called "the land of many, many orchestras." 130 full time, contracted orchestras, in fact. that means there's lots of jobs and, since there's a mandatory retirement age of 67, lots of openings. 

for instance, the gewandhausorchester in leipzig is having 6 title position auditions between january and june 2017. one of them is the principal percussion audition, which is happening in february.

the gewandhausorchester is so old. they literally started in 1743 and mendelssohn was one of their music directors. andris nelsons starts as their music director in 2018 and it would be a dream job. 

the gewandhausorchester is so old. they literally started in 1743 and mendelssohn was one of their music directors. andris nelsons starts as their music director in 2018 and it would be a dream job

contrary to popular opinion, it's not impossible for an american or a non-german to win a german orchestra audition. 

a michigander (!) won the recent berlin philharmonic principal horn audition, and my buddy AJ nilles won a spot in their viola section recently.

SO. i invited the timpanist of the gewandhausorchester, tom greenleaves, who's originally from england, to explain exactly how a german orchestra audition works.

now you have no excuse. GO APPLY AND TAKE SOME GERMAN AUDITIONS. 

(btw. if you read this and you still have questions, make sure to ask them in the comments because we're doing a myth busting Q&A followup next week w/ tom.)

here's how german orchestra auditions work

tom greenleaves is the principal timpanist of the gewandhausorchester and noted twitter celebrity. if you take/win the audition (see above) you can hang with him in leipzig and drink massive beers.

tom greenleaves is the principal timpanist of the gewandhausorchester and noted twitter celebrity. if you take/win the audition (see above) you can hang with him in leipzig and drink massive beers.

by gewandhaus timpanist tom greenleaves:

A vacancy!

All German, most Austrian and Swiss, and some other European orchestras advertise their vacancies in the Das Orchester journal, which is published monthly by the Deutsche Orchestervereinigung, the German orchestral musicians' trade union. Vacancies do not just appear once, but remain advertised until they are filled.

In addition, some orchestras post their vacancies on the following websites:

muv.ac is becoming increasingly widely used by orchestras, since it offers applicants and orchestras a complete online system encompassing the entire application, candidate selection and invitation process (free-of-charge for applicants). Job-seeking musicians can upload their résumé and all other relevant documents and apply for each vacancy that arises in which they are interested with basically just one click. The members of the orchestra in question who are responsible for deciding who should be invited to audition do so online. Invitations and rejections are subsequently sent automatically by the orchestra. It's a huge time and paper saver for all concerned!

 

Time frame

Orchestras vary very much in the time frame they choose to adopt for the advertising and application process. Orchestras of smaller stature generally tend to hold out greater hope of choosing an appropriate musician at the first audition and hope to get that winning candidate to commit to them by allowing him/her to get onto the starting blocks in the orchestra pretty much immediately. For this reason, vacancies are likely to be advertised not more than about six months prior to the foreseen starting date, with the audition taking place just a month or two beforehand. 

'Larger' orchestras are likely to find they often require several auditions before they find their ideal new colleague, so often start the whole process about two years in advance, allowing for maybe three or four auditions before the position actually becomes vacant. If a candidate happens to be successful at an early audition for a bigger orchestra, there is, of course, a fair chance he/she will be happy to commit to starting at that later date.

In setting the audition dates, it is common for the section in question to liaise with their colleagues in other orchestras with a similar vacancy in order to avoid clashes. Many orchestras then publish the audition dates along with the advertisement.

 

Applications

Orchestras that operate the traditional application system expect to receive a printed résumé with a photo of the applicant, a covering letter and documentation certifying relevant education and qualifications, participation in courses and masterclasses, references, etc.

The muv.ac platform allows for all this information to be submitted, but in a considerably more succinct form.

Audition processes requiring the submission of an audio or video recording of the candidate are more-or-less unheard of in Germany.


want to nail your next audition (german or otherwise)?

here's the 5-part audition preparation method i used to win a job in the met orchestra.

(for any instrument!)


 

Candidate selection

In German orchestras there are generally no audition commissions/panels comprising a range of relevant instrumentalists. The decision on which applicants are to be invited to the audition is taken purely by the section in question.

Assuming an orchestra receives a good number of applications for a vacancy, it is normally decided to hold both a preliminary and a main audition.

After the closing date for applications, the members of the section (we timpanists count as such for percussion auditions and vice versa; lower brass are also considered to be one section for these purposes) survey all the applicants' résumés and each member decides individually on whom they would like to invite, and whether he/she should play at the preliminary audition or be invited directly to the main audition. Applicants who already hold prominent positions elsewhere are likely to be invited directly to the main audition.

Normal practice is to invite those receiving the votes of 50% of the section to audition. When the results of this process are collated, the section decides whether it's actually logistically feasible to invite the resulting number of candidates (bearing in mind that, invariably, not all those invited actually turn up). If too many candidates would be involved at this point, the section will probably decide to invite only those who received a higher percentage or, for instance, 5 of 8 votes. Also, at this point, if a candidate one member of the section knows and particularly wants to hear hasn't received enough votes, he/she will be mentioned and discussed - chances are, he/she will then be taken on board too.

 

Invitations

Invitations to the audition are generally sent out four to six weeks in advance. The list of required repertoire will be included at this point; some orchestras do publish their requirements on muv.ac from the moment the job is advertised.

 

The audition

Auditions in Germany are very seldom conducted behind a screen; hardly any orchestras have ever done so, and in the case of those that do, it's almost always only for the first round.

 

Preliminary audition

Preliminary auditions are generally held on the one or two days immediately preceding the main audition. These auditions are normally held just in front of the members of the section and maybe a handful of other particularly relevant colleagues (I would, for instance, normally attend the preliminaries of any brass and, say, principal double bass auditions). A typical number of candidates to be heard at the preliminaries would be 40-80 over the course of one/two days.

The preliminary audition normally consists of a single round. For most instrumentalists that would mean playing part of the first movement of a standard, classical concerto, plus the cadenza, and maybe a bit of the slow movement. In the case of a percussion vacancy, the candidates would probably be required to each play one set study and a long pp<ff>pp roll on the snare drum, maybe Firebird and Sorcerer's Apprentice on mallets and a variety of cymbal clashes.

The candidates play either in alphabetical order or in an order dictated by drawing lots.

After hearing all the candidates (or a certain number agreed in advance), the members of the section and any other orchestra members present have a discussion about whom and whatever they wish to talk about! Strengths and weaknesses or the potential of various candidates may be discussed, questions may be addressed to the section by 'non-experts' - there's really no set procedure at all for this. It may last 20 minutes, it may last an hour...

At the end of the discussion, those present vote (secretly) on whom they want to take on to the main audition. The section generally votes on slips of coloured paper, anyone else on white. The normal procedure is that any candidate receiving at least 50% from both the section and those present as a whole will go through to the main audition.

If the orchestra is lucky, it may have chosen a handful of particularly impressive candidates to join those players invited directly to the main audition.

At this point, German federal law requires those not accepted into the main audition to proceed to get hideously drunk together, complaining wildly about the fact that the whole business is totally fixed and that the section of this orchestra are all utter w****** anyway.

 

Main audition

The orchestra as a whole is present and absolutely involved; each tenured member has a vote. Both the section in question and, in most orchestras, the music director (should he/she be present) have, however, a veto right.

The audition is usually planned to comprise three rounds, sometimes only two. The first round is invariably very similar to the preliminary audition, often with the addition of a part of the first movement of a romantic or 20th-century concerto.

The second round may include the romantic concerto and a number of orchestral excerpts. For percussion, the second round may comprise a solo tuned piece of the candidate's choice and several excerpts on a variety of instruments.

A third round is likely to consist of more excerpts.

One relatively unusual practice worth mentioning is the procedure adopted by some orchestras for the excerpt round(s). All the candidates sit on stage together and each excerpt is performed by each candidate in turn. In order to avoid one candidate always having to go first, the sequence is as follows (in the case of four candidates):

    Excerpt A: 1, 2, 3, 4

    Excerpt B: 4, 1, 2, 3

    Excerpt C: 3, 4, 1, 2

and so on. Not difficult to imagine that this is a situation which most auditionees either loathe or utterly despise. For most players it adds not inconsiderable stress to an already fairly inhumane situation. That in itself is considered by orchestras to be a valuable test. Of primary significance, though, is, of course, the fact that the orchestra gets to compare every aspect of each candidate's playing very directly with that of every other candidate.

After each round, the members of the section give their opinions on any players of particular interest, as well as on those they think really shouldn't get through to the next round. If the music director is present he'll be asked to comment too. Then, the big discussion ensues........after which the orchestra votes (voting for multiple candidates is generally allowed). Normal procedure is, once again, that after the first and second rounds all candidates receiving 50% of the vote get through to the next round. After the final round, the section votes on the coloured slips, the rest on white. To win the audition, some orchestras operate the 50% hurdle; others require, for instance, at least 60% of the vote from both the section and the orchestra as a whole. If this is the case, and the music director doesn't wish to veto it, then we have a winner.

At auditions for 'smaller' orchestras there is invariably a winner - in the bigger ones, more rarely. Typical for the leading orchestras would be to choose a new player at not more than about 30% of the auditions they hold. In most cases (and not infrequently after the first round), the audition is simply over and the orchestra does the whole thing again about six months later...

 

Probation period

A new member joins the orchestra on probation: in most orchestras for one season, in some for two. At the end of this period the orchestra gets together.......and has a big discussion! Everyone then votes (or in advance, if they can't be present). Typically, 2/3 of the vote is required in order to become a permanent member. Normally, the section and the music director both have a veto right.

In the unfortunate case of a player not passing his/her probation, tenure is not granted and the orchestra publishes an advertisement...

 

woo! thanks, tom, for writing this. if you, the reader, have questions, let us know in the comments below and we'll try to address them in our Q&A next week!


want to nail your next audition (german or otherwise)?

here's the 5-part audition preparation method i used to win a job in the met orchestra.

(for any instrument!)

rob knopper

lincoln center plaza, 10023

hailed by @nytimes and james levine as needing 'louder triangle notes'. recorded delécluse: douze études for snare drum, percussionist in @metorchestra.