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  • Writer's pictureDavid G. Miller

“Don’t worry - they’ll only be listening to me”

Flying the Flag for the Audition Collaborative Pianist.

We collaborative pianists are well aware that we can be of inestimable value in an audition situation by playing an integral role in the performance and interpretation of the music. We can make a difference! The professional collaborative pianist has the skills and the insight to provide invaluable support for any performer (vocal or instrumental) auditioning for a position in an orchestra, opera company, choir or chamber group or to compete for prizes, scholarships or awards.

In addition to technical competence, the auditioners will be looking for the auditionee’s ability to work in collaboration with other musicians. Bad ensemble in an audition says a lot about a candidate’s musicality and people skills, even if the candidate also has aspirations as a soloist. Geoff Collins, former Principal Flute in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, states that “my experience is that the best concerto soloists are the ones that do have chamber music experience. [The panel] want to know how this player would work with us.”

The quality of the collaborative partnership could be very revealing to an adjudicating panel. When asked whether the choice of pianist might affect the audition assessment, Collins said “yes, they should have a think about who’s going to be the best for them”. He added that, as a member of an audition panel, he would consider the ability of the candidate to work with the pianist: “If the soloist is communicative in an audition, particularly for a principal position, that shows something - that they have skills that transfer into the orchestral setting. If they have no idea what the accompaniment’s about, that works against them.”

It is to the advantage of audition candidates to appear at their best from every perspective. I believe strongly that the success of an audition is dependent on having sufficient quality rehearsal time for the applicant (and the pianist) to feel secure and confident. Only then will the panel have a clear view of the auditionee’s future potential. This will not be the case if the audition is prepared in haste or on the cheap with an inexperienced, unqualified or uninterested pianist.

The repertoire for auditions will often involve complex ensemble issues with virtuosic piano writing or keyboard reductions of orchestral scores. A good collaborative pianist will take a proactive approach to the number and nature of rehearsals required. You are engaging a professional service, with obligations and responsibilities on both sides. Jo Allan, previously Principal Keyboard at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, agrees that “the collaborative pianist could act as an audition advisor” in preparation for the real event.

While many orchestras will provide their own accompanist to play for auditions, it would be beneficial to engage an experienced collaborative pianist beforehand, for detailed practice and study sessions. Collins says that if the candidate can "find a friendly pianist to work with [in advance], that’s going to be really helpful, because I often find that I’ve practiced very well alone but as soon as I actually play with somebody, I’ll find weaknesses I’m not aware of and need to work on”. David Howie, Lecturer in Collaborative Piano at Sydney Conservatorium of Music, agrees that many musicians “don’t know how to lead because they just don’t do it when they’re practising by themselves.”

The collaborative pianist’s responsibility in an audition is to support, inspire and challenge their partner. The auditionee would be wise to choose their pianist carefully if they wish to present a convincing and successful performance. Take the advice of your teacher or approach other professional musicians. Consult your local Accompanists’ Guild if you are fortunate enough to have one.


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