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Orchestral Violin Practice Challenge: My goals for the next two years

One of the things I absolutely love about playing the violin is playing orchestral music. I love the variety of repertoire that it brings – from Bach Cantatas to Tchaikovsky Symphonies, Bizet’s suites, and modern, cutting edge compositions. Orchestral playing, and the violin practice that goes with it, is constantly interesting and challenging.

Rehearsing with the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra

When I was going through my Bachelor of Music, I loved orchestral playing. I even did a research project on what was required to win an orchestral violin position in an Australian orchestra. But my playing was never at the stage where I could consider applying for an audition, let alone winning that audition.

I went away from music for a few years, but now I’m back – currently studying to be a High School music teacher. I’ve got two years of study to go, so I’m setting myself a goal.

In two years, I want my playing to be at a stage where I could feel confident in applying for an audition. I’m not going to say that I’m going to win that audition – but to borrow a line from a hit musical, “I want to be in the room where it happens.”

What’s required?

So to start with, let’s look at what’s required for an Orchestral Violin audition.

First, you generally need to have two violin concertos prepared. These are broken up into two categories. The first is a Mozart Concerto – by which they will either specify, or at least expect either the Fourth concerto in D Major, or the Fifth concerto in A Major. The second category is either a Romantic or Twentieth Century concerto. These have a bit more flexibility in them, and do allow for a bit more choice, but most audition panels would be expecting to hear the Tchaikovsky or Sibelius Violin Concertos.

Then you are required to play some orchestral excerpts, which allows them to see how you might fit in to the individual stylistic playing of the orchestra. Over the many years of orchestral auditions, there have been a number of excerpts that have proven themselves to be required more often than others. As a result, even though you may not get a list of required excerpts until the audition is announced, or even closer to the audition date, you can still prepare these excerpts knowing that it is likely they will be included.

Reviewing where I’m at now

When I consider my own playing and my own repertoire that I know at the moment, there are a few things that are missing. I’ve learnt the fourth concerto by Mozart, and I refreshed it in 2020. However, I’ve not really learnt any of the major romantic concerti. And while my head knowledge remains relatively fresh, a lot of my technique has slipped. And if I’m to seriously tackle the Tchaikovsky concerto, then I need to address the weakest part of my playing – my double stops.

Difficulties ahead

A Bendigo Symphony Orchestra chamber music rehearsal

When taking on any challenge, it’s important to note the things that can get in the way, or make it more difficult. Firstly, I’m heading into full time study this year, which is no easy feat on its own, but my studies will see me be required to complete three month-long practicums – two this year, one next year. That will take up a lot of my time, and mean that finding time for my violin practice will be difficult. Secondly, I have three kids, one who is diagnosed ASD, and one who is undergoing diagnosis. As such, there are a lot of appointments and therapy sessions to attend to. And while this is an important challenge to me, my family will always come first.

As such, I’ve come up with a plan for my violin practice that I feel is achievable despite these time constraints, however, it will still enough of a challenge that it will stretch me. I’ve divided it up into semesters, but in other words it means the first half of the year, and the second half of the year.

The Goal

Semester 1Semester 2
2021Polish Mozart 4
Learn Mendelssohn
Technique focus on Double Stops
Excerpts: Bach St Matthew Passion; Beethoven Symphony 2, 3 and 9; Mozart Symphony 35 and 39
Polish Mendelssohn
Learn Mozart 5
Technique focus on tone production
Excerpts: Brahms Symphony 1 and 4, and Variations on a Theme by Haydn; Elgar Enigma Variations; Prokofiev Symphony 1; Shostakovich Symphony 1
All 2021Kreutzer and Fiorillo Etudes
2022Polish Mozart 5
Learn Tchaikovsky
Technique focus on intonation
Excerpts: Prokofiev Symphony 5; Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade Solos; Strauss Don Juan; Tchaikovsky Symphony 4 and 5; Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
Polish Tchaikovsky
Technique focus on bowing
Excerpts: Mahler 3 and 5; Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Orchestral Suites; Strauss Ein Heldenleben (Solos) and Der Burger als Edelmann (Solos); Tchaikovsky Swan Lake (Solos)
All 2022Rode and Dont etudes

In terms of the amount of violin practice I am able to do, I am aiming to do two hours of practice a day. While that might be a bit of a stretch some days, so it might only be one hour, but that is the aim.

Do it once and do it right!

One of the things that I am really trying to focus in on is learning the right way. So I will also be really looking at my practice techniques, utilising resources such as Practiceopedia by Philip Johnston (no longer in print), Youtube, and others, to improve my practicing and make it as effective and efficient as possible. In time, I’ll be sharing these in my weekly videos as I share what I’ve been working on, how I’ve been working on it, and how well it has worked.

I’m excited to see what this program will be able to do for my playing. Similarly, I am looking forward to what it will do for my teaching. In conclusion, I hope you’ll be able to join me for this journey by subscribing to my YouTube channel. But for now – I need to go and practice.

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The Last Night of the Proms

A number of years ago, I was planning the trip of a lifetime. I was going to fly to England, find a backpackers or something near Paddington. The goal would be to go to as many Proms concerts as I could. The Proms are something so uniquely Brittish, but even more so is the traditional Last Night of the Proms.

Continue reading The Last Night of the Proms
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MetSO Summer Concert

Ben is a member of MetSO, and will be performing as part of their upcoming concert, which features Tchaikovsky Favourites – March Slav, The Nutcracker Suite, and Symphony number 3 (The Polish). This will be a fantastic concert, but tickets will go quick.

MetSO’s Tchaikovsky Favourites
Sunday 13 December, 5pm
Rixon Theatre, Penhros College
Details and Tickets

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On This Day… October 16

In my most recent WA Youth Orchestra concert, we performed the piece that we look at today. Our conductor talked about the special moments that we could have in our musical careers, and the Last movement of this symphony was one of them. Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, Symphony Number 6, premiered on this day in 1893. Continue reading On This Day… October 16

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On This Day… October 15

Today we look at a piece that did a lot to introduce the magnificent instrument of the orchestra to young people. It also ended up being one of his most popular works. Benjamin Britten’s <em>The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra</em>, premiered on this day in 1946.<!–more–>

Originally written as accompanying music for a BBC documentary <em>Instruments of the Orchestra</em>, it was actually premiered on this day by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946 (the documentary used the London Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered on the 29th of November, 1946). Britten started composing this work in mid-December, 1945, and continued writing up to midnight, New Years Eve, 1945.

The piece itself consists of a theme (from Purcell’s <em>Abdelazar</em>) and variations, with each variation introducing a new instrument, and a final fugue in which all the instruments are put together. The instruments are introduced by family – winds, strings, brass and percussion. The fugue is based on an original theme, and once every instrument has entered, the brass are used to return Purcell’s original motive.

There are two different versions, one with narration and one without. The narration was written by Britten’s friend Eric Crozier, and designed to be spoken by the conductor or a separate narrator.

Today we have a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting.

Did you like the performance? Do you prefer this, or other popular children’s pieces such as Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, or Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf? Let me know in the comments, or write a post on your own blog, linking back to this post, and I’ll add a link below.

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On this day… September 26

I’ve decided to start up a new feature which will hopefully be informative, and fun. Basically, each day I look at a major classical event that happened on this day – be it a birth, death or premiere. Thanks to the wonderful place that is YouTube, where possible I’ll upload a video of a performance related to the topic. Added with a short biography or description of the event, it should be a fantastic way to get exposed to a large amount of music. Today, the stars seemed to align themselves, as today I can bring together two of the biggest names of American classical music. Continue reading On this day… September 26

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New Directions

Well, today marks the day that applications for the World Council of Churches Youth Internships close. I actually got mine in Friday night (if I remember correctly), but all the same, now starts the waiting game. I’m not actually sure when I’ll find out about it, and I’m in the odd situation of wanting to plan for next year, but not being able to. I can’t in good mind take on new students with the possibility of me only being able to teach them for a term, however if I get the internship I’ll need a little bit of money for travel expenses. Continue reading New Directions

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How does he know?

You know, sometimes it’s incredible how people know exactly the right thing to say, seemingly without any prompting. Perhaps sometimes someone can be really good at reading people, but others it’s just incredible. For me, it’s happened with my teacher a couple of times. Once when I was thinking once again about my practice techniques, and what does he bring up in string class, but a lengthy “lecture” on practice. Just recently is the more incredible one though. After having been away for a week, I get to my lesson on Tuesday and he brings up the topic of focus and where I’m wanting to head in music, what I would like to be doing once I leave uni etc. The incredible thing is that I had just been thinking about that very same topic on the weekend. I hadn’t even talked to anyone about it, just thinking about it – yet he comes up with this one hour talk/discussion on it. I didn’t end up playing a note in that lesson – but I got so much out of it.

Orchestral playing is what I really love, and Peter suggested that towards the end of the year I might take a couple of mock auditions in which I could practice taking auditions – and play the repertoire that I would be expected to play for an audition. So I’m now learning the Tchaikovsky Violin concerto, as well as Mozart Concerto Number 4. Tomorrow in my lesson, I’ll suggest a couple of dates for the mock auditions, as well as bring him a list of excerpts that I would like to learn.

I seem to be rather excited about this prospect – like I’m actually making steps towards my goal. While I know that all the stuff that I have been doing previous to this have helped, this actually seems like physical steps towards the goal.

I did 3 hours practice straight today – a rarity in recent times. It did have something to do with not having anything on today, and wanting to get into the tchaikovsky, but also the fact that I was motivated to do it, made it seem like it went past really quickly. Let’s hope for more of the same!