As applicants around the country are preparing their auditions for AYO in 2021, each musician will be playing a set of excerpts to be assessed by the panel. You might be asking – how do you give a strong performance of an excerpt? We chatted to oboist, artistic director and experienced audition panellist Ben Opie about the importance of listening in preparation for performing AYO’s excerpts.

The AYO Young Symphonists orchestra performing on stage at Deakin Edge in 2019. They are wearing concert blacks.

One thing that’s really important to remember is we as the panel want to hear you at your best. We’re not sitting there waiting to hear mistakes, we want to hear your personality in your playing. I find a really strong audition is when someone presents themselves with a level of preparedness and we can tell they really understand and know their excerpts or their own-choice piece intimately. We love listening to you play and remember that during your preparation.

Once you have your excerpts, where do you start?

There are a couple of things I like to start with:

How do you know which recordings to listen to?

My solution when we have so many to choose from is the more the merrier! But try to focus on familiar and renowned orchestras and conductors, you’ll reach a point in your listening where you’ll notice a pretty standard version.

I like to immerse myself in recordings of excerpts until I really feel them in my bones when I’m preparing and practising them, I need to be able to hear the whole orchestra in my head while I’m playing my part.

Oboist Ben Opie holds his instrument with his arms crossed while looking at the camera. He is wearing a black button-up shirt.

What are some of the excerpts which come up again and again in orchestral auditions? Why is it valuable to familiarise yourself with those works?

Of course it’s different for every instrument, many excerpts come up regularly because they are programmed in orchestra a lot which on its own is a good reason to get to know them well! Other excerpts are almost never programmed in orchestra, but often they will allow you to display a certain technique.

It might be phrasing, a certain type of articulation, technical proficiency, understanding of a particular style or control over a difficult part of your instrument (for example). Once it becomes clear why it’s on the audition list, you can focus on that element.

What are some key things to look for when listening to the entire piece?

Here are a few things I like to look for:

How do you know when you’ve found the right recording to practise with your excerpt?

I’m not sure there is one right recording, we’re lucky enough to have so many recordings on hand now, so you can look through a huge range of diverse versions. This could include listening to a performance on period instruments to find out what that sounds like, or sometimes it’s great to listen to recordings that help you understand what not to do!

With the help of your teacher you can find a version that helps you create the best version of your excerpt. It’s always great to listen to a recording that is maybe more radical than a standard, but just be aware that although it might be fascinating, it might not be the best model for audition preparation.

What advice would you give to someone auditioning for AYO?

My advice is to focus on preparation and attitude: 

Watch our Zoom Webinar: AYO Alumni in Conversation

Watch the live-stream of three AYO alumni; clarinettist Lloyd Van’t Hoff, tubist Karina Filipi and Lawrence Lee as they discuss their experience as an AYO musician, share advice on auditions, and tell us about their careers since:

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