Save big on combining string sets: Combined Viola Strings
Pirastro Viola Strings: Evah Pirazzi, Obligato, Passione, Olive, Flexocor, Permanent, Eudoxa, Gold Label Wondertone, Tonica,
Chorda, Chromcor
Thomastik-Infeld Viola Strings: Dominant,
Spirocore, Vision, Vision Solo, Superflexible,
Jargar Viola Strings
D'Addario Viola Strings: Helicore, Zyex, Kaplan,
Pro Arte
Prim Viola Strings
Warchal: Brilliant Vintage, Karneol
Violin/Viola Rosin
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Professional Viola Audition

Many young aspiring viola students dream of pursuing a career as a professional orchestra, but have no idea of the audition selection process, or the minimal requirements that are often required.

Don't worry, as far as we know, Stanley doesn't judge orchestra auditions!

First, as one would imagine, it is and can be a very competitive and exhaustive process.  'Winning' a professional orchestral job is a culmination of a lifetime of preparation, hard work, talent, expense (it costs money to go to these) and an element of luck!

It is imperative that young viola player students are 'eyes wide open' when planning on a career in music, playing the viola and perhaps gaining a position in a professional orchestra.  Too many young, happy musicians attend a school or university thinking that after they attend their 4 year university, there will be some way for them to play in their dream orchestra then find out how hard and demanding it can be.

A Professional Orchestra Violia Audition Process And How To Prepare:

Let's first assume that the viola applicant already has a considerable educational background (a Bachelors degree of some kind).  Yo Yo Ma I think was a History major!  Mostly though, people will have music degree backgrounds and from some top tier school. We're not going to get into "which" schools here as that could easily develop into wholly dedicated web site just for that alone.

  • most all professional orchestra auditions (in the USA and Canada) are advertised in the International Musician trade magazine that tends to advertise vacancies months or weeks in advance.  You have to be in the musicians union to get one of these.  If you are not, (still a student) just borrow one from your teacher or from someone that belongs to it and receives it in the mail.
  • you then send in your resume and there is usually a deposit required at time of application.  The deposit is usually required because so many players just want to inquire or see what the list is, but for that orchestra's personnel manager trying to slot all these players in, it is really difficult to do if bunches of people do not actually show up the day of the audition.  The deposit usually guarantees that people don't do this and requires that they give a notice of not coming.  No one's trying to make money on auditions here and the deposits are given back if the player lets them know that he/she is not going come.  Orchestra players joke that when some of the top vacancies attract 150 players, there must be some kind of conspiracy with the local hotels!  Not true, but think of the logistics involved with 100 bass players showing up in one city at the same time!!!
  • To get an idea of the sort of music you should be learning or will some day be asked, you can look at the various web sites that advertise viola audition openings, and simply email them and ask for a list of repertoire.  So many nowadays, just put the list up there for everyone to see asap.  There are a lot of 'eager beavers' out there that want to get that list as soon as they can and practice 8 hours a day for 6 weeks before their audition!!
  • upon receipt, you will get your audition repertoire list and details about the audition day and times.  There is always bound to be something strange on the list that stands out, but most usually it is from the standard repertoire and again, should not be a total surprise to you.  If everything on the list is new and different, think twice before you book that expensive air ticket. 
  • again, usually a 'candidate' will receive the list in due time and have weeks to practice the parts. You can buy excerpt books, but it is always better to find the whole and original part.  From this you can copy what you need from that, or just highlight which parts they say to prepare for.
  • The first round is usually behind a screen.  This is to try to ensure complete anonymity so that there is no chance of any kind of pre-judging based on race or gender, or whatever would effect anyone's judgment (trying to be fair!) Preliminary rounds are usually around 10 minutes each.  (Sometimes even shorter.)  You are given a number and usually groups of 5-10 people go out and play (one by one) and after each person, the committee people listening will vote.  Each orchestra is different.  Some (like in Cleveland) do not use screens and some orchestras keep the screen up all the way to the end (I think the Met. Opera does that now.)  Some auditionees find it comforting to actually play or practice behind some curtain (even that can make you nervous at your audition if you have never done that before) and practicing this, can really make it less distracting.  Less distraction is always better.
  • These days, audition committees like to even give measure numbers to prepare on so that there is very little guess work of just what you might be asked to do at the audition.  They are not trying to trick anyone here and everyone will be playing the same parts and excerpts.  Easy to compare apples to apples this way.   Sometimes, if the committee is unsure on whether or not you have played or showed your best, they might ask you to play on a couple more excerpts to see if you get better or do what they are looking for.  Don't worry....someone there must like your playing enough to want to hear more.  Also, don't get discouraged if you play real shortly and they don't keep asking parts from you.  It is only the first round.  Some players come out and absolutely NAIL the prelim.  Perfect notes, rhythm, everything...so they quickly play and they are done.  So the committee gives them a quick "thank you" and you may think, wow, that was really bad...only to find that you got all their votes into the next round.
  • For auditions with bigger numbers, there is often semi rounds (and these usually behind the screen still), but not always.  Most usually, you will be asked to play more (different) excerpts than before.
  • Finals.  Ok baby, this is why you are here...shine.  The screen is down, so I hope you shaved or wore something other than your favorite T-shirt!  Dress and look professional.  For men, I really think neck ties are ok, but if it gets in the way or you just don't feel comfortable, wear a nice shirt and slacks. Wear something acceptable (not jeans!) and ladies, don't were high heels or anything that you won't feel totally at ease and comfortable playing in.  Comfort...is good.
  • Often, the 'winning' candidate might be asked to sit in with with the orchestra for a week or two.  You are paid and your (future) colleagues just want to make sure that you are 'ok'.  For instance...you don't stand up in the middle of the concert and stretch!!  That would be weird and a bad career move.  (This just proves that we have a good sense of humor here.)

Taking a professional viola audition can be a physically, emotionally, and financially draining process.  Once you think you may be ready to 'test the waters' find a good (nationally or internationally) acclaimed coach/teacher and pay to play!  Maybe even find a good orchestra viola player near you and play for them.  Just blow through your solo and repertoire list.  They are the ones that listen to the auditions and there might be something that you do (not aware), even very small, that could hold you back.

Once, I took an audition, (very young) and didn't realize the excerpt that I was playing (for 4 weeks) was actually HALF the speed that I was playing.  Playing for people can expose big and small issues, but in the end should always make you better and better prepared.

Good Luck!

Manufacturer: Brands:
Combined Custom Sets for Viola You name it...we combine it!
Pirastro Viola Strings Evah Pirazzi, Passione, Obligato, Gold Label, Olive, Chorda, Eudoxa and Paranito and Tonica
Thomastik-Infeld Viola Strings Spirocore, (most popular are the C and G's!) Dominants,  Vision
Larsen Viola Strings Offered in light, medium, heavy gauge.
D'Addario Viola Strings Helicore, Kaplan and Prelude cello strings
Jargar Viola Strings Jargar Supremes, come in light, medium and heavy gauges.
Prim Offered in light, medium and orchestra heavy gauge.
Warchal Brilliant and Karneol  (These are new and getting popular.)

We also have some helpful and interesting links about individual string brands, comparisons and some practical related viola information to read: