Atlanta Symphony Double Bass Audition – an inside look

Atlanta Symphony bassist Michael Kurth takes a look at a recent audition for his orchestra.

With Michael Kurth · Atlanta, GA

Auditions were held Sept. 10-12, 2017 for tenure-track Principal Bass and one-year Section Bass. Per union rules, a local audition was held for the one-year position prior to the national audition.

Local audition:

  • Seven players played the screened first round.

First round rep:

  • Beethoven 5, Scherzo and Trio
  • Brahms 1, first movement, mm. 161-191 (E to 1st ending)
  • Mozart 39, first movement, mm. 40-98 (theme to B)
  • Strauss Ein Heldenleben, reh. 9 to 6 after reh. 12

Two players advanced to the unscreened second round.

Second round rep:

  • Movement of choice from Bach Cello Suites
  • Shostakovich 5, first movement, reh. 22 to 4 after reh. 26
  • Mahler 2, first movement, beginning to reh. 2
  • Mozart 40, first movement, mm. 111-138

No winner was chosen from the local audition. However, one candidate played well enough to be auto-advanced to the second round of the national audition.

National audition:

25 players played the screened first round. Turnout was sparse, primarily due to the weather; the entire southeastern US was having its face ripped off by Hurricane Irma. We considered rescheduling the audition, but decided to forge ahead, since those who showed up had already gone to the trouble and expense of traveling to Atlanta to be heard.

First round rep:

  • Beethoven 5, Scherzo and Trio
  • Brahms 1, first movement, mm. 161-191 (E to 1st ending)
  • Mozart 39, first movement, mm. 40-98 (theme to B)
  • Strauss Ein Heldenleben, reh. 9 to 6 after reh. 12

Occasionally the committee asked a candidate to repeat an excerpt with more attention to something like rhythm or intonation. This usually happened because the candidate seemed promising, and we wanted them to have another chance to earn our vote.

Making an occasional mistake, or even crashing and starting an excerpt over, didn’t cost anyone my vote.

No one played a perfect prelim. Even those who advanced made mistakes, but they still came across as strong, controlled players who would probably make a positive contribution to our section, or at least as players who earned a chance to be heard again in the second round.

My most frequent comments related to lack of 8th note clarity in the B5 Trio (playing it as fast as the Scherzo isn’t impressive if the 8th notes lack clarity! Slow it down!), lack of attention to detail in the Brahms (make it obvious where the accents and sforzandos are, and don’t add any), and sloppy 16th notes in M39 (they often sounded late, rushed, or clipped).

Nine players advanced to the screened second round.

Second round rep:

  • Mahler 2, first movement, beginning to reh. 2
  • Mozart 40, first movement, mm. 111-138
  • Shostakovich 5, first movement, reh. 22 to 4 after reh. 26
  • Haydn 31 solo
  • Brahms 1, second movement, mm. 46-60

My most frequent comments:

  • Mahler – downbows louder than upbow pickups, unstable rhythm in triplets
  • Mozart – too loud, inelegant, sloppy string crossings, 8th note pickups too much like triplets
  • Shostakovich – intonation

Three players advanced to the unscreened final round, joined by current members of our section who had been auto-advanced per our contract.

Final round rep:

  • Movement of choice from Bach Cello Suites
  • Beethoven 9, fourth movement, reh. K – 17 before reh. M
  • Ginastera, Variaciones Concertantes solo
  • Mahler 2, second movement, pickups to reh. 6 to 6 before reh. 8
  • Heldenleben – 2 before reh. 61 to reh. 70
  • Mozart 40, fourth movement, mm. 191-225
  • Bach Orchestra Suite 2, Double & Badinerie

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