Elizabeth Volpé Bligh
for a professional symphony orchestra is a major challenge. I
hope this list will help aspiring harpists to prepare their
Choose a solo piece that you play really well, shows your
versatility with varying tempi and moods, and is flashy enough
technically to impress the panel. They may specify certain standard
concerti or featured soli, so learn these standards well in advance
just in case.
The excerpts show your abilities as a team player. Listen to many
recordings of the pieces you will be playing excerpts from. Listen
to recordings of the orchestra you plan to audition for. They may
have a certain style that they would expect you to adhere to. You
may find them on iTunes and on Naxos Music Library. Read program
notes so that you understand what the composer was trying to say
with the music. Know where the music slows down or speeds up and by
Get the excerpts from the orchestra, even if you have your own.
There may be mistakes in theirs or yours. If theirs has a mistake,
contact their librarian. If there is a discrepancy, they may be
using an edition. Perform their version.
Notice all the details such as dynamic markings, tempo markings,
rit’s and accel’s. If you play all the notes but neglect these
details, that will kill your chances of winning the audition.
Dynamics are extremely important.
Play with a focused sound that will convince them that you can be
heard over the orchestra, even in a pianissimo.
Don’t play Debussy like Wagner. Know your styles.
Memorize your excerpts. You will have your music in front of you,
but if the lighting is bad, your contact lenses have grit on them,
or you are not used to the harp, at least you still have a hope of
When practicing, sing the main orchestra line along with your
excerpts, so that when you play for the committee, they will hear
that you KNOW what the rest of the orchestra is doing in that
section. Don’t sing during the audition! Rotten tomatoes will ruin
If it is not marked, determine what the metronome speed is for your
excerpts and write it in. Then learn to play those excerpts at least
two clicks faster in case the conductor asks you to.
Practice with the metronome to make sure you are playing the
excerpts at the correct speed and are not rushing or dragging. Then
turn it off to practice the phrasing.
Get a device such as an HD flash recorder and record yourself.
Get a comprehensive list of the most common audition repertoire and
start learning it long before you need it.
Some excerpts are like “trick questions”. They are completely
unplayable or sound terrible as written, so everyone does their own
edition. A good example is the cadenza from Waltz of the Flowers by
If you don’t study with an orchestra harpist, get some lessons on
your audition repertoire with one who knows the ropes. If you study
with a great soloist, they should not be offended if you need a
little specialized advice. Don’t wait until the week before your
audition; it takes time to absorb new information.
Be prepared for the conductor to come up onstage and conduct you.
Maestro Akiyama did this to me for Symphonie fantastique, and
because I had it memorized, I never took my eyes off him.
Read some books on audition preparation. There are some good ones
out there. The Internet is also a good source of advice. Harp Column
has had discussions on audition preparation, for example, but google
“orchestra auditions” and see what comes up.
Practice many, many repetitions, taking breaks every hour so you
don’t get tendonitis. Practice them in different order. You should
be able to play your pieces easily.
Play “mock auditions” with simulated conditions such as a panel of
your friends or teachers. Dress in your audition clothes. Have the
panel make notes as you play, and then provide feedback.
Tune your harp carefully every day so that you can tune it perfectly
on the big day, and it will stay in tune. Bad intonation will ruin
an otherwise perfect audition.
On the day:
The panel will be listening for
Musicianship (Style, phrasing)
words: Everyone should get lots of experience playing in school,
university, music camps and community orchestras before they take
professional auditions, because it would be a shame to win the
audition but then not get tenure because of inability to function on
the job. Orchestras can put a newly-hired musician on probation for
a year or more, depending on the terms of the contract, and then
decide not to hire them.
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