Audition Cafe Interview

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Audition Cafe Interview

Matthew Winter

Audition Cafe

The World's Audition Platform

Matthew Winter is currently solo bass trombonist with the Finnish Radio Symphony. A position he won while an undergraduate student at the Juilliard School.  We talk to Matthew about his experience playing with the orchestra, the differences between auditions in the United States and Europe, his audition preparation process and also ask for general audition advice.
  • How long have you been playing with the Finnish Radio Symphony? Is the experience what you expected?

I started playing in the Finnish radio orchestra in the 2015/2016 season on a one year contract (via tape audition) after my mentor and former teacher at Juilliard Denson Paul Pollard decided to leave his position with the FRSO and return to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. I won the full time position at the end of the season in May. 

I have to say I had not heard many recordings of the orchestra prior to moving to Helsinki. But I was really impressed with the quality of musicianship and how welcoming everyone was.

  • What have been some of the highlights playing with the orchestra?

There are many benefits to playing in the FRSO. One is that we tour a lot. In fact during my first season we did a tour of Japan as well as one in Austria. The Austrian tour was especially fun for me because I had always wanted to visit and it was my first time there. The program included Shostakovich's fifth symphony, Adams Short Ride in a fast machine, as well John Adams Violin Concerto Sheherazade.2 with the great violinist Leila Josefowicz. 

The other thing about the FRSO is that we record multiple cds every year. My very first rehearsals with the orchestra were for an upcoming cd of compositions by Erkki Melartin and Magnus Lindberg.  Magnus Lindberg was present for the recording which was very exciting. Its always a treat to play music for the composer. The camaraderie in our Low brass section as well as the rest of the orchestra was especially great when we were recording.

  • How many auditions had you taken before the Finnish Radio Symphony?

Finland was my 9th audition.

  • How was your audition day? How did it compare to other auditions you have taken?

The audition was two days. The first day we played a preliminary round and the second day we had a semi final, final and super final round. All prelims and semi final rounds were behind a screen, which is fairly similar to my experience with other auditions. However, the first round consisted of a solo work, Norman Bolter's Sagittarius 2, and then excerpts which is different than many auditions I have taken where you play excerpts first and solos in the later rounds. 


The convenient thing about those two days was that they were extremely well organized by the orchestra management. Everyone had their own rooms to warm up in and things went almost exactly according to schedule which doesn't happen at most auditions from my personal experience.

  • Was your experience taking an audition outside the United States what you expected?  Were there differences compared to auditions based in the United States?

This audition was actually my third European audition so I had a vague idea of some of the logistical differences between auditions in Europe vs. the U.S. As I said earlier the European auditions often start with a solo which in the U.S. is not typically the case. They also do not auto advance candidates like in the U.S. Everyone has to play a preliminary round regardless of their qualifications.  Another interesting thing about many auditions in Europe including Finland is that the committees listening are much larger. In the Final round for the FRSO the screen came down and there were over twenty people including the conductor sitting in front of me, which was a bit surprising and uncomfortable at first. I remember finishing my Final round and the whole committee applauding (which they do for all finalists) and not being quite sure whether to bow or to just give a quick nod and leave the room.

  • How did you feel after your first round?  Did you expect to advance?

My first round felt very secure. But I recall being very nervous before hand and knowing that a job that I really wanted was on the line. However I committed to going for it and I felt confident afterwards that I would advance.

  • What are some musical factors that you believe help set musicians apart at an audition?

One of my colleagues in the FRSO Darren Acosta had a very good answer to this question. He said there are three different levels of playing in an audition. No. 1 is having the basic fundamentals such as sound, pitch, rhythm etc. No. 2 is the basic sense of style for each excerpt. In other words playing with appropriate dynamics, and articulations. No. 3 is being able to communicate emotionally with your listener, which is very rare to hear in an audition. But if you can achieve that you can really set yourself apart from everyone else. I think the candidate who can let go of the technique to a degree and really take a risk musically is at an advantage.

  • How did you prepare for the audition?  Did you follow any kind of regimen? 

My preparation for this audition was very intense. Prior to the audition I decided to send an email to Mark Inouye (principal trumpet of san francisco symphony)  and ask him how he prepared for auditions. He said he would play through 6-7 excerpts, record them, listen back at half speed and take very specific notes on each excerpt. Then practice those things he had written in his notes and once he was finished, he would repeat the same process with 6-7 other excerpts. I really can't thank Mark Inouye enough for his advice. So I did this regime 6 days a week for 4 weeks. When you pratice this much its good to take a day off from audition repertoire. In addition, I compiled a playlist on spotify of all the orchestral works and solos on the Audition list. Then I would do a mock audition nearly everyday. I would either do this for my tape recorder, one of my low brass colleagues or other members of the orchestra. This was very helpful. The more different instrumentalists you can play for the more you learn about your strengths and weaknesses as a performer. It also gives you great insight as to what audition committees want to hear.

  • What advice can you offer to those on the audition circuit?

I would say that the biggest assets we have as musicians are work ethic, diligence and personality. If you are willing to put in the time, never quit and allow yourself to be who you are, I believe you will succeed eventually. There's a Babe Ruth quote aboutdiligence I find very motivating. "You just can't beat the person who never gives up."  We have to understand that its important to be content with our playing and musicianship regardless of whether we win an audition or not. We need to keep reminding ourselves why we chose to perform in the first place, that way we can persevere through difficult times when we don't get the results we are hoping for. 

BIO

Matthew Winter is currently the solo bass trombonist of the Finnish radio Symphony Orchestra. A position he won while pursuing his bachelors degree at the Juilliard School.  Previously Mr. Winter was also a member of the Verbier Festival Orchestra for two summers.

In addition to this he has performed with distinguished ensembles such as the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the New York City Ballet Orchestra. He has worked with great conductors such as Valery Gergiev, Paavo Jarvi, David Zinman, Manfred Honeck, Alan Gilbert, Michael Thilson Thomas, Ivan Fischer, and Gianandrea Noseda.

When Mr. Winter is not playing trombone he enjoys composing and playing the piano. His trombone quartet "ildiko" was premiered at the Juilliard School in 2014 for the non-major composition competition and was selected to be performed in Alice Tully Hall. This work was also premiered in Spain in the summer of 2015 and recently in Finland and Estonia.

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Audition Cafe Interview

Emma Gerstein

Audition Cafe

The World's Audition Platform

Emma Gerstein, principal flute of the Auckland Philharmonia in New Zealand, has recently won the second flute position in the Chicago Symphony.  We talk to Emma about her experience playing with the orchestra, her audition preparation process and ask her for general audition advice.
  • How long have you been playing with the Auckland Philharmonia? Is the experience what you expected?

I applied via an "expression of interest" last December, and I moved to Auckland to do a 5 month contract starting in February.  The audition for the tenure-track position was in April.  It's been a joy to live in such a beautiful country, even for such a short time, and to get to play in this orchestra.  I adore my colleagues!

  • What have been some of the highlights playing with the orchestra?

Our Music Director, Giordano Bellincampi, was also new to the APO last season.  He is so wonderful at pushing the orchestra to play to the highest standard.  He expects so much of us, which makes me want to be better all the time.  When he's on the podium, there's a real sense that he's listening and reacting to what's going on, and that he loves the music.  We did a semi-staged version of Verdi's Otello with Giordano last July, and it's a performance I will definitely remember forever.

  • How was your audition day for the Chicago Symphony? How did it compare to other auditions you have taken?

The prelim round was in November, and I flew back to Chicago from Auckland a few days before.  I was worried about how jetlag may impact my playing. I had never traveled so far for an audition before (I had already been in NZ for 2 months before the APO audition), so I felt more pressure than usual because I had invested more.  Also, this was a job I wanted more than just about any other I'd ever gone for - for all of the obvious reasons, but additionally because I grew up in Chicago. On the day I felt the normal nervous audition feelings, only amplified by about 10.  

  • How did you feel after your first round?  Did you expect to advance?

I thought I played well, but I really wasn't sure.  Some things didn't go according to plan, but others went well. I was hopeful but not super confident. When they announced my number I was so relieved, but then also instantly stressed again.  The finals were almost 3 months later, so I knew I'd have to keep practicing the list.

  • What are some musical factors that you believe help set musicians apart at an audition?

I was able to sit on an audition panel in the APO as a non-voting member, and it was really interesting to be on the other side of the screen.  I think many people are consumed by the technical process of playing their instrument, and they forget that they are making music.  Of course one should strive to play in tune, in time, with a nice sound, etc.  But I think what really sets someone apart is also showing musical style, phrasing, and making that unique and personal to you.  No one wants or expects to hear total perfection, and I think committee members can be more forgiving about small mistakes than I had assumed.

  • How did you prepare for the audition?  Did you follow any kind of regimen? 

I wanted to feel really comfortable with the list, which was massive, so I started about 6 weeks before the prelim. My normal audition m.o. was to procrastinate and then cram, which was occasionally successful but mostly just made me feel super stressed. I worked to maintain my fundamentals during this time - practicing exercises for articulation, vibrato, as well as scales, long tones, etc.  I listened to the pieces A LOT.  Even the ones I felt I knew well. It's a good reminder of the context, and it helps to keep everything feeling fresh, even if you've played the excerpt literally thousands of times.  I also tried to take care of myself, both physically and mentally.  I cut back on coffee and alcohol, and tried to sleep enough and to get exercise.

  • What advice can you offer to those on the audition circuit?

Don't compare yourselves to others.  I wasted so much time either validating myself or putting myself down based on how other people were doing around me.  There's no sense focusing on this. I was very inconsistent for a long time.  I still don't know why I did "well" in certain auditions, and not in others.  So much of this process is totally out of your control, and whether or not you advance or win does not define you as a musician or as a person. 

BIO

Emma Gerstein is currently Principal Flute of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in New Zealand.  In February 2017 she was appointed to the position of Second Flute with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by Riccardo Muti, which she will begin in September 2017.  Prior to the APO Emma was a Flute Fellow at the New World Symphony for two and a half seasons and Principal Flute of the Lexington Philharmonic for one.  She studied with Thomas Robertello at Indiana University (MM) and Robert Langevin at Manhattan School of Music (BM).   For more info go to www.emmagerstein.com

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Audition Cafe Interview

Jake Fridkis, Principal Flute - Fort Worth Symphony

Jake Fridkis, a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Yale School of Music, won his position with the Forth Worth Symphony just under a year ago.  We ask Jake about his experience playing with the orchestra, his audition preparation process and the situation of the current strike.
  • How long have you been playing with the Fort Worth Symphony and what have been the greatest highlights so far?

I joined the FWSO in December of 2016. Two highlights were recording the Brahms/Schoenberg Op. 25 Piano quartet and two Prokofiev concerti with Vadym Kholodenko the week after my audition and an amazing concert week where we paired Beethoven’s Third Symphony with music by Mason Bates which complemented each other brilliantly, led by our Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya.

  • How was your audition day?  What do you think gave you the edge that helped you win the job?

The audition day itself was kind of a blur. I try to be as relaxed as possible on audition days. I’m a pretty laid back person so when I focus on the importance of the audition it adds extra pressure and isn’t natural for me. I don’t know about an edge but my approach is to let go and make music. One thing that is really important to me is sound quality so I focus on making the most beautiful sound I can on every note. Then I try to actually have some fun and show the committee who I am as a musician and not just that I can play Peter and the Wolf really fast.

  • Did you have a specific process you followed in your audition preparation?

I always practice very slowly. This allows me to focus on sound, note connections, and air. If I practice too fast, it is easy to miss these things. I like to work on other music when I’m learning a list to keep myself fresh and thinking about musical lines. I also try to work on my fundamentals a lot during audition preparation because if my fundamentals are good then everything else seems to fall in line.  

  • How have the first few months of the job been? Is it what you expected?

It’s been an amazing experience. I feel very lucky to be able to work with such inspiring colleagues every day. I have learned so much from all of them already and I love playing music with them. FWSO is special in that it is a very tight-knit group. I could not have dreamed of a nicer, more supportive group of people to work with every day. That being said, the job is a lot more work than I ever could have imagined. We currently don't have an assistant principal flute, which means that I play everything that comes up. Some weeks I will be learning three programs for the next week while performing our current program. Managing my practice time and mental practice is essential to keep pace with such an intense schedule. I spend lots and lots of time listening to upcoming repertoire. It is the first time in years that I am not teaching and don't have any additional obligations, yet it is the busiest I’ve ever been in my life.

  • In your own words, can you briefly summarize what is happening with the Fort Worth Symphony currently? 

The musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra called a strike. After over a year of negotiating we were presented with a final offer that didn’t live up to what we believe we deserve or the industry's standards. Our concerts have been canceled through November 6th at this point so the musicians have been independently organizing concerts throughout the Fort Worth area. A few of the weeks that were canceled were planned for educational concerts so musicians from the symphony have been volunteering to go to the local schools and perform for the students because we believe very strongly in the importance of music education and that it should continue even in these circumstances.

  • What can people do to support the Fort Worth Symphony musicians during this difficult time? 

We have a Go Fund Me page which has currently raised over 25k. We have another Go Fund Me page geared towards small donations called the 109 project. I would encourage everyone to contribute to either of these funds or to come to the events that we are organizing during the strike if you live in the area. https://www.gofundme.com/fwsomus109project

  • Any closing comments?

I believe it is very important not to define who you are as a musician on the results of an audition. Every audition is a new experience. Approach each one as an opportunity to improve and work on things you want to do better as a musician. For example, if you are not happy with your high register in Daphnis and Chloe, then it is a good opportunity to work on it outside of that context and then bring those improvements to the excerpt and not just try to fix it for the audition. If you take this approach, there will be no such thing as a “failed audition” or a “waste of time” because you will have improved as a player through your hard work. I really believe in the power and relevance of classical music. It is not easy to get a job and it can be frustrating. Don’t let yourself become jaded. Remember why you wanted to play music in the first place and what made you love it. If you play from that place of love, you can’t possibly go wrong even if a committee doesn’t pick you on one particular day. Believe in yourself, you can do it.

BIO

Hailed by the Dallas Morning News for his “radiant tone and generous expressivity”, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram for his “musicianship, clear sound, precise intonation, and empathic dynamic levels”, Jake Fridkis has quickly established himself as one of the leading flutists of his generation.  Before graduating from the Yale School of Music, he won the principal flute position in the South Dakota Symphony where he played for two months before winning the same position with the Fort Worth Symphony where he is currently principal. He has performed as a concerto soloist in Germany, Italy, France, Brazil, and throughout the United States. As a guest flutist, he has performed with the St. Louis Symphony, Symphony SONG (Korea), the New Haven Symphony, and the Princeton Symphony.  Jake earned his Masters and Artist Diploma degrees while studying with Ransom Wilson at the Yale School of Music, receiving the coveted Thomas Nyfenger memorial prize for highest achievements. His other studies have been at the Cleveland Institute with Josh Smith, and at Aspen with Mark Sparks. Jake plays on a 14k Haynes Flute and is a Haynes Artist. Jake can be heard on multiple CD’s on Harmonia Mundi with FWSO and on his recording of Beethoven Flute Sonatas and duo with Ransom Wilson for Naxos. 

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