Revealed: How to prepare for your audition

ANAM leaders share their secrets



We’ve all been there: We find a musical opportunity. We set goals for ourselves. We think, ‘this audition is ages away, I’ll be fine by then!’, only to find that when the date creeps closer, the pressure is looming and we begin to unravel in a bundle of nerves.

If you’ve been lucky enough to step into every audition with utter confidence and certainty of success, then congratulations – you’ve made it. But if, like the rest of us, you are curious to find ways to better prepare yourself for these pivotal moments of judgement, read on.

We have asked three leading performance specialists:

  1. Their biggest piece of advice in preparing for your audition
  2. Why this advice is important
  3. How it’s worked on a practical level to produce desired results

These musicians are powerhouses at the Australian National Academy of Music, and each one has needed to step up to the challenge of an audition in the past. If you are planning your journey into academia, or auditioning for roles in orchestras or ensembles, this is for you.

If you’re keen to set yourself a challenge, the ANAM application period closes on July 14, and if you’ve been successful you’ll need to audition in August and September. Arm yourself with this invaluable advice.


Howard Penny, cellist:

Auditions are strange things: the experience has little to do with a normal concert, and yet the outcome can determine at least the near future for a musician.

An audition panel, whether it is for ANAM or for an orchestral job, wants to hear instrumental facility and a musical personality. At ANAM, we of course are looking for technical excellence and reliability – also given the actual day-to-day demands of our Professional Performance Program. But, to my mind at least, we are also looking for musicians who will, in the long run, make a difference: in other words, those who are also passionate and curious, and see themselves as advocates for their art.

ANAM is small, and deals with individuals, so discovering and mentoring each student’s potential in all aspects of the profession is what our program is about. The audition itself has three opportunities for a candidate to present their varied skills: the solo part, where we can see what level of instrumental capacity and musical understanding is being brought to the table; the chamber music part, where we can see a candidate’s ensemble and team skills; and the interview, where we get a sense of personal aims and drives. All three are equally important!

This is a slightly unusual process, but we are very much interested in the person behind the instrument as well because, at the end of the day, it is that as much as anything that determines professional success and satisfaction. So show us who you are – we’re excited to get to know you!

About Howard

Howard Penny is a Canberra-born musician and past winner of the ABC Young Performers Competition. Having performed concertos across leading venues in Sydney, Berlin, Vienna, Tokyo, and worked with the world’s leading conductors, Howard’s experience has seen him pick up countless performance and recording credits as a touring artist. The cellist has more than 100 recordings to his name, and as a performance artist he’s played with chamber ensembles in Wigmore Hall, Salzburg Festival, Beethoven Festival Bonn and others, taking out the Gold Medal for Services to the Republic of Austria. Howard, who lectured in Historical Performance Practice at the University Mozarteum Salzburg, continues to work closely with young musicians through his role as a guest director of the Australian Youth Orchestra’s National Music Camp and Chamber Players, and for 10 years has been a member of the Resident Faculty of ANAM.


Timothy Young, pianist:

Be yourself. Be honest. Be committed.

It’s one thing to have talent. But your passion, dedication, and commitment will be what makes you continue to strive and forge your future pathways.

In a rapidly changing world, we have to keep reinventing how we present music. But personal conviction and a strong desire to communicate are keys to becoming an engaging musician.

It can sometimes be very scary, with many unknowns when embarking on a career as a musician. My passion for music, however, has been the driving force that keeps me going and excited to keep searching for new possibilities.

About Timothy

Head of Piano and Chamber Music at the Australian Academy of Music Timothy Young is one of the nation’s renowned performers. A founding member of Ensemble Liaison, Timothy plays in regular recitals as a soloist and in partnership with leading Australian and international musicians. Timothy has toured with Tin Alley String Quartet, Australian Brass Quintet, and Melbourne Chamber Orchestra among others. He has studied at the University of Melbourne and Italy’s Nicolò Paganini Conservatorium in Genova, Italy, under the direction of Lidia Baldecchi-Arcuri and Massimiliano Damerini. He has recorded with Melba and Tall Poppies labels and played live at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Canberra International Music Festival, Huntington Festival, and festivals in Montenegro, Serbia, and Italy.


Dr Robin Wilson, violinist:

Auditions are all about making the best impression in a short space of time.

Begin with your most confident piece. You will have the choice in the audition. Starting well will help you to relax and play your remaining program better. For this reason, practice performing the opening of your program many times, until you can pick up your instrument at any given time and confidently do it. Perform and record all of your pieces several times beforehand – even just to friends – to build your confidence, concentration and consistency.

Use each performance to inform your next practice session. Choose your repertoire judiciously. It is better to play a work well within your technical grasp than something difficult that you cannot quite pull off. It is better to display your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

Being a good chamber musician is essential in any context of music-making, whether it be solo, orchestral or chamber repertoire. It is all about knowing and understanding the whole score, and listening and reacting to the parts around you. Rehearse the chamber music component of the audition with friends so you are aware of harmony, voicing, blend, and who and what to listen for. Look up, interact and remember the friendly panel are on your side!

Credit: Pia Johnson

About Robin

Dr Robin Wilson is Head of Violin at the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne, and also teaches in the Open Academy at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He has held appointments as Lecturer in Violin and Pedagogy at the University of Sydney, the Australian Institute of Music, and String Pedagogy Fellow at the University of Queensland. His students have won major Australian and international competitions, and have gone on to perform with leading orchestras across the world. Robin himself tours as a member of HIP ensemble Ironwood, has performed at events in Australia, the United States, and Europe, and has appeared with the Omega Ensemble, Ensemble Liaison, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and many others. Robin holds a PhD from the University of Sydney, and Bachelor and Masters degrees in performance and pedagogy, and has himself presented at conferences and institutions, some of which include Yale University, the Royal College of Music in London, and City University of New York.


Feeling up to the challenge? Audition for the Australian National Academy of Music 2018 Professional Performance Program. Applications open until 14 July, details online.

Good luck!


Images supplied.

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