Last night David Kim, Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, returned to the Recital Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to give another Master Class on the pragmatics of preparing for auditions. The first time he gave such a class here, he took the time to explain the nature of the auditioning process to the audience, building up to the punch line, “This is not music!” In spite of this hard truth, I have found it interesting to listen to students who then try to find a viable path along which they can favorably impress an auditioning jury while, at the same time, seeking out the music in what they are playing, since that was the motivating force that got them to the audition in the first place.
One such violin student last night chose to present the opening solo from Jean Sibelius’ Opus 47 concerto in D minor. This is an ambitious undertaking, a monologue that extends over 62 measures with a bare minimum of punctuations from the orchestra. In the wrong hands it can sound like little more than aimless meandering leading to a virtuoso cadenza that ends up being admired for little more than its technical demands. Nevertheless, Sibelius packed an abundance of musical rhetoric into those 62 measures and provided enough annotation to make sure that the attentive performer would not miss the mark.
Reviewing the score this morning, I discovered how much attention Sibelius had given to marking specific levels of dynamics. The initial entry is a mezzo forte (against the pianissimo murmurings of the violins divided into four sections); and the first crescendo is marked about three measures later. However, this is only the beginning of a contour that rises and falls, almost to suggest that the composer intended this music as a dramatic connotation of searching. Thus, the first time forte is clearly established, it is broken with a sudden (explicitly marked “subito”) drop to piano. The fortissimo climax finally arrives with a high E requiring six ledger lines, but that is not the conclusion of the solo. Rather, it occurs 47 measures into the solo with 15 measures remaining. Most of that is covered by that cadenza, which has is own ascent from mezzo forte to fortissimo. There are then four measures of “wrap-up,” beginning at forte and rising in both dynamics and pitch to the D just below that previous high E.
One can appreciate the boldness of a violinist choosing to play this selection for an audition. It certainly takes on all of those factors that go into an auditioning jury making an evaluation. However, there is so much musicality in this excerpt that it is almost a composition unto itself. Choosing to play this music for an audition suggests not only supreme confidence in the ability to satisfy the judges but also a determination to honor the music itself, even if such recognition is not what the judges are seeking.