Hello Cellists! I am Jeff Singler. I have coached and auditioned NERO and ALL-STATE cellists several times in the past, including as NERO's section coach this past fall, 2019. I decided to post a preparation companion for any cellists auditioning for this year's orchestras, especially given that many may not have full access to teachers for financial reasons, or due to social distancing practices. It is my hope that this will be helpful to you, but please follow your teacher's advice first, especially in cases where they may disagree with something I have posted. Your teacher knows you, and direct feedback is always best. Good Luck!
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED
First, if you haven't already, go to the NERO website to download audition materials.
The deadline for submissions is May 31, to be uploaded through the Acceptd Portal. You will find copies of the required music on the NERO website, eligibility, and submission rules and information. You will also find information about the ensemble, location and dates of obligation if you make the group.
Below you will find practice companion information, including video recordings of all of the audition requirements, and some supplements, as I will explain below. I did these in my basement in the midst of the coronavirus social-distancing period. The acoustic isn't great, and you will also occasionally hear my family doing things upstairs. Also, I am so, so very sorry that I filmed in portrait mode. My wife alerted me to my error before I recorded the Piatti (which I did last). I didn't have time to go back and redo the others. Please bear with me in all of this - these shortcomings shouldn't make the videos less useful. Finally, I hope to update this soon with tips for making your actual audition recordings, so check back later!
In the video above, I began the recording by playing the first 5 notes of the Db scale at the tempo I recommend for you to perform all scales and arpeggios (about Quarter=60, 2 beats per note/bow), then did the whole scale faster, going up only, in order to show the fingering in case you don't have one from your teacher. You should do all scales and arpeggios both up and down using the same fingerings in both directions, with legato, separate bows. Next, you will see the Db arpeggio, then GM scale (fast), and GM arpeggio. Many of you may opt to use a different fingering for the GM arpeggio that will keep you in first position except for the last note. If you choose this fingering, take care to minimize the shifts. Always show maximum control of everything.
One last note about scales, and that is vibrato use. You certainly may use vibrato, and if you have an attractive vibrato that can be performed "evenly" through all scales, across the full range of the cello, that will certainly be bonus points in your favor. This is a very difficult goal to achieve however, even for very advanced students. If your vibrato shows blemishes, or if it introduces blemishes of other sorts into your scale performance, you can feel fully justified to play your scales and arpeggios without vibrato. In some circumstances of practice it is even necessary and preferred, and it should not count against you.
performances of the whole Etude on YouTube, they are fast (correctly), but very difficult to hear clearly. I recorded the example above slower and in the dry acoustic of my basement so you would be able to hear everything mostly cleanly. Your goal should be to perform as cleanly and demonstrating the highest level of control possible, so I would recommend a similar strategy for you. A very fast tempo is exciting, but if messily performed, could easily cause you to be ranked below someone who played it slower but cleanly. You also want to try to be as musical as possible, even though it is an etude. Maximize dynamic contrast, and don't be afraid to play a little with timing. You will show your ability to be steady through your scale, and also ample opportunity awaits us to show this through the Beethoven excerpt.
with the right elbow up and fingers leaned into the first finger so you can use torsion from the arm for this job rather than pushing/pulling with the fingers.
Spend ample time practicing the left hand problems without applying the bowstroke at all. The left hand should play the entire Etude in double stops anyway, so you can spend lots of time practicing as I demonstrate in the video to the left to work out your finger patterns and intonation. For the section that goes high up the G string, it is helpful to practice without the double-stop for intonation work - just play legato 8th notes up the G string, as I demonstrate. Finally, I show a little arm wobble that is a helpful trick to use for the awkward measure 10 from the end.
BEETHOVEN V, mvmt II
my example to the right, and think it sounds quite good, I will first say thank you! But then, I must suggest that if you listen to it more and more times, you will begin to hear all manner of small inconsistencies (like slight rushing in the 3rd phrase). In this excerpt, you must strive to play perfectly in tune, despite the Ab Major key, absolutely steady and precisely rhythmic, despite many rhythmic complexities and multiple problems for both hands that can derail that goal very quickly, and also pristinely cleanly, despite many awkward problems for both hands that can derail that goal very quickly. Oh, and if you wouldn't mind sustaining some rich, warm tone, and charming, relaxed character and feel, that would be great. I could write a ton about this, but it would take up too much space, so I will hit some highlights.
Second, rhythm. Make your dotted rhythms true! No triplets, no over-dotting. Watch out for the difference between ms. 4 and 5, and make it obvious. Keep the tempo absolutely consistent among the 3 phrases. It is necessary to subdivide with 32nd notes the entire time you play. Sorry.
Thirdly, make it musical. Lean into the dolce (sweet) quality of the tone. Make the dynamics clear, especially the subito (sudden) dynamics. This includes the subito pp in the very last measure, so be sure to choose a piano dolce sound that leaves a little room for it. Also, listen to recordings to get the feel for this music, and the other parts. Lots of recordings.
Finally, make it sound smooth and easy. Shifts need to be smooth and easy, and string crossings require precise control. Oh dear, those string crossings. This is the biggest problem to solve, so steel yourself now against the extensive practice you will want to dedicate to that. And in keeping with that theme, I have come to use a fingering for the 3rd phrase that utilizes the thumb and minimizes those crossings significantly. You can probably pick up most of my fingering and bowing suggestions for the first two phrases from watching the primary example of this excerpt, but I have included a slowed down version of the 3rd excerpt (see above left) to help you figure that out better for the 3rd phrase. I just did 4 notes per bow for simplicity in the slowed-down version. After I finish playing it using my thumb fingering, I play it again using a fingering that does not use the thumb, as I imagine many, most, or all of you will prefer. In fact, perhaps you should start with the non-thumb fingering first, and only try the "thumb" version once you have come to know it pretty well.
Anything else? Well, potentially lots of things. These are very hard excerpts. But hopefully this gives you a good stable of ideas to get started.
So as I stated above, check back in a few weeks. Hopefully, I will be able to update this sometime in April with tips and ideas for making your actual recording. In the meantime, cheers, best wishes, and good health!