One of my all-time favorite audition stories came from a member of a major symphony when I asked him what the worst audition he’d ever heard was like:
Apparently, this orchestra never pre-screens their candidates, making for a quite egalitarian yet massively populated pool of candidates. Due to this policy, there are at least a handful of auditionees that have the panel rolling on the floor (figuratively, at least) in suppressed laughter or else slouched in their chairs with tears of pain rolling down their cheeks.
The double bass always attracts a motley crew of candidates anyway, and having no screening process usually means that there are some real characters stepping up on stage to strut their stuff. While painful to the ears of the long-suffering committee, it can also provide for some much-needed levity after hour after interminable hour of nervously executed symphonic snippets.
One such bass player entered for his audition (behind a screen, of course) and started tuning extremely loudly, roaring away on his low strings in an apparently futile attempt to get in tune. Not a good sign.
The committee was fidgeting away while waiting for the candidate to begin, only to slowly realize that, in fact, the candidate had begun, and that these crass attempts at tuning had somehow morphed into the first movement of the Vivaldi Sonata No. 3 for Cello, played as low as possible in the fist position of the bass. The candidate clacked and rattled his way through the first few phrases of this piece, grinding his low strings like some sort of lower life form, with the committee looking at each other with some amusement.
This audition was going to be fun.
The committee cut off the “grinder” after a bit, asking him to play the final movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, a tricky excerpt that requires quite a bit of agility on the part of the player. Not easy even for a top-caliber player, so how would this fellow fare.
The first four notes came out, a confused jumble of crud, then nothing.
Another attempt at those first four notes.
Finally (and with much hysterically silent laughter from the committee), this fellow burped and snorted his way through this excerpt, like a piano falling down a set of stairs, only less graceful.
Having fun now, the committee proceeded to ask the candidate to play rehearsal number 9 from Ein Heldenleben, an even more fiendishly difficult passage for string bass.
Finally, the proctor (the person with the candidate who points out what excerpts to play and helps coordinate the audition facilitation) calls out from the candidate’s side of the screen:
Proctor: Uh… the candidate declines to play this excerpt…
Committee: OK–thank you!
Don’t you just love bass auditions?