LA Phil concertmaster: I failed more auditions than I won

LA Phil concertmaster: I failed more auditions than I won


norman lebrecht

April 26, 2016

Nathan Cole, associate concertmaster in Los Angeles, has some good advice for people contemplating an audition for an orchestral place. Play to win, he urges. But what if you don’t?


nathan cole


Let’s make one thing clear right away: to win an audition, you have to play musically. This isn’t power lifting, and you can’t crush the competition with machine-like precision. If you’re going to win, it’s got to be with great violin playing. By definition that’s musical; I’ve never been part of a committee who thought otherwise. So you don’t need to sacrifice creative playing to go for a win.

But what about the slim odds of victory? Let’s say that 150 people take your audition, you all play at an appropriate level, and you’ve all made your goal a win. At least 149 of you will leave the audition having failed to achieve your goal. Yet I believe that this is the healthiest of all possible audition scenarios, for all 150 candidates.

Read on here.


  • Ross says:

    The same could be said of applying to MBA programs, law schools, and med schools. And for (non-musical) job hunts. Try to be qualified, apply to enough places, and it will probably work out. Not everyone can be Nathan Cole (who probably has some inborn skill that most do not) or reach the status of a Nathan Cole (elite positions in all fields are limited and competitive), but we can all find our place doing what we love.
    Perseverance is the key to success. Success is partly psychological; one could be a lawyer who doesn’t make partner and makes $120k/yr, a doctor who only makes $150k/yr, or a section player in a great orchestra and not feel successful. That is another discussion, perhaps not even worth having.

  • Eric Newman says:

    Nathan, I know next to nothing about stringed instruments, but how I loved to hear you play as a teen in church at St. Luke! What a gift you have, as it was so obvious even then. However, you have gone on and honed and exercised it, making it even greater!
    What I llove most about this article though is your humility. I honestly can’t fathom you failing an audition. But I suppose someone would have to lose a fantasy “One on One” game between MJ and LeBron.
    Nathan, so proud and so happy for you! And – so glad for all who get to learn from you!
    God bless…
    Rev. Eric Newman