From our diarist Anthea Kreston:
What does it take? What are the necessary ingredients a human must have (develop?) in order to stand in front of a panel, and be judged under a microscope? To have them pick you apart – from technique to style, intellect and emotional depth? And to have those thousands of hours of preparation (the 10,000 hours is a myth – it takes far and away more than that before a person can stand before an international competition jury, or high-powered audition) purified into a 10 minute crystalline musical cocktail. To be (sometimes it feels like on a whim) digested or spat out by the recipients. Nerves of steel only happens after every avenue of weakness has been hunted and eradicated. If that can even happen. That moment when the back stage man nods to you – the desire to just run away is real – your feet feel melded to the ground beneath, and yet, you do it. You take that breath, and that step, and you go out there, and you do it.
Our young Macedonian violinist Aleksandar Ivanov is in the final two weeks of preparation for his audition at the Curtis Institute of Music. He is lean, mean, organized, and determined. His cocktail is being mixed.
What are the elements needed to achieve a successful audition (and the definition of a successful audition is completely subjective – I would argue that it is simply personal goals achieved). These elements are: a long history of hard work, a dedicated home support crew, excellent guidance, endless desire/optimism, and the ability to set and achieve short- and long-term goals.
Let’s see how Aleksandar is doing. I think he is doing quite well……
1 A long history of hard work: this is clearly the case, as his list of repertoire performed with orchestra attests to. Starting from 2012, when he played the Beriot Concerto #9, his repertoire has steadily become more advanced, and the frequency has increased. This can only happen with solid, consistent, and successful personal work. He has all the major concerti under his belt and is currently working on Tchaikovsky for the audition.
2 A dedicated home support crew: I asked Aleksandar this week where he is right now. Instead of in Geneva, where he is currently studying, he is at home in Skopje for the month. He still works with his primary teacher (Svetlin Roussev), but he has the network he needs at home. I asked who is cooking and cleaning his clothes – mom is. This is exactly what needs to happen. Wipe away everything that is not fundamental to survival – all must go towards this goal, no energy spent on auxiliary tasks.
3 Excellent guidance: in addition to his primary teacher (who is a top-flight soloist), Aleksandar has his childhood teacher (who clearly believes in him and is willing to make sacrifices together – we find joy in each other’s successes). This teacher is spending 4-5 hours with him every day – he told him that 4 hours together is the same as 8 hours alone, which, if you are the parent of a young musician, is the under-exaggeration of the century. Also – he is no shrinking violet. He boldly contacted me for advice and help, even sending me clips of his progress for comment. This is what we must do – search out our network and reach to the ends of it. I feel as if I am part of the pit-stop crew at the Indy 500.
4 Endless desire/optimism: playing a classical instrument has major ups and downs – small triumphs are excruciatingly slowly achieved, failures sometimes can never be eradicated. If a musician can get to perfection in a difficult spot at 1/10 the tempo, this can sometimes send us into hours of joy. I was messengering with Aleksandar yesterday – here is a snapshot of part of our conversation (we were both practicing – I was trying to do 6 hours, and he the same, and so our texts came in spurts about every hour during our mutual breaks). Me: Make a video at the end of every day and try to watch it….. Alek: I do that Past 4 months Me: You are doing great!!!! Alek: When I feel very bad about my playing somehow it motivates me to do it better When I hear I play not so well from a video Me:
Yes I often feel like total 🤪🥊 about myself Alek: I do not know a musicians who doesnt doubt themselves At least at some point Me: it’s depressing but I always bounce back up, ready to fight again Alek: Exactly, that is what makes an artist’s life intererinf Me: 👍🏾 Alek: Everyday a new challenge Me: It’s exhausting, but also energizing. It flies up, and crashes down, all the time Alek: Of course If there is nothing wrong the good things cannot be noticed Me: hahahahahaha
5 The ability to set and achieve short- and long-term goals: Alek has a combination of repertoire he has played for years, for one year, and his large concerto he has played since August. He performs his pieces in public, has lessons and plays for many different musicians, and does a combination of very slow practice and play-throughs. In addition to his audition at Curtis, I asked him what his other applications are. He has a nice list of schools, competitions, and summer programs he is applying for. I often thing of an audition as just practice for the next audition.
So – let’s check in with Aleksander in a week. So far, so good! It’s an inspiration to me to speak with him, and a reminder to myself to support the dreams and goals of my children, husband, and friends. We are all on this continuum together – classical music is a life-style, not a career. Go Alek!!!