Do you want to learn more about practicing the Don Juan Violin Excerpt? In this blog post, we’ll share more about specific ways for you to approach the piece and nail your violin auditions.
If you’d like to see the lesson this blog post is based on, click here to watch it for free — otherwise, read on!
The first page of Strauss’s “Don Juan” is truly the pinnacle of violin orchestral audition repertoire!
David Kim, who teaches the complementary tonebase lesson, offers suggestions to make the piece more pleasant to play, as opposed to the beefier, muscular approach many players take.
Think of it as a light excerpt. In fact, if you look at m. 9 in Don Juan, where the woodwinds are playing very light triplets while the violins are soaring with the melody; it is really similar to the opening of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony.
How do we get a good start to the excerpt – fitting seven sixteenth notes on an offbeat?
Kim humorously suggests that it is almost, almost a place to fake a little bit!
Use less bow to play faster, as you can switch direction of the bow more quickly and play right in the middle of the bow.
Use less bow to play faster, right in the middle of the string. Don’t use too much vibrato on the top of the E string - this gives the music a bit too much of a hysterical quality. Just a little bit of motion is enough to keep the sound warm.
Kim prefers to start on the string at the last second instead of beginning off the string or placing the bow on the string too early.
Stay elegant at all times – don’t overplay! Despite writing “Molto con brio” and “fortissimo” three times in the first two lines, an audition rendition should be controlled.
Aim for your left hand to beat your right hand to a long shift by a split second. If both hands shift at the same time, there’s a good chance you’ll miss it. Practice very slowly with your left hand slightly ahead, even hearing the finger dropping on the string as you land on it.
In m. 17, take care to play sextuplets and not sixteenths. Don’t play accents on downbeats. Gain familiarity with the full orchestra’s parts so you can render your performance in context.
You have full permission to use hooked bowings whenever you need to. (A hooked bowing is when you play two or more notes with one bow but with slight separation.) Kim sometimes does this in m. 9, playing all three notes on the same bow. In m. 22, you can reverse Kim’s written bowings if you find it more comfortable:
Hold back again at the triplets starting in m. 23.
Kim recommends starting the triplets at letter A in the upper middle part of the bow, then play more at the second fortissimo at m. 25. Bar 30 is also traditionally held back. Pull the tempo back just a bit to acknowledge the broadening that most conductors do here.
Again take your foot off the gas pedal at the triplets from m. 32-35. Don’t play any vibrato on the high D that ends this phrase, or the sound is quite hysterical.
Practice bowing this last note until it sounds to your liking. At m. 44, acknowledge a slight relaxation in tempo heard in almost all performances.
Measure 52 starts a “comic opera” section, with slightly exaggerated hairpins. End the excerpt with incredible drama, as the cellos are about to follow in the deep bowels of their instrument. Wait until the sound dissipates before letting go of the bow!
The Philadelphia Orchestra often uses Don Juan as the last excerpt in a given round.
When Kim has to decide whether to advance a given candidate, sometimes it comes down to whether a candidate has good technique and can play works like Paganini caprices fluidly and easily. This is what makes the major orchestras so major!
Every violinist goes through periods of their life where their practice is almost exclusively technical. These moments serve us for the rest of our life.
Kim practiced technique for roughly 4 hours out of a 5-hour practice day when he was between the ages of 8 and 12, working from books such as Sevcik and Flesch, and even Bach fugues. The difference between a great violinist having a slightly bad day and a weaker violinist who can’t execute fast and clean is quite noticeable in an audition situation.
As we’re working on strategies for excerpts, we must always spend a good portion of our day building technique.
There are no perfect books to use – anything will do. Build up speed, strength, agility, use metronomes, and aim clarity in the left hand and great strokes in the right hand. You can start seeing great benefits within a week or so, though the repertoire you have time to work on might become narrower. It is hard work, but the results are rewarding.
Now that we’ve gone over these tips, you should be ready to handle your audition with the Don Juan violin excerpt with ease.
If you’d like to watch the lesson on this topic for free, just click here.
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