Sonatas, concertos, orchestral excerpts, imposed pieces … each phase of the OSM Competition has its share of challenges in a demanding process that contestants must embrace to get as far as they possibly can. This article focusses on two aspects of the Competition repertoire: orchestral excerpts, a new feature introduced this year, and the concerto, a genre that defines the Competition’s final round.
Orchestral Excerpts: A New Feature of the Competition
This year, for the first time in its history, OSM Competition candidates are required to perform orchestral excerpts. These are passages from symphonic, non-concertante works of a high level of difficulty. The distinctive technical bravura required to play orchestral excerpts makes them ideal competition and audition material for young musicians. There even exist university classes which focus solely on orchestral excerpts! In the video below, OSM Principal Trumpet Paul Merkelo gives a demonstration of the most prominent orchestral excerpts for trumpet and offers valuable advice on how to perform them.
The Concerto: Mainstay of Music Competitions
Because it showcases the virtuosity of instrumental soloists, the concerto remains the genre par excellence of music competitions. In the final round of the OSM Competition, contestants must perform a concerto of their choice. The term “concerto” first appeared in Italy in the 16th century, but it took on its current designation only in the second half of the 18th century with the evolution of compositional approaches to accompanied melody. It was also during this period that the concerto’s three-movement structure took shape, concurrently with several developments in instrument building that enabled composers to broaden their options for solo instruments. The latter applies especially to woodwinds and brass and is particularly relevant to this year’s edition of the OSM Competition. From 1750 to the present day, the concerto has certainly undergone many formal and esthetic developments while still retaining its essence. It is, therefore, not surprising that concertos by composers as distinct from each other as Mozart, Richard Strauss, or Jacques Hétu figure among contestants’ repertoires.
Some Well-Known Concertos for Woodwinds and Brass
While the repertoire of concertos from which musicians can draw spans approximately 250 years of history, not all instruments are given equal options. For example, there are many more concertos for flute or trumpet than for bassoon or trombone because composers typically took less interest in lower-register instruments historically confined to supporting roles. Among the best-known concertos in the repertoires of Competition candidates this year is Carl Maria von Weber’s Bassoon Concerto, dated 1811. This work combines a high level of technically demanding writing in the bassoon part—especially in the finale—with dramatic flair. It is well known that Weber was one of the greatest opera composers of his time, and he wrote for the solo instrument somewhat in the manner of an operatic character, lending to his Bassoon Concerto a captivating narrative dimension. Henri Tomasi’s 1956 Trombone Concerto provides an alternative approach: drama is subsumed in a vast impressionist landscape aglow with modernist colours in which the solo instrument seems to linger until the supercharged energy and rhythms of the fantastically detailed third movement. Other works in the finalists’ repertoires include concertos by André Jolivet, Carl Nielsen, and John Williams. It should be mentioned that for this year’s online edition of the OSM Competition presented in collaboration with ICI Musique, one of the finalists will be awarded a professional recording of their concerto thanks to the ICI Musique Prize.
Practising, Memorizing, Performing
In the final round, contestants perform a concerto of their choice. Under usual circumstances, a concerto is accompanied by a symphony orchestra but in the context of the Competition, a collaborative pianist substitutes with an arrangement of the orchestral score. Generally, concertos contain some 15 to 25 minutes of music and require musicians to demonstrate key skills that include flawless memorization. In a recently published article, horn player and 2017 OSM Competition winner Brian Mangrum stressed the importance of memorizing one’s pieces well ahead of time: “In 2017, I made sure I was capable of singing the pieces by heart before working on them on the horn. In the long run, distancing myself from the score while learning a piece allowed me to internalize the music, which gave me a lot more confidence on stage.” In addition to memorizing the material, practising works, including orchestral excerpts, is obviously part of the process of achieving technical proficiency. This must be supported by expressivity and musicality, so critical in eliciting a jury’s favour. As always, we extend our best wishes to all contestants!
This online edition of the OSM Competition is made possible thanks to a generous donation from Ms. Barbara Bronfman and family.