On February 24, violinist Alice Hong will audition for the 2017 Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra in an unlikely setting: the Festival’s Annual Auction, held this year at The Cedar Room at the Cigar Factory. Hong, a member of the 2016 Orchestra and a musical arts doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, is hoping to again snag a spot within the prestigious ensemble, and Auction attendees will get the unique opportunity to witness just what it takes. (They’ll also get the chance to bid on some pretty fantastic items—get tickets HERE.)
In advance of the big event, we caught up with Hong to learn more.
Have you played the violin since you were young?
I actually started with the piano when I was five years old. It wasn’t until I was around nine, when I was assisting my piano teacher during a concert as a page turner that I caught the bug. My teacher was accompanying a violinist, who was playing Ravel’s Tzigane. I begged my mom to let me start lessons, and she finally gave in. I eventually stopped my piano studies when I was 13 to concentrate on violin full-time.
Can you walk us through a typical orchestral audition for a violinist?
They’re so nerve-racking. You usually only get about three to five minutes to show the jury or person leading the audition what you’re capable of. It’s much more than just playing a piece of music well—though that is important, too. When you’re preparing, you really have to hone in on such detailed aspects of music—getting the exact articulations and rhythms that are written in the piece. But more than technique, you also need a holistic knowledge of the score.
What does that entail?
Well, I may be auditioning as a violinist—but I’ll just be one voice within an entire orchestra. There may be times within a score that I’m playing the melody, but in other parts, I’m responding to another instrument, or taking a supporting role. In those cases, I might have to play softly or follow the shape of another instrument’s phrasing. It’s about being sensitive to the other musicians—even though you’re usually alone in an audition.
So how do you prepare?
Listening to the piece over and over is definitely a big step in getting to know the entire piece. Then comes score studying, when you get the entire score, follow along and visually see what’s happening where. The next step is to play it—hopefully there are opportunities to play it with a few friends. For the 2016 Orchestra audition, I spent a few months getting ready.
What was your favorite part about playing in the 2016 SFUSA Orchestra?
Being in the US premiere of the opera The Little Match Girl. I love new music, and working so intimately with composer Helmut Lachenmann was amazing. He was there the first couple of shows, and getting instant feedback from the actual composer—on how exactly to achieve the sounds from the techniques he created, for instance—was so neat.
Had you been to Charleston before?
I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and vacationed in Hilton Head, so I was looking forward to warm weather and beautiful beaches. But I had no idea how great King Street was—and we were right on it! And luckily we had some opportunities to go to the beach and get out at night to enjoy the nightlife. Charleston is such a fun place and full of amazing people. I loved it.
Spoleto Festival USA’s Annual Auction will take place on Friday, February 24, in The Cedar Room at the Cigar Factory. Benefitting the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, the evening features live music by McKenzie Eddy and Elliot Smith, a seated dinner, and a live auction with items including work from locally and nationally acclaimed visual artists, exclusive dinners, extravagant trips, as well as a post-performance meet-and-greet with bluegrass band Della Mae. Guests may also bid to sponsor individual members of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra for their residency during the 2017 season. For more details and to purchase tickets, CLICK HERE.
Photo (at top) by William Struhs