S2E7: Application and Audition Prep with Kevin Fitzgerald

In today’s episode, you will hear the first half of my conversation with a long-time friend, Kevin Fitzgerald, current Associate Conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony. We went way back to my years at the Eastman School of Music, and it’s such a pleasure to speak with him on the topic of preparing for job applications and auditions.

As 2021 Tanglewood Music Center Conducting Fellow and four-time recipient of Career Assistance Grants from The Solti Foundation U.S., Kevin Fitzgerald is at the forefront of the next generation of conductors. Recently, Kevin was invited as one of the twenty conductors to participate live in the 2023 Mahler Competition with the Bamberg Symphony.

In addition to his post as Associate Conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony, Fitzgerald has recently guest conducted the Rochester Philharmonic, North Carolina Symphony and the Chamber Orchestra of Pittsburgh. In his commitment to uplifting communities through music, Fitzgerald conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in 2017 with musicians from the Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids Symphonies to raise over $10,000 for the International Rescue Committee and Freedom House Detroit. In 2016, he also co-organized and conducted an impromptu performance called “Requiem for Orlando,” which featured over 400 volunteer musicians in a dedicated performance for victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

Since then, he has participated in masterclasses with Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony, Andris Nelsons and Alan Gilbert at Tanglewood among many others. Kevin is based in Raleigh, NC, with his husband, violist Kurt Tseng, and their two dogs Bennie and Chipper. Kevin also teaches and coaches conductors privately online and in person.


3:39 – Invest in Yourself First

 I was investing a lot of time in my own development as a conductor: practicing piano, staying up with my trumpet, studying many, many scores, and working as much as I possibly could to improve my self.

So if you’re in one of those positions where you feel frustrated, and you’re stuck, it starts with you.

There are going to be millions of times where the people on the other end are not picking you up for something that has nothing to do with your conducting. But you have to make that the reality. You have to make it so that it’s not about your conducting, it’s about whatever they’re looking for. Because a lot of people they assume that, “Oh, it’s whatever they’re looking for,” but actually, no, their conducting is not good enough.

You know, just really nitpick yourself every day. Try to get better every day. Make a list of all the skills that you have and don’t have, and try to maintain the ones you have and improve the ones you don’t have. But be realistic.


5:40 Putting Yourself Out There

You have to really put yourself out there. You have to apply for like everything, because you never know what’s going to stick and that is expensive. Number one.

So sometimes you have to decide, am I going to apply for this or that because of money or whatever. So, that’s the thing. But I always tell people that I work with or that are asking me for advice: “Well, have you applied for this? Have you applied for that?”

A lot of times they say no, no, no, and they have some excuses as to why. But you never know until you apply, right? I’ve missed things I’ve not applied.

You can’t win something you didn’t apply for.

9:54 – On Application

If you have bad content your four year presentation isn’t going to save it.

One thing I’ll just add to this is: really, really read the stuff they put in the job description. People can read, read it. Of course, you don’t want to write a cover letter where you’re taking each thing that they want and saying, I am a blah, look at all the qualifications.

But you have to look at, based on my experience, what are the points I can hit the hardest.  Pick a few things, but if they’re giving you language, you don’t just recreate the wheel. At least try to incorporate it because they obviously have things in mind.

Also try to be as specific as possible –  you always want to give specific ideas about either what you have done, or what you would do. For example, with diverse programming in the past, I’ve done this; and in this role, I would like to do this.

23:20 – Auditions with Professional Ensembles

Sometimes they will tell you whether they would like you to run these two pieces and rehearse this piece. In which case, don’t talk when they ask you to run. And when you rehearse, you want to rehearse but minimally. You want to show that you can stop the orchestra and make a request and start them again and have it be better.

But I think one challenge people fall into is, a lot of times, they’re literally reading the music. But you don’t rehearse them like it’s your own ensemble, or like it’s a college group where every problem you have to address – you have to trust them.

They’re looking for higher level comments. So by all means, if there’s a major technical problem, it’s best to stop and start again. But in general, try to keep going.

The best way is to always base your comments off of what you hear. So in your preparation, you need to have a very specific idea about how you want everything to be played. The more specific your concept, the more ideas you will get back from them.

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