As YCAT launches its 35th year of auditioning, Alasdair Tait, CEO and Artistic Director gives some insight into this process…

Why does YCAT audition every year and not just scout emerging artists from competitions or  conservatoire? 

From the outset, YCAT was founded in a way that distinguishes itself from the regular commercial model of artist representation which is built upon scouting out suitable artists. Sometimes the most interesting and personal artistic voices are not the most 'commercially ready’ as they approach the end of their studies and are embarking into the profession. The audition process was designed to give all artists the chance to be seen and heard in an environment that lets them demonstrate both where they are now in their development, and most importantly, to get a sense of the potential to flourish, given the right support, and performing opportunities. This is a very different motivation to that of choosing artists who can already guarantee a more immediate financial reward that naturally helps sustain the bigger commercial agencies. It also means that we are always looking at individual talent and personality, and not focused on maintaining a ‘balanced roster’. Who else would have looked after trombone, oboe, bassoon, viola, recorder, accordion, alongside 4 quartets, trios, violinists, cellists, pianists and singers!

Why should you audition for YCAT in the first place? 

Many people apply with various motivations: to gain more general experience of preparing and expanding repertoire, being seen and heard by different panels of musicians and industry experts, and of course to see if there is the chance to become a YCAT artist with all the support, benefits and ongoing development that this can offer. This year is especially important as we announce our new transatlantic partnership with Concert Artists Guild in NYC. This means that any artist selected in either the YCAT European auditions, or the CAG North American auditions in October, will then benefit from the management and resources of both organisations. This offers an unparalleled opportunity for artists to be introduced on both sides of the Atlantic!!

What are we looking for? 

Of course a general level of excellence and security/mastery of one’s musical discipline is essential. This is just the starting point however. From the outset, we are looking out for that spark of imagination, awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, curiosity, a sense of what else is going on in industry, a well rounded personality with interests that complement their musical personality (no one ever exists well in a bubble), relevant experience and readiness to be introduced and to perform at a national and international level.

The Application...

There are a couple of changes this year in the initial application that will allow candidates to demonstrate a broader range of musical experience and interests, an awareness of the wider industry and a sense of their existing skills as well as some areas that they feel need more help and support

Audition videos...

First impressions count!! Think about the initial impact your video delivers and what it truly tells someone who doesn’t know you at all (think about which repertoire you believe introduces and tells your story in the best way - this is different from what you may feel ‘impresses’ people! Is this a genuine, authentic, honest reflection of you as a performer and musician?). How does this video and material reflect and match up to how you have written about yourself in the main application? Does the video and application describe the ‘same artist’?

Semi-final live auditions…

These are organised so that we can really concentrate on the individual artistic personalities. We mix up all the disciplines to try to avoid too much comparison within each instrumental category (though this is still inevitable to a certain point). Hence we will hear a singer after pianist, followed by an ensemble then a wind player etc. At every audition we are all looking for a genuine spark and aliveness of communication and engagement. The semi final panel is usually made up of top class, active and knowledgeable performers who have a real understanding of the current demands and needs for international performing careers. 

Why do we ask you to prepare so much repertoire when there is only a short time to chop and change between works?

Though this may seem quite cruel, it is really another way for us to get a sense of a clear and honest musical voice. Often, when asked to perform part of the repertoire that maybe doesn’t feel as solid/well prepared, this can give a little window for the panel into the inner creative resources that you have to draw upon. In reality, some of the most moving and memorable moments in past semi-final auditions have been when an artist has been a bit surprised about our choice of repertoire and has suddenly shown much more vulnerability and spontaneity (very different from the most rigorously prepared and ‘delivered’ competition style performance!).

Why do we want you to be able to present/introduce some of the works in this audition? 

It is increasingly a responsibility for any young artist to be thinking about different situations/environments and types of audiences they may be encountering. How you can think creatively about how to engage these audiences with different repertoire, and communicate your passion and understanding of the music is a crucial skill. Even if you haven’t had much experience of this, we are looking for someone who can confidently share their connection with the repertoire.

Pre-final interview! 

This is a really important aspect of the process for us. As a charity, it is vital that anyone we finally select can truly benefit from the resources, opportunities and advice that YCAT offers. Yes, predicting the future is always an inexact science, yet we have a lot of experience in getting a sense of which musicians (with a basic level of excellence being taken for granted at this stage) are open, curious, engaging and hungry enough to take advantage of different challenges and opportunities that could help over the following few years. Careers at the top of the industry nowadays take true resilience, perseverance and tenacity balanced with an ability to question, to allow and think about mistakes, awareness of others, a strong sense of musical conviction which still allows space for difference and growth. This interview is a tiny window for us to get a sense of how well each finalist may connect and benefit from YCAT’s work. It is also a chance to think together more practically about the final public auditions and repertoire choices, and to explain a little about how things would work afterwards, should the artist eventually be selected.

The final public auditions at Wigmore Hall 

This is the most exciting event in the YCAT calendar!  First and foremost, we aim to create a real sense of occasion. We want it to feel like a buzzing gala concert and an opportunity for all of the finalists to be seen, heard and experienced by a truly supportive and enthusiastic audience of supporters, promoters and interested concert goers. We professionally record each performance so every finalist has high quality footage to use for their personal use. The jury is right at the back, on the balcony, out of sight and quietly observing! This is clearly NOT a competition and the finals jury members are some of the most experienced industry figures who understand totally what YCAT can do for an artist. There is no voting and it is simply an open discussion about everyone’s thoughts on the various musical personalities on stage - who has really moved and engaged them on a personal level - who are they excited to imagine how they may develop in three or four years time given much more regular and strategic performance experience. In the end, the final selection is a balance of those various opinions as well as any relevant insights gleaned from previous rounds and interviews. Again, the main qualities we are trying to get a sense of are the ability of the artists to connect and communicate, tell a story, hold an audience, challenge and surprise our preconceptions, the ability to move the audience, and often, most importantly, a sense of a questioning, vulnerable musical mind that is not too fixed. These are some of the key qualities we believe surround this elusive idea of ‘potential’. 

What happens next?

For those selected artists there is now the exciting task of us getting to know each other. There is no curriculum or programme that we say every artist enters. Instead, it is about working out together what existing network of contacts and experiences are already there to develop, and what new directions seem most important for each artist. Normally the biggest shift for a new artist is that we already are trying to think long term, which means three/four years ahead (not three months!). This encapsulates everything from developmental pillars in repertoire, courses, festivals, competitions, creative projects. One of the most interesting questions we often ask at the outset is “what are some of the crazy dreams and ideas you have had over the years?”. This is a chance to try out things, to make mistakes without too much risk...all ultimately with the goal of growing each artist’s understanding of who they are, what they really want to communicate and share through their music. YCAT’s role is to try to support this process at a crucial period of artistic self-discovery, albeit for a short time. This is why I love my job!!

Apply to be a 2020 YCAT artist here!