January 25, 2023

MSM double bass student Mark Lillie wins section position with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

MSM double bass student Mark Lillie (PPD ’23) is studying for a Professional Performance Diploma at MSM and tells us about winning his upcoming position with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra — he also gives practice tips and preparation advice for orchestral auditions.


Mark Lillie received his Bachelor of Music from the Colburn Conservatory of Music, his Master of Music from The Juilliard School, and is completing post-graduate studies at Manhattan School of Music. He has served as Principal Bass of the Colburn and Juilliard orchestras, as well as the Music Academy Festival Orchestra, Colorado College Summer Music Festival Orchestra, and the National Repertory Orchestra, and has appeared with the New York Philharmonic and Colorado Music Festival.

Mark is grateful for his primary teachers Peter Lloyd, Joseph Conyers, and Timothy Cobb who shared their professional experience and exposed him to a variety of musical styles. Mark performs on a modern double bass made in 2016 by Chris Threlkeld-Wiegand and uses an antique french bow made by Charles Bazín. In his free time, he has enjoyed exploring the local beer and coffee scene in New York City. 

Mark Lillie (PPD '23 Bass)

Congratulations on your new position! How do you feel about this achievement?

Mark: I’m really happy and also somewhat relieved. This is something I’ve wanted for a long time, and it feels very liberating to finally have the sense of security that comes with a job.

What can you share with us about the audition process?

Mark: There were three rounds, and they all happened behind a screen. The original number of candidates was 117, then it was narrowed to 17 and then 5 before they chose the three winners.

How did you prepare for the audition?

Mark: I’ve been sticking to a pretty strict practice regimen for a few years now. Four hours per day, 6 days per week, with one day off for rest and recovery on the weekends. I also had a couple of lessons with Joseph Conyers, a previous teacher of mine, along with lessons and classes with my teacher at MSM, Tim Cobb.

“It’s easy to get discouraged if you take a bunch of auditions and don’t get the results you want, but I encourage you to remember that there are so many factors that go into whether a candidate is advanced or not, and every orchestra conducts auditions differently.”


What piece or excerpt were you most excited to perform at the audition?

Mark: It’s a toss-up between excerpts from Mahler 2 and Brahms 1. Both are some of my favorite pieces in the repertoire and excerpts that I feel pretty confident about.

Do you have any practice tips?

Mark: In the last year I’ve started recording myself a lot more, and I’ve been told by many colleagues that now have jobs that this is a really key aspect of preparing for auditions. As much as we may think under our ears that things are happening the way we want them to, [a recording] will concretely confirm or deny that. I also had more time to prepare for this audition than I have for the past couple that I’ve done, which allowed me to do more slow practice and get creative with metronome games, etc. This is definitely worth doing, even if you can’t do it for a whole month like I did!

Mark Lillie (PPD '24) performing with the MSM Symphony Orchestra

What is will your schedule look like working with the TSO?

Mark: I haven’t actually been given my contract or a schedule yet, but I would imagine it will be pretty similar to other professional groups where you have a rehearsal day, a double rehearsal day, a day with a rehearsal in the morning and concert in the evening, and two or three more concert days. But I think it depends on the repertoire of a given week. Time will tell!

Tell us about the strings program at MSM – how did your studies help you get to this point?

Mark: I feel very lucky to have the teachers and colleagues I have in the MSM bass department. The students are all very supportive and always willing to hear you play and give their two cents. I also think Tim Cobb and I were really on the same page when it came to my goals because a lot of my lessons would consist of multiple mock auditions or playing a lot of the list down for him. Finally, I got to be a part of the Orchestral Performance double bass class, which gave a few of us a more formal setting to play for each other, along with exposure to the opinions of the other bass faculty besides our primary teachers.

What is your audition advice?

Mark: One thing I really believe in is that auditions are a totally different skill from performing. There is a lot that goes into audition preparation that may not necessarily go into preparation for a performance, especially the mental aspect. My best advice is to keep your focus on playing your best, not on the results of the audition. It’s easy to get discouraged if you take a bunch of auditions and don’t get the results you want, but I encourage you to remember that there are so many factors that go into whether a candidate is advanced or not, and every orchestra conducts auditions differently. Along these lines, in an audition I always try to keep my focus on the next excerpt instead of how the previous ones have gone.

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