When a great pianist gives an inspired performance of a Mozart or Schubert sonata.
My point is it's about the performance more than the piece. One of the greatest performances I ever experienced was Grigory Sokolov playing some Haydn sonatas and Schubert Impromptus. Nothing particularly difficult, but absolutely mind-blowing.
Don't get me wrong, it's rare to hear truly amazing Mozart.[/quote]
It's rare to hear truly amazing anything, that's why it's amazing.
Amazing difficult works are more impressive for a college panel of judges than amazing works that aren't as amazing.
I wouldn't worry so much if a piece is overplayed or even played to death. To an experienced panel of piano experts, everything that is remotely familiar is overplayed. As long as they are open to interpretations (some probably think there's only ONE way to play a certain piece), then there's really no reason to avoid an overplayed piece.
For example, Bach's Italian Concerto is overplayed. I played the third movement for my college audition. But I got accepted with an offer of scholarship. It was the only piece that was heard in its entirety during the 10-minute audition.
The danger lies in choosing something so off the beaten path that the panel doesn't know what to do with the music.
An audition panel does not immediately become confused with music that they are unfamiliar with. They still look for universal signs of good playing such as phrasing, control, color, technique, etc. They aren't judging the music, they are judging the playing.
Also, judges look for breadth of repertoire and musical knowledge. As a student wishing to pursue higher learning, you do not look particularly good when you come in with a handful of clichÃ©d works. You want to show the judges that you are aware of great pieces that aren't so popular.
You also risk a much higher chance of boring the judges if the piece you perform is very commonly auditioned with- if you don't stand out you will blend in and then become forgotten.
Another downside is that when you are playing something that is overplayed, all it takes is somebody with the same performance but slightly better to beat you.
It's good that you got a scholarship with the Italian Concerto, you must have played it very well. I can't help noting, however, that your audition was quite small-scale in comparison to the schools I am referring to; for example the minimum time required at Rice is half an hour.
I do, however, still recommend the Italian Concerto for audition use. It is a very revealing work.