Author Topic: String section layout  (Read 1135 times)

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Offline jessop

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String section layout
« on: April 14, 2017, 04:09:21 PM »
What are the benefits of having the violins of a string section bunched up on one side rather than at the front of the string section? Woodwind sections and most choirs I have seen and sung in have the higher pitches at the front and the lower ones at the back. Obviously, composers used the stereophonic aspect of the violins to their advantage anyway.

It always sounds a little bit weaker to have bass coming from one side rather than through the middle, directly towards the audience where it is more perceivably 'underneath' the higher strings rather than to the side of them.

Why is it currently the way it is?

Drasko

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2017, 04:51:13 PM »
Traditional seating is the one with split violins, cellos and violas in the middle and basses across the back (if there is enough space) or along one side. Modern seating with all violins on left side and cellos on the right was invented by English conductor Henry Wood in 1910 or thereabouts. His reasoning was along the lines that this way coordination between first and second violins is easier, precision is better and asks for less rehearsal time. His type of seating was then picked by Koussevitzky and Stokowski for their American orchestras. I think Stokowski said in the 20s recording process was easier and the sound better with all violins bunched together. So modern seating first became standard in US and then came back to Europe via America. Though some orchestras kept the traditional seating all along: Vienna, Dresden, Leningrad ...  Today it's mostly up to the conductor, but it seems the traditional is making a bit of a comeback, which I personally like.

Offline jessop

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2017, 05:13:26 PM »
Oh I see! Well I guess professional orchestras have improved quite a lot since then so it doesn't really matter so much for rehearsal time anyway.

Offline Daverz

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2017, 09:48:19 PM »
There's also the matter of projecting a bigger string sound in bigger halls.

Offline Scarpia

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2017, 12:13:29 AM »
Given that the players face the center, violin players on he left have their instruments tilted towards the audience, causing them to project a bit more strongly. Putting second violins on the right means their instruments are tilted away from the audience, making their sound a bit weaker than the firsts. I like the split layout, which brings out antiphonal effects between violin sections.

Offline Jo498

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2017, 12:30:21 AM »
I prefer the "split" layout because many composers from Haydn through Mahler took it for granted and composed antiphonal/echo and similar effects. But apparently the massed violins on the left has a lot of advantages, especially for recordings because in my impression it completely dominated the recordings of the stereo era.
Except for some HIPsters (and e.g Harnoncourt unfortunately usually uses "all left" violins in most of his modern instrument recordings, e.g. the ones with the Concertgebouw) I can think mainly of three conductors who almost always used the "old" (2nd violins on the right) seating: Klemperer, Kubelik, Gielen.
Carlos Kleiber did it occasionally but not always (e.g. his Vienna Beethoven 7th has divided violins, the 5th from the same vintage does not)
There might be a few more using the old seating but most of the "mainstream" 60s-90s recordings of my recollection have all the violins on the left, e.g. Karajan, Böhm, Solti, Wand, Abbado etc.
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Offline jessop

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2017, 12:54:07 AM »
Another thing, I can understand the reasons for having the violas on the right to get a stronger sound from the cellos between the violas and second violins when al the violins are on the left, but what do you think are the benefits of having the cellos directly on the right instead of the violas or violin 2?

Offline jochanaan

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2017, 04:46:15 PM »
Another thing, I can understand the reasons for having the violas on the right to get a stronger sound from the cellos between the violas and second violins when al the violins are on the left, but what do you think are the benefits of having the cellos directly on the right instead of the violas or violin 2?
Simple necessity.  The violins in most orchestras are as numerous as all the rest of the strings together, so if you put all the violins to audience left (stage right), the only place with enough room for the other strings is on audience right, stage left.  And the basses must be near the cellos, since they mostly play the same parts.  And cellos often carry a middle-voice melody (when they're not simply strengthening the bass line), so it's good to have them in front.

As far as I can determine from my studies and experiences, the advantages and disadvantages are about equal for the two most common seating patterns.  Often enough, all the violins play in unison or homophonically, so there is no advantage to splitting the two sections.  Yet there are many passages in good music in which antiphonal positioning works well, such as in the Finale of Beethoven 7 where a brief melodic fragment bounces rapidly from one violin section to the other and back.
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Offline king ubu

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2017, 11:13:09 PM »
Interesting, was totally unaware of this so far ... have seen both at Zurich Tonhalle and have wondered about it, actually. Couldn't tell which conductor used the "split" set-up though, but going forward I'll watch out for it (tonight it will be Blomstedt conducting).
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Offline jessop

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2017, 04:03:56 AM »
On a slightly related note about orchestral strings....I am curious as to when vibrato is used and when it isn't. I listened to a recording remastered using 'high end restoration technology' (according to the cover) of Mengelberg conducting Beethoven's 6th live in 1940 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra........I couldn't hear any vibrato at all in the string section (well maybe only a little bit occasionally) and I was wondering if this was something to do with post production? Or are they really playing this without the shakes and wobbles that create the mushy and hazy simultaneous vibrato effect we all know from the great 20th century string sections?

Offline king ubu

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2017, 05:12:28 AM »
Saw Blomstedt conduct the Tonhalle last week (magic!) and he seems to insist on the old ("german" v. "american" is another terminology it seems, obviously merikin being new) set-up. However, it seemed this was the first time that the sequence was: v 1, vc (basses behind), vla, v 2. Usually I think vc and vla would be the other way 'round? (I saw the basses spread in one row behind vc and vla as well ... I think with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, but I couldn't tell for sure ... but ).
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Offline jessop

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Re: String section layout
« Reply #11 on: June 18, 2017, 05:44:06 PM »
Performing in the choir with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra it was certainly interesting to see that the biggest problem in the early orchestral rehearsals was that the violins and the cellos/basses were not as together as I suppose they would be if the cellos were in the middle. Wouldn't having the cellos in the middle ensure that the entire string section is more likely to be synchronised, using the middle of the section as more of a rhythmic reference along with the conductor?

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