Author Topic: Orchestra leader / concertmaster  (Read 7089 times)

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Offline Aeolian harp

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Orchestra leader / concertmaster
« on: August 14, 2009, 05:56:29 AM »
Can someone please explain the importance of the role?

I know it's always the leader of the first violins, but how do they decide who gets to be it? Is he/she the most skillful or prestigious member?

Thanks  :)

ChamberNut

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Re: Orchestra leader / concertmaster
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2009, 08:46:46 AM »

I know it's always the leader of the first violins,

It is usually, but I'm not sure if it is the case 100% of the time.  It's a good question though, and I, like you, await the answers!  8)

Franco

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Re: Orchestra leader / concertmaster
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2009, 09:30:03 AM »
Okay, I'll take a stab at this.

The Concert Master can be appointed by the Musical Director or elected by members of the orchestra, and is usually the First Chair Violinist, but can be another player, although not often.  Most likely in deference to the player with the most institutional memory as well as musical and political skills make the choice somewhat a given for most orchestras.  I think of the CM as "first among equals" and the orchestra players' voice to the Conductor and Management.

One thing the Concert Master does is decide the bowing along with the various section leaders and in conjunction with the Conductor's practice.  The Concert Master and Conductor work together, but the Conductor is the final, and for some the only, authority.  But I would imagine in a great orchestra the Concert Master is integral to the overall philosophical direction and very much involved in the decisions that go into producing the orchestra's sound.

I humbly await correction by those more knowledgable than I.

Offline Aeolian harp

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Re: Orchestra leader / concertmaster
« Reply #3 on: August 14, 2009, 11:12:00 AM »
Thanks for that insight.

I notice at some concerts, he or she comes on to the stage separately to applause, before the conductor.

So it must be a prestigious role  8)

Also, one might guess that if based on skill or experience it would be more likely an older member of the orchestra, but I have noticed some who look to be extremely young - even perhaps in their 20s.

Offline toledobass

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Re: Orchestra leader / concertmaster
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2009, 04:03:09 AM »
This is a hard thing for me to really describe acurately, but in my mind, where as the conductor embodies the vision and direction of the orchestra, the CM embodies the heart and soul of the ensemble.  The bow the CM takes before the concert is on behalf of the orchestra, not for the individual.

The CM while being a prominent figure isn't really a voice between orchestra and managment,  there are usually other avenues for that discussion line.  Like posted above, the CM is a direct line of cantact between the conductor and orchestra. The CM develops a keen sense of how the orchestra works as an ensemble, what it's strengths and weekneses are, it's overall style, etc. and tries best to understand what the conductor is asking for and relay that usually through playing and visual clues, but occasionally through verbal clearing up with the conductor or verbal directions to the orchestra.   

The last thing I will say is that I've never seen a good concertmaster panic.  One of the examples of what can seperate a decent CM from a great CM is this example taken from a real life situation I ws part of.  We were playing Rach 3 PC and things began to feel like something was going wrong.  Before we knew it everyone realized that as we were coming up to a few measures where the orchestra was tacet and the piano was playing unaccompanied,  the pianist was completely lost, banging away whatever in d minor.  I remember looking up at the conductor and seeing panic.  Thinking we were doomed, somehow the CM caught onto the pianist regaining controll and readied and brought in the orchestra with our next entrance.....all with a slightly larger cue tuan normal, but all within a pretty relaxed
looking demeanor given the circumstance.  That was the first an only time I saw the conductor basically thanks us for saving his arse. 

While those kind of situations will only come up maybe once a decade, if not even less,  it has become part of what I think of makes up a great CM.

Hope this helps a little,
Allan

ChamberNut

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Re: Orchestra leader / concertmaster
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2009, 04:19:44 AM »
The last thing I will say is that I've never seen a good concertmaster panic.  One of the examples of what can seperate a decent CM from a great CM is this example taken from a real life situation I ws part of.  We were playing Rach 3 PC and things began to feel like something was going wrong.  Before we knew it everyone realized that as we were coming up to a few measures where the orchestra was tacet and the piano was playing unaccompanied,  the pianist was completely lost, banging away whatever in d minor.  I remember looking up at the conductor and seeing panic.  Thinking we were doomed, somehow the CM caught onto the pianist regaining controll and readied and brought in the orchestra with our next entrance.....all with a slightly larger cue tuan normal, but all within a pretty relaxed
looking demeanor given the circumstance.  That was the first an only time I saw the conductor basically thanks us for saving his arse. 

While those kind of situations will only come up maybe once a decade, if not even less,  it has become part of what I think of makes up a great CM.

Wow Allan, that was a great story.  Thank you for sharing that!  :)  I'd love to read a thread on GMG with participants in the orchestra "sharing their stories".

Offline RebLem

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Re: Orchestra leader / concertmaster
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2009, 02:14:41 AM »
I know it's always the leader of the first violins

Usually, but not always.  For quite some time, it has been the practice in the Chicago Symphony to make the leader of the first violins and the principal cellist co-concertmasters.
"Don't drink and drive; you might spill it."--J. Eugene Baker, aka my late father.

Dana

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Re: Orchestra leader / concertmaster
« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2009, 06:45:58 PM »
Okay, I'll take a stab at this.

The Concert Master can be appointed by the Musical Director or elected by members of the orchestra, and is usually the First Chair Violinist, but can be another player, although not often.  Most likely in deference to the player with the most institutional memory as well as musical and political skills make the choice somewhat a given for most orchestras.  I think of the CM as "first among equals" and the orchestra players' voice to the Conductor and Management.

      Nowadays the major orchestras hold auditions for their concertmasters - every season, they'll post openings for the orchestra on their website, with fliers taken out to various websites and magazines, and they'll list the positions of concertmaster and section 1st violin separately. The concertmaster excerpt list usually includes cadenzas from major orchestral works, like Sheherezade, or Ein Heldenleben. They'll ask for resumes, and if it's a prestigious orchestra, they'll decline to allow some of the applicants to play for them. Then, the applicants play the excerpts, some Bach, a major concerto, and maybe some sight-reading, for a panel including the conductor, and orchestra membership.

      The concertmaster also is important because he/she is the most visible member of the orchestra, which has more importance than you might think. Let's say that the strings make up 2/3 of an orchestra. It's important for them all to start with their section, and for all the importance a conductor has, the maestro doesn't make a sound - if you want to sound together, you watch your section principals. For the section principals to be together in tutti sections, they have to watch each other (like in a string quartet), and you always defer to the first violinist - the concertmaster. Therefore, the concertmaster is responsible, at times, for 2/3 of the orchestra!