What is the Role of a Concertmaster in a Symphony?
Before a symphony concert begins, you’ll notice a few things happen first…
Once the audience has taken their seats, outcomes a violinist and everyone begins to clap. This violinist takes a bow and then turns to the oboist for a tuning note. After the orchestra is in tune with one another, the violinist sits down. Then out comes the conductor to start the concert!
But have you ever wondered “who is that violinist?” or “what is their role in the orchestra to deserve their own grand entrance?” and “why does this person cue the tuning note and not the conductor”?
Here at Red Curtain Addict, no question is EVER a bad question. So to get the best answers on the matter, we went “behind the curtain” with San Francisco Symphony’s own concertmaster, Alexander Barantschik, to find out more about the significance of the role and what earth it’s all about. Scroll below to find what he had to say…
How are the chair positions of a symphony decided?
First, let’s look at how each player is ranked. Every section of an orchestra (flutes, cellos, trumpets, etc.) has a first-chair position that is obtained by the superior player of the group. Typically, the ranking of each section is determined through a rigorous set of auditions. Each player is placed within the section based on their level of musical skills and leadership skills.
The ultimate first-chair player within an orchestra is known as the concertmaster which is the first-chair player of the first violin section. You’ll often find this person seated on the left-hand side of the orchestra, closest to the conductor (as seen above).
Why is it the “ultimate first-chair player”? You’re about to find out…
Who is the concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony?
Meet Alexander Barantschik, who has held the position as concertmaster for 19-years at the San Francisco Symphony. Talk about an amazing accomplishment!
“I consider myself very fortunate to have this kind of career, and I love the diversity of experiences that I’ve been able to have.” – Alexander Barantschik
Before taking his position with the San Francisco Symphony, he was the concertmaster of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, the concertmaster of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, and the leader of the London Symphony Orchestra. Needless to say, Alexander is one of the most recognized concertmasters of our time.
What is the role of a concertmaster?
“The more years I play, the harder it is to answer the question about my role as concertmaster, although that might sound ridiculous. It’s because I take on many different roles depending on the score of the music. Sometimes, I am simply a violinist of my section, and other times I take more of a leadership role”. – Alexander Barantschik
The main difference between a concertmaster and a first-chair of another section is the concertmaster is “the ‘righthand man’ to the conductor and acts as a translator (or a liaison) for the orchestra to the conductor or vice versa,” said Alexander. Essentially, the concertmaster is the representative of the entire orchestra and can also be the representative of the conductor to the orchestra. This is why they get a special recognition by the audience and the orchestra before the concert begins – rightly so!
Want to find out more? Join us for a curated evening to experience the San Francisco Symphony and access exclusive perks! On Saturday, June 1, 2019, we will be hosting a Concertmaster and Cocktails event where you can find out more about the role of a concertmaster while you sip and eat on drinks (from William Grant & Sons) and bites in a private lounge.
After we see Alexander Barantschik play Bach’s E major Violin Concerto as a featured soloist and Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony, you will have the chance to meet him yourself and ask your own questions!
What questions would you like to ask Alexander?
Leave your questions in the comments below. We can’t wait to experience the San Francisco Symphony with you!