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Fees may soar as orchestras face shortage of concertmasters

Browsing the jobs section of das Orchester, magazine of the German orchestral sector, we were amazed by the number of vacancies advertised for concertmasters. A host of major orchestras, led by the Berlin Philharmonic, have empty seats at the front left-hand side.

They include Bamberg, Bavarian Opera, Leipzig Gewandhaus, NDR, Dresden Staatskapelle, Hamburg, WDR, Köln, Frankfurt opera and radio, DSO Berlin, RSO Berlin and more, more, more … more than two dozen at a rough count.

There are also advertisements from foreign orchestras, among them the London Philharmonic, Zurich Operaand Teatro Real Madrid. Everyone, it seems, is looking for a primus among the violins.

So why has it become so hard to find and hold onto a concertmaster? Are the incumbents taking it too easy with their job-shares? Has the work become more arduous? Is there a lack of leadership qualities in the candidates? Why are we suddenly so short of concertmasters?

Where are the concertmasters of yesteryear? 


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  1. So wonderful! MAGIC!!

  2. another orchestra musician says:

    Concertmaster and Principal positions have always been abundant in the vacancies section of Das Orchester. This is, in part, because concertmasters and section principals sometimes leave orchestra posts to accept conservatory professorships; and also because section principals, particularly in Europe, sometimes step down to section positions during the years prior to their retirement.

    Another reason is that orchestra string sections sometimes leave one of their two co-concertmaster positions unfilled in preference to engaging an audition candidate they do not feel unanimously convinced by. This allows them the flexibility to engage casuals, potentially on a trial basis. Too, positions may remain advertised until definitively filled, which in practice means that some positions advertised in Das Orchester are vacant only hypothetically.

    • I think that is very true. These days, top violinists are less likely to stay in a secure, salaried position for decades because there are so many other options for them available. Professorships, solo appearances, chamber music. I think it also used to be that concertmaster was a position you would take if you were an outstanding violinist, but maybe not quite good enough for a solo career. These days, especially when it comes to top orchestras, it is one of several things top players may or may not do for a while. During the Abbado years, Kolja Blacher and Rainer Kussmaul, who both already had highly successful careers as soloists and teachers at that point, spend a few years leading the Berliner Philharmoniker, not least because of the prestige of being associated with that institution, then they moved on to other activities again. Nothing at all unusual these days.

  3. Michael Hurshell says:

    I recently had a conversation on this subject with one of the Dresden Philharmonic concertmasters. He felt that the German orchestral landscape is going through a generational change of sorts, and that the increasing concertmaster vacancies have been some time coming, and expected – but no one can solve the difficulty because younger violinists are less willing to accept the work load, which is huge. And he mentioned hearing many auditions in recent years, with disappointing results.

    • “younger violinists are less willing to accept the work load, which is huge”

      Is it really? Obviously, concertmasters have a big responsibility, and occasionally, they have to play very demanding solo parts like Heldenleben or Zarathustra – but how often does that happen even in a big orchestra? In Germany at least, bigger orchestras usually have several 1st concertmasters, often three, and several assistant concertmasters who occasionally lead the orchestra, too. So they don’t actually play all that much, probably less than most other orchestra members.

      • Michael,
        But they coordinate bowings for the symphonic repertoire, they oversee a lot of personnel and audition cycles, and sit on a lot of artistic planning committees. I think the kind of work load you describe would be readily acceptable to many younger players. The other work is arduous and keeps them from their violin, at times.
        Am I right? Others here will know more about the role of Concertmasters and I’m curious…

  4. harold braun says:

    And the greatest of them all will step down next year:Glenn Dicterow,NYP! Truly a hard act to follow!

  5. The other downside of being a concertmaster is that you have to deal with your music director on behalf of the orchestra and even worse, with guest conductors… I can certainly imagine many situations where one would prefer to lead a quieter life with far less hassle.

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