question about orchestra seating assignments

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Laura said: Jul 22, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

This has been an ongoing point of curiosity for me. Nothing personal or related to anything I’m experiencing. But I’ve just always wondered, every time I watch an orchestra. I might have even asked this question before on this board, but don’t remember if there was an answer… so forgive me for asking again. I just saw an orchestra again and the question resurfaced in my mind.

Not being a string player and not having had orchestra experience, I am wondering how first and second violins are assigned seating. I am aware that there is some sort of ranking system: i.e. of two players sharing a stand, the one on the outside is the stronger player. But say there were 20 violinists, ranked by their audition. Would #1-10 be Violin 1 and #11-20 be Violin 2 with #1 being Concertmaster and #11 being Principal Violin 2?

Or would it be:

1—Concertmaster (Violin 1)

2—Principal Violin 2

3-11 Violin 1 and #12-20 Violin 2?

Is there just one way of assigning these things?

Carl said: Aug 16, 2010
 11 posts

There doesn’t seem to be a universal way of ranking orchestra violinists. I believe my daughter’s youth symphony ranks the violins as in your example—i.e., the last Violin I is one rank ahead of the principle Violin II.

However, there is probably overlap in a professional orchestra since you want your strongest players leading each section. I saw one post on a different Q&A forum that pointed out how some orchestras have revolving seating, while others have fixed seats—for example, if you auditioned for 5th chair Violin II, that’s the precise seat you’d get if you won. Someone else said the principle Violin II is paid more than a section Violin I. So there is overlap and probably each orchestra has its own method of ranking the violinists.

Further interesting discussion:
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Can_you_explain_the_hierarchy_of_violin_chairs_1st_and_2nd_violin_in_an_orchestra”
http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=6444

Jennifer Visick said: Aug 16, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

clspang

if you auditioned for 5th chair Violin II, that’s the precise seat you’d get if you won.

Exactly. Which means that, if there is fixed seating in a professional orchestra, the “ranking” of players has to be thrown out the window. I may be the “best” player (whatever that means) but if the principal spot is not open for audition, I can’t have that spot. The player in any given chair is that player who was chosen to best fit the orchestra’s style and needs at the time of the audition. One does not hold an audition and then re-shuffle the existing sections to accommodate the “rank” of the incoming player’s technique, musicianship, and ensemble skills.

In a youth orchestra, “rank” is even less meaningful, for children are (supposed to be) learning new techniques and repertoire and ensemble skills every day—to ‘rank’ something that fluctuates and grows this rapidly is probably an exercise futility, and to believe that whatever way the director came up with to seat the orchestra is a true and lasting indicator of a student’s “rank” within the group is foolish and may cause needless angst among the students.

Ideally, all the players in the string section are so well matched that the differences in their technique, musicianship, artistry, and ensemble skills are so minimal as to not be noticeable. They do all play the same part in each section. And the “lower” parts (bass, cello, viola, second violin) are not necessarily any less difficult than the first violin part, nor are the outside players necessarily getting the more difficult divisi part than the inside players.

said: Sep 12, 2010
 1 posts

Each orchestra has different policies on auditioning on how things are done, according to what the conductor wants, or in the case of a youth orchestra.

In the orchestras I’ve played in, auditions were held twice a year. The violinist who played the excerpt pieces best, had the most accurate technique and ear with scales, and had the best leadership/interpretation skills for the sight-reading excerpt was awarded the concertmaster position. It progressed skill-wise downward after that. Typically, the first violinists had more experience or better skill than the second violinists, which is understandable, because first violinist parts in pieces are more difficult than second violinist parts. Also, the outside players at the stand were the better of the two, as the divisi parts are typically higher-up on the neck and/or more difficult for the outside stands.

Again, every orchestra differs, but this has been my experience.

Jennifer Visick said: Sep 12, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

jonnlaureng

first violinist parts in pieces are more difficult than second violinist parts.

This is often true with pieces specifically created or arranged for student groups, but even then, it is not always true.

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