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The Weekend Vote

V.com weekend vote: Where should the second violins sit?

February 17, 2012 at 7:50 PM

Where should the second violins sit?

Sometimes, when a new conductor comes to town, he makes changes and riles up the violins. For example, when Victor Yampolsky came to the Omaha Symphony (right after I left town), he placed the second violins opposite the firsts, and I'm pretty sure one intention was to strengthen the seconds. They needed to get a little more assertive, to hear themselves as a section, coalesce their sound.

When Gustavo Dudamel came to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he placed the second violins next to the firsts, which was a change from the "European style" that had been favored by conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who had the seconds opposite the firsts. It caused a minor uproar, but he said that pieces that have the firsts and seconds playing together a lot work well with the side-by-side configuration, while other pieces worked well with the across-the-orchestra set-up.

Pieces with a lot of call-and-response or contrapuntal playing between the two sections can make for good visual theater, with the sections on different sides of the conductor.

What do you think? Should the seconds be next to the firsts, opposite, or changing concert-to-concert?


From Hendrik Hak
Posted on February 17, 2012 at 9:25 PM
Having the second violin section across from the first is ok provided they face away from the conductor, so the ff holes are directed towards the audience and we can actually hear them ; )
From Anne Horvath
Posted on February 18, 2012 at 1:39 PM
It is hard to remember page turning duties when sitting on the right side of the stand. Bleh.
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on February 18, 2012 at 3:03 PM
It turned out to be irrelevant in our last concert (in December). We only had three 2nd violinists (including me) to start out last season. Attrition took a toll -- lost one to a shoulder injury and another to a family emergency just before the concert. So for our big performance, it turned out to be just me, trying to be heard above five 1sts, five cellos and a viola. Whenever our conductor motioned in my direction for more volume, I kept hearing Scotty from Start Trek in my head -- "I'm givin' ye all she's got, Captain!!" I listened to a recording of the concert later -- I could be heard a bit more than I thought I would, but the music suffered for not having more instruments on the part.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on February 18, 2012 at 6:22 PM
Seems like they could have moved a few folks to your section , Marsha!

Indeed, perhaps we could all play with the fiddle on the right shoulder to make that opposite-the-firsts configuration work? Or not!

From Jim Hastings
Posted on February 18, 2012 at 10:01 PM
I voted "sometimes next to." It's easier to hear the seconds in live performance if they're left of firsts, because the f-holes face outward into the auditorium; but in a recording studio, placing seconds opposite firsts becomes a non-issue and seems to make better sense, because it takes better advantage of L/R channel separation.

I did orchestra for only about 7 years, ages 14-21. As a player who spent time in both sections, I preferred having the two parts together at the conductor's left. Others may differ, but I felt that there was better unit cohesion this way, because the players with similar needs and concerns -- and setups -- were together. And I felt it was easier in this layout for each section to hear and feel what the other was doing.

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on February 19, 2012 at 4:44 PM
Laurie -- the possibility was mentioned, but by the time we found out how short-handed the 2nd violin section was going to be, it was too late for any of the 1sts to make the switch.
From Thomas Cooper
Posted on February 20, 2012 at 3:40 PM
In Mahler, seconds should sit across as they are not supposed to be "seconds". They are just another section of violins.

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