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Seating systems in violin sections

Orchestra: Seating systems in violin sections

From Henri T.
Posted April 20, 2006 at 01:22 AM

I would like to ask you for information on "seating systems in violin sections". There are two common varies. One is fixed and the other one is revolving (rotating). Which one makes violin section sounds better? Are there some more possibilities? What about famous orchestras?

From Gene Wie
Posted on April 20, 2006 at 01:52 AM
Seating depends on the kind of ensemble.

Student orchestras, in which the goal is to *teach* the players about ensemble playing necessitates a revolving seating system, so that many students have the opportunity to play different parts in different sections. It is for this reason that I despise semester-long "chair placement" and "seat challenges" in the high school programs that I work at...it is akin to watching a group of marathon runners shoving each other aside to see who can be 1457th as opposed to 1458th place. It is idiocy of the worst kind.

However, more established orchestras will create a foundation of regular non-rotating players (especially principals) that provide consistency and leadership to the ensemble. The professional ensemble's goal is to achieve artistic excellence, and not to teach its players how to function in orchestra...by the time they audition into say, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the music director will have an understanding of where that player will make the greatest contribution, and place them appropriately to serve the needs of the group in sound and musicianship.

From Henri T.
Posted on April 20, 2006 at 07:28 AM
Thank you Gene.
I would like to get answers on how specific are dealing high proffessional orchestras with the seating systems of violin section. It can be interesting to share these information.

The Orchestra where I play used to be fixed seating system, but cheefconductor is replaced now, and we have short period without cheefconductor. In this short period violin section without leader starting to push the idea of rotating system.

I was just wondering what can works better. My opinion is that fixed seating system can lead to better quality of violin section, but on the other hand I don't know how does it feels and works in rotating system. Or are there any other?

What are your experiencies?

From Ben Clapton
Posted on April 20, 2006 at 11:17 AM
I'd just like to point out that there are professional orchestras that use rotational seating, but in these orchestras, it's usually the section leader/front desk that stay the same, and the rest of the section rotates. Positive of this style is that you don't get depressed if you're stuck at the back because next week you know you'll be somewhere else. Downside, you don't get a consistant sound for the ensemble because the players are constantly swapping around.
From Christina C.
Posted on April 20, 2006 at 01:52 PM
in many professional orchestras (Boston, Montreal, Chicago, New York Phil, London Phil.) it's the first 2 or 4 seats that are fixed & titled (principal, associate, assistant, etc.), the rest work on a rotational basis
From Larry Brandt
Posted on April 20, 2006 at 07:16 PM
I know that the Israeli Philharmonic has 3 concertmasters which it rotates every concert. It also rotates between two second violin principals. I think that the Berlin Philharmonic also rotates concertmasters, but I may be wrong.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 20, 2006 at 08:54 PM
Greetings,
BP has three concert masters,
Cheers,
Buri
From Henri T.
Posted on April 21, 2006 at 02:36 AM
My opinion is that fixed seating system can lead to better quality of violin section, but on the other hand how are feeling people in back seats?... What is the best solution to keep orchestra fresh? To change seat every week could destroy compactibility of group sound?

I don't mind concertmasters seat system.

From Julie C.
Posted on April 21, 2006 at 04:35 AM
Yea... how do people feel in the back seats of an orchestra? Especially professional orchestras, where one's salary increases as one goes higher in the seating hierarchy? (Is that right? Or am I completely wrong? Because I'm not in a professional orchestra.)
From Larry Brandt
Posted on April 21, 2006 at 02:18 PM
Except for section leaders and principals, in every orchestra I know, everybody in the section is paid the same no matter where they sit. In fact, many of them PREFER to sit further back, where they feel less open to scrutiny.
From Maura Gerety
Posted on April 21, 2006 at 03:13 PM
I hate playing in the back, half the time I can't see the conductor. :(
MG
From Christina C.
Posted on April 21, 2006 at 03:18 PM
the fixed chairs (between 1 & 4) at the front get paid more, the rotating chairs earn the same.

Henri, in response to your question, the Montreal Symphony tends to change the seating of the rotating players for each different programme. I don’t get to other orchestras regularly enough to know what others do.

From Henri T.
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 03:12 PM
Are there some more proffesional orchestra players to add some more info about seating system in orchestras?
Thank you.
From Marianne Devos
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 07:04 AM
the Paris Opera rotate, and it sounds just great!! i believe the rotating system keeps the player's inerest up, imagine sitting in the same seat for thirty years.
From Dean Safe
Posted on June 16, 2007 at 02:23 PM
In my church orchestra, the violin section has a fixed seating arrangement. It goes like this...me (I'm the concermaster), asst. concertmaster, then everyone else sits in a fixed order (principal, asst. principal, etc) from there. That is the same with every other section of the orchestra. We go by "ordered" chairs. Not to go against anyone else, I don't like the idea of rotating chairs. If you have a higher skill level, you should be placed in a higher chair. It goes from most-experienced/skilled to least experienced/skilled. And in my orchestra, some people are afraid to take the 1st/Lead parts so they will often play the second/third part. The principal players always take the first parts.
Dean
From Martin Butler
Posted on June 17, 2007 at 12:25 PM
The Adelaide Symphony orchestra rotates rank and file violins - even between 1st and 2nd violins. Some years ago a conductor wanted this "fixed" but it never worked and didn't last long.
From Rob Schnautz
Posted on June 19, 2007 at 03:31 PM
Well, I've seen three different methods.

1) The EVSC Honors Orchestra did it entirely by skill. Best violinists were first, best in front, worst in back, then it trickled over to the seconds being those who weren't as good, and finally, the worst in the back of the 2nd section. I don't like this way since the 2nd violin part is often just as difficult if not harder (as the 1sts play mainly melody and the 2nds mainly the rest of the story, which often involves complex rhythms and fast runs and stuff).

2) The middle school I went to seated people ALMOST the same way, but it balanced the 1st and 2nd sections by seating 1st best as concertmaster, 2nd best as 2nd principal, 3rd in the firsts, 4th in the seconds, staggering evenly. This is more ideal than the first method because this way both sections are equally as strong. However, sometimes this can create slightly more tension between stand partners, since more gap is being left between skill levels. Adjustments can be made, though, since the staggering doesn't have to follow any particular order.

3) My high school orchestra had a heirarchy of who'd been there the longest. The newest players were sent to the back of the 2nd section, and the seniors got the front of the 1st section (provided they were okay with playing the first part-- some requested to stay in the front of the 2nd section). In my opinion, this method is nice in that everyone has the eventual opportunity to play 1st, but also, it fails to balance the sections.

4) This is one I discovered by accident: Go by what syle best fits the violinist (high-pitched sweet melodic sounds vs. complex counting/rhythms and weird notes). When I was a guest musician for another school's spring musical, I played 2nd and let the other violinist play 1st out of courtesy, since I felt it appropriate that those native to the group should be in higher ranks. Turned out he was better at playing higher stuff anyway, and I was better at playing the complex rhythmic patterns and counting and odd notes and other stuff you find in 2nd violin parts.

I would have to go with staggering as the best method for seating, if auditions are done, but if you know the violinist very well, you should place them according to what will suit them the best, as seen in the fourth method.

From Antonio Romero
Posted on June 19, 2007 at 08:33 PM
Something strange happens in my orchestra: while the first stand is fixed, the rest of the section is seated based how long have you been in the orchestra. The result: less skilled highly experienced old timers in the front stands, highly skilled less experienced young violinist in the back. I sit in the second to last stand and I hate it. Specially because some people in front of me can't play.
From Rob Schnautz
Posted on June 20, 2007 at 03:49 PM
Auditions are just weird like that...the people who aren't very good can shine so much better on their auditions than the people who will shine more than them the rest of the season do on their auditions. Go figure. It's like they practice before their audition and never practice once they're in.
From Jennifer Dunn
Posted on June 20, 2007 at 08:14 PM
Like Antonio, in the orchestra I play in, the seating is fixed, according to how long a person has been in the orchestra (excepting the first stand). Thus, the newest members are in the back, and can expect to stay there until someone in front of them quits or dies. Unfortunately, members of the audience sometimes assume we are seated by skill level, which bothers me a bit. I don't like gaining a reputation based on where I sit, since it has nothing to do with my skill. I also don't enjoy playing in the back all of the time. It's hard to see, and in our rehearsal hall it's hard to hear back there as well. I'm not sure I agree that a section will sound better if it has fixed seating. I think rotating would inspire musicians to play their best, and that there's a risk of getting too comfortable in one spot.
From Nathan Cole
Posted on June 20, 2007 at 08:24 PM
Thank goodness we rotate! I like the people in our section, but there's only so many weeks you can share a stand with the same person. Much more interesting to move around.
From Erika Millen
Posted on June 20, 2007 at 11:05 PM
The majority of major U.S. orchestras these days use revolving seating. Of the ICSOM member orchestras, for example, I count 14 that use traditional fixed seating and 35 that have revolving string sections.
From Rob Schnautz
Posted on June 22, 2007 at 08:08 PM
At least no one here is playing timpani...that's one of those instruments that they don't replace until the musician dies. We've at least got a chance to get in, whatever our seat may be.
From Martin Butler
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 04:49 AM
"What do you do when a viola player dies?"
"Move him back a desk!"
From mahesh kamkanamge
Posted on September 24, 2009 at 06:26 PM

 I think it is OK and good to have a seating rotation (also changing the sections - 1st and 2nd violins) in a highly professional orchestra in which all the players are highly skilled. But in a non professional orchestra in which players are in different skill levels, a fixed seating arrangement is better. This fixed arrangement must be according to the level of skills and not just depending on how long he/she is playing in the orchestra. I admit that experience is important but it must be a good kind of experience. For an example if there are two players with equal levels of skills, then we can give the priority to the more experienced one. But a good player who is highly skilled but joined the orchestra very recently must get the priority over an 'experienced' player who is just miming the bowing for last 15 years!

From Malcolm Turner
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 03:16 PM

Antonio mentioned his orchestra where any new people joining get added at the back - that's the sign of a lazy concertmaster. Something nobody's mentioned is the desk partnership - rather than rotating individuals, it's probably better to move people as a desk. That is , provided they're happy with their desk partner!

On the "experience at the front" - the local choir seemed to operate like this. (I'm going back 30 years - they've changed) so the front row were all ladies of let's say mature years - and sat less than elegantly in the choir seats. Relations between the choir and orchestra were never great, and not exactly enhanced when just before a rehearsal, one of the string principals looked round and announced loudly "God! 40 miles of varicous veins".

From Alex Ewan
Posted on October 18, 2009 at 09:47 PM

I n my adult orchestra it is based upon how long you have been a member. However if that were true I should be on desk 8 of 1st violin not 7! I plan to hang around several years and hopefully climb up to 2nd/3rd desk.

In my youth orchetsra apart from the fixed front desk which we decided amongst ourselves we just sit wherever we please. I often sit near the back to help the younger newer members. My desk partner changes every couple of weeks. So long as I am on desk 3 or higher for concerts I am happy because i know everyone behnd me is not as good as me or less experianced mainly due to being younger than me.

From Susan Smyth
Posted on February 13, 2010 at 06:15 PM

withiin school, i am in a chamber ensemble and orchestra, and also in a district orchestra outside.

-in chamber, it's highly competitive. there's a lot of rotation in the firsts, once a month usually, mostly depending on who's making most progress. within the seconds, it is a more steady move up, and the 1st desk of seconds are better players than some never-touching-the-violin-to-practise types at the back of the firsts.

-in the 'big' orchestra, there is some rotation among firsts...but very little anywhere else, and this means that you learn to work together and know who needs a little extra support it in hard bits.

- in the other orchestra,  it's only in session six months of the year and there are seating auditions at the beginning in september. after that you keep your seat.

 

 


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