Orchestra Rehearsal

May 14, 2015 at 03:56 PM · Canada’s inaugural National Fiddling Day is this Saturday. We have a mass performance slated to mark the occasion. There will be a short session before the performance, presumably for organization and sound checks. Sort of a “Field of Dreams” schedule it and they will come event. Most of us have, through experience, an understanding of expectations.

I’m curious about how things work in an orchestra setting. How does the preparation work in a professional orchestra? When do you find out what will be performed? How many rehearsals would be typical? What is the starting point? Do you have any sessions for strings only? Does the focus change as you near the concert date? I’m interested in the process of turning individual practice into a group performance.


May 14, 2015 at 07:54 PM · Standard professional orchestra rehearsals go as follows:

We know the repertoire from before the beginning of the season. Parts are contractually required to be available at least two weeks before the first rehearsal of each concert. Standard rehearsal schedule in a week is: Wednesday morning (2.5 hours), Thursday morning (2.5 hours) and afternoon (2 hours), Friday morning dress rehearsal (2.5 hours). Concerts Friday and Saturday evenings 8 PM, sometimes a third on Sunday 3 PM.

No sectionals. Musicians are expected to be prepared at the first rehearsal.

May 14, 2015 at 08:36 PM · I hope the performance is closer to 2 hours than 3! :) Usually 2 to 2:15. And typically the last rehearsal will be a "dress rehearsal", where all the music for the concert is played through. There's usually just enough time left over for a few comments here and there from the conductor. The big work gets done in the other rehearsals.

May 14, 2015 at 08:43 PM · Performances usually last about two hours. Past 2.5 hours, overtime kicks in.

First three rehearsals are working rehearsals though I really appreciate it when a conductor lets us play through something the first go round rather than stopping every four bars from the beginning of the first rehearsal. The third rehearsal is usually where we meet the soloist. Dress is a run-through of the program.

May 14, 2015 at 08:44 PM · Nice if you can get it Nathan!!

Yes, symphony concerts are quite short, leaving plenty of time for the pub.

Opera!! Three hours on a good day. Five on a bad day!!

I was always put off opera because of the length, but in the end it kind of seduced me ...

Mary Ellen - Third rehearsal! Damned lucky to get one for a lot of concerts!

May 14, 2015 at 09:04 PM · The music director plans the programming, at least the classical programming. Not sure who else has input into the pops.

If you scroll to the bottom of this link, you can view my orchestra's 15-16 season. You can google other professional orchestras and look on their websites if you want to see their seasons. Bigger orchestras play more, smaller orchestras play less.


May 15, 2015 at 12:50 AM · Depends on the individual, and the concert. Some concerts are more demanding than others. Most of us have played the standard repertoire over and over already.

I may have exaggerated a bit in referring to four bar chunks, but there are conductors who stop a lot. Frequently they are the same ones who talk too much.

May 16, 2015 at 12:43 AM · Hows your digestion going?


May 16, 2015 at 01:42 AM · A couple times a year our regional orchestra, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, opens their dress rehearsal up to local students. It's not all that informative (to me) because it's *not* a working rehearsal, it's more of a kid-friendly matinee concert.

May 16, 2015 at 01:28 PM · Have you ever tried rehearsing as a group with a metronome? If you plug a phone with a metronome app into a speaker, it can be quite loud. Another option--I do this sometimes when coaching a youth orchestra violin section--is to put a metronome with a flashing light up on a stand where everyone can see it.

May 16, 2015 at 01:28 PM ·

May 16, 2015 at 05:15 PM · Greetings,

the free iPad application metronome e on yjis site about a week ago us extre,y loud....



May 16, 2015 at 09:35 PM · It sounds as if your ensemble needs a music director--a well-respected group member whom all agree will have the final word.

May 16, 2015 at 10:53 PM · David said, "that's a lot concerts. Would that mean that an individual would be working on about 3 concerts at any one time?

Mary said, "Depends on the individual, and the concert."

How do professional orchestras decide which musicians play which concerts--since it seems not everyone plays every concert? We have a community orchestra that gives chamber concerts, for which they take as many people as they need from the front of the sections.

May 17, 2015 at 02:02 AM · String players play pretty much everything. If one piece on the program uses a reduced section, it is cut from the back (we have rotating seating so it isn't always the same people). If an entire program uses a reduced orchestra (rare but it happens--Messiah, for example), people are rotated off based on service count--highest first. A service is a rehearsal or a performance. Title players are also occasionally rotated off a pops or similar as a perk.

Winds and percussion play based on orchestration required, and the principals of each section make the part assignments and generally try to keep the workload as equitable as possible.

May 17, 2015 at 11:26 AM · I don't know how to answer your question about new concerns appearing at the last rehearsal--in a professional orchestra, that never happens.

May 17, 2015 at 05:26 PM · Keep in mind that the process that professional orchestras go through when preparing a performance is very different than the process that community orchestras go through. For the OP's situation, modeling off good community orchestra processes would be a much better choice.

The key difference is that community orchestra musicians -- amateurs -- will generally not come to the first rehearsal fully prepared, and a lot of people (especially in the strings) will procrastinate until the last week to practice. And you'll likely have a significant number of players who cannot get the music note-perfect, or who cannot do so reliably (especially under stress).

So you accept less-than-perfect performances, but have to really work on places where there's the possibility of train-wrecking.

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