Best Concerto to play with orchestra

May 21, 2015 at 10:55 PM · I may be given the opportunity to perform a (complete) violin concerto with our (good) community orchestra. Which one would be more 'fun', best to play? (more interactions rather than boring accompaniment, etc.)

I'm a 35+ non-professional only practicing a few hours a week, but with excellent technique, so I can learn the Beethoven or Mendelssohn 3rd Mvt in a few months (already know the 1st well). I can play/perform more difficult ones, but would need more practice than I can afford, so Brahms/Tchaikovsky are out. Beethoven has just been played so is vetoed by the Orchestra.

Anybody got the chance to play with orchestra?

Any suggestion, and why? Mendelssohn is a good candidate, I can also think of Khatchurian , Saint-Saëns 3rd, Dvorak, (Prokofiev?)



Replies (34)

May 22, 2015 at 02:23 AM · I personally would not advise learning/rushing the development of the Beethoven violin concerto. Rather like Mozart, he's got a lot of subtlety that I fear could be lost when one works quickly through mostly just technicality. If you have an opportunity to play with a good symphonic orchestra, I'd say Prokofiev. The second one is absolutely lovely (so is the first!) and there is a great chamber-music-type feel to it. Playing it with a piano just doesn't do it justice, especially all the lovely textures that come out and the interactions between violin and orchestra. Not as technically demanding as Tchaik, a bit of a mixed bag, and a fresh piece for audiences! (... I'm sure there has to be some people that are as sick of the Mendelssohn as I...)

EDIT: oh I see the Beethoven has been vetoed already. Never mind on the first part then.

May 22, 2015 at 02:28 AM · How much rehearsal time will you have with the orchestra? What concertos does the orchestra already know, meaning that rehearsal time can be mostly devoted to ensemble and whatnot and not people learning the notes? And are there budget constraints (the post-Tchaikovsky Russian concertos are under copyright and it can be expensive to rent the parts)?

My opinion is that shorter is better. I'm in a similar situation to you (midlife amateur); I've done Mendelssohn and Prokofiev No. 1 with youth orchestras, and Prokofiev No. 1 and Glazunov with community orchestras. I picked the Prokofiev and Glazunov for length, honestly -- they both run around 20 minutes, among the shortest concertos. Which means that practice time has to be divided across a shorter concerto, and ditto rehearsal time. A real advantage if you don't have a lot of time to practice. (And it doesn't hurt that the orchestral parts are interesting.)

May 22, 2015 at 07:03 AM · Prokofiev is always nice and interesting. Personally much like the first but the second can be more accessible and easier on all parties involved. Dvorak can be as well. Khachaturian is I don't know, repetitive. it's a great concerto but it can be a little bit long. Saint-Saens is unique and rarely played but like the Khachaturian, can be a bit long at times. Mendelssohn is always a safe bet but why play safe if you've got Prokofiev??

May 22, 2015 at 01:29 PM · Thanks for the answers. Wow, 100% agreement on Prokofiev! Let me listen to them again and sight-read them. I always had the 2nd in the corner of my mind.

I agree, Mendelssohn is a safe (but boring) bet, (though I have it near ready.). I see that I missed Bruch from my original list (know it, but never really liked 1&2nd mvt)

Katchaturian, yes, agreed, that second movement is just too long.

The more I listen to the Dvorak, the more I like it. Strange! I played both St-Saëns and Dvorak 1st mvts 20 years ago, not really liking them then. Maybe it's my age showing!


May 22, 2015 at 03:31 PM · Szymanowski and Bartok have a lot of orchestral color that makes the idea of playing them with a piano sub-optimal. Szymanowski 1 has an especially important orchestral part. And it's almost never played.

Milhaud 2 is also a really cool one that no one has ever heard, and has a pretty important orchestral part.

May 22, 2015 at 05:31 PM · What about Kabalevsky? Quite short.

May 22, 2015 at 05:48 PM · I find it fascinating to read other posters' suggestions. I would be hesitant to play Stravinsky with a community orchestra (trying to phrase this as politely as possible). It's important to consider not only your own technique and practice time, but what can be realistically expected of an orchestra of amateurs.

I once performed Sibelius with an orchestra that was maybe a half-level better than a community orchestra...not sure I would do that again.

May 22, 2015 at 06:01 PM · What about the Barber? It's beautiful, not too difficult, and the orchestral accompaniment is a good combination between "not boring" and "easy enough for a community orchestra not to screw up" (although if you're going to rocket through the last movement, be careful about possibly leaving community-orchestra strings in the dust).

On 1st vs. 2nd Prokofiev: My guess is that the tricky rhythms in the 2nd will be more difficult on the orchestra, and there are some outright difficult bits for winds (there will be places where you may be tempo-limited by what your winds can manage).

May 23, 2015 at 04:01 AM · There are also community orchestras that can barely manage Mozart 3.

May 23, 2015 at 04:25 AM · Play something you have already mastered and know well. Once you add an orchestra and audience into the mix, you will want something you know backwards and forwards no matter what happens.

May 23, 2015 at 12:28 PM · I love the Glazunov; but have you ever been in a swimming pool where there's a shallow end going a few yards and then, suddenly, a massive drop with the rest of the pool being very deep? It's a bit like that - the second half is well beyond MY ability.

The Schumann D minor was written for violin and is rarely performed,but people on this website have considered this a pity.

I revisited the Frank Martin recently (Schneiderhan's video'd performance) - I'd accompanied Tessa Robins playing it in my very early teens and hadn't appreciated it at all then - and thought it was rather beautiful. And I dread to think what a piano reduction would sound like. But I suppose there's a copyright issue.

May 23, 2015 at 02:48 PM · Maybe I should have said amateur orchestra. The orchestra is good. We've played Verdi Requiem, Cappriccio Espagnol and Sheherazade, and are performing Bruckner 4th Symphony and the Walzes from RosenKavalier tomorrow. So difficulty and copyrights shouldn't be an issue.

To the people who suggested Prokofiev 2 (I just don't like the 1st that much). I agree, it's a great one to play with orchestra. Just sight read it. It feels quite tricky. I'll give it a few hours of practice, as I hear it's easier that the Dvorak, which I also sight read, and the Dvorak felt a lot easier to me, though border line to get solidly good for the concert.

So I managed to get my list down to 5. It's going to take me a while to decide, but I'm having great fun sight reading all this great music! From my teenager years, I remember not liking the 1st mvt of any of these, I need to get over these feelings.

- Mendelssohn (boring orchestra, but I know it very solidly)

- Bruch. I used to not like the 1st mvt. But I know is reasonnably well.

- Saint Saëns. Easy ish, but don't know it.

- Prokofiev. Fun but maybe too hard

- Dvorak. 2nd mvt maybe too long (12' in my Oistrakh recording!). On the edge of too hard.

Many thanks for all the comments and ideas. Great to read, and very useful. Still need to check them out as I'm unfamiliar with Bartok, Glazunov, etc. , so for now excluding them. There still is Kabalsvsky, and the Scotish Symphony......

It's great, we have too many concertos!

May 23, 2015 at 08:46 PM · Greetings,

I would suggest the enduring popularity of the Mendelssohn concerto is for precisely the opposite reason. at has some of the greatest orchestration of any violin concerto ever. It suffers because it is performed too often by players who believe it is a stepping stone to the 'big concertos' and play it without much depth of study relative to what they believe the Beetoven or Brahms deserve. Equally crass playing by some professional /college and amateur orchestras then confirms this view.

Neither the Saint Sean's nor the Dvorak approach it in terms of inspired craftsmanShi in my opinion although both make effective use of bigger, more dramatic orchestration. If anything, I would suggest the Saint Sean's orchestration is the least inspiring while the Dvorak has an awful lot of great moments but is not one of the most coherent works ever written.



May 23, 2015 at 09:57 PM · I'm actually curious what the timeframe is till said performance since I had not seen a mention in the first post. That alone should give an idea what exactly to lean towards. Also, how long does your conductor give you? Some orchestras want things kept to 10-15 minutes while others allow will allow a length like Elgar...

I think is wonderful players are suggesting obscure concertos which do not get much credit, some for good reasons. However, they work best when you can really make them your own, and some should never leave the privacy of ones own home. Milhaud, Stravinsky, Schumann, especially not such good ideas. I can vividly remember the last I heard Schumann performed, the other two never in a lifetime. I still can do without sitting through another Schumann for a decade or more.

Also what kind of audience attends your concerts? Some will hate either Bartok concertos. Not easy to sit through. Also, if Prokofiev proves too difficult, Bartok will be just as annoyance.

Kabalevsky is cute at best. Glazunov is gorgeous, just never ending feel at times. Bruch is a great piece that many view lower than it should be. His Scottish Phantasy has everything one could hope for. I agree Dvorak can be long but still a monster piece, if your orchestra wants something like that.

May 23, 2015 at 10:21 PM · except an accurate version of Scots Wha Hae.

May 24, 2015 at 12:13 AM · Conus seems famously obscure enough.

May 24, 2015 at 01:02 AM · I liked the Schwartzenegger version.

May 24, 2015 at 01:54 AM · Kabalevsky concerto is a well-crafted piece, at least for the violin. I find it rather predictable though. It doesn't have the structural innovation or thematic depth of the other pieces you've mentioned. You may not favor the Bruch (I do not care for it so much either) but it sure does please the crowds.

One good thing about the Mendelssohn is that you start playing straight off instead of having to stand there counting through all the tutti measures ...

May 25, 2015 at 06:01 AM · How obscure would you say the Berg was? I think I can just about manage the first two bars of the solo part.

May 25, 2015 at 12:11 PM · If you are able to have the orchestra reduced to baroque or small classical size, then there are innumerable attractive concertos by Vivaldi (see the contents of his Op. 11 and 12 for example). I'd also consider one of Haydn's, particularly the G major.

May 25, 2015 at 02:03 PM · The first two bars of Berg are extremely difficult.

May 25, 2015 at 07:06 PM · I practice those two bars every time I warm up for orchestra. I'll get 'em right one day ;)

May 25, 2015 at 07:23 PM · see recent blog about not practicing concertos at the beginning of rehearsals.


May 26, 2015 at 11:30 PM · I never hear someone recommend the Goldmark C. Milstein set the standard on this concerto. Don't know about playing it with a community (amateur) orchestra, but I feel it ranks up there with the best of them. Watch Youtube with Milstein playing it--probably the best recording ever. I actually attended a concert in Long Beach Calif where Milstein played it. You guessed it I'm a tad older than alot on this forum. But I do feel it is a really underrated piece.

May 27, 2015 at 12:44 AM · Greeting,

the great English violinist Hugh Bean told me that he was in an orchestra accompanying Milstein in the Goldmark. In his opinion the opening of the second movement as played by Milstein was the ultimate representation of the art of violin playing.



I am old too. The value of prunes increases exponentially.

May 27, 2015 at 05:00 AM · Regardless of what orchestra you're playing with, a familiar work is likely to go better than an unfamiliar work. If the orchestra has the piece in its ears, it will accompany better.

May 27, 2015 at 07:07 AM · Greetings,

true, unless they have a very different version in their ears. Then it can be murder.;)



May 27, 2015 at 08:10 AM · Trevor, is there an arrangement of these two bars, transposed or not, for VIOLA players to practise while warming up for orchestra? If not, I suppose I could make one and post it, but I'd have to charge a hefty fee for access; I'd have to charge double if you wanted both at-pitch and transposed versions, and, if you wanted fingerings for the transposed version, more on top of that.

May 27, 2015 at 08:18 AM · On an equally serious note, my father's reason for never considering tackling the ELGAR was that, in his view, there wasn't enough tune in the solo part to make it fun for him to study. Which means that most of the fun would seem to be in the orchestra - which might suit YOUR purpose!

May 28, 2015 at 07:16 PM · Elgar violin concerto....zzzzzz.....

I agree that something familiar to the orchestra will likely go the most smoothly. The goal is not to see how obscure a piece one can come up with; the goal is to play music that others will enjoy and have fun while doing so.

May 29, 2015 at 05:46 PM · Also, my guess is that neither the conductor nor the orchestra will thank you for choosing something unfamiliar. That's especially true of difficult orchestral accompaniments, which tend to combine "unrewarding" with "more practice time than an amateur has available". You'll waste rehearsal time while people try to get it right. You'll have more fun if you choose something where you can spend the rehearsal time playing through and working on matching interpretations.

May 29, 2015 at 07:09 PM · Greetings,

Lydia, your point about doing something more rather than completley unfamilair is well taken. However, my experience with amateur orchestras in Japan has actually been that they -do- want to tackle unfamiliar works and are willing to put in the practice time ( at leats ten rehearsals which almost everyone attends) . I dont fele it is a veyr strong argument in this situation that everyone will get more from detailed work on the medellsohn as opposed to learning the inner working of the Shostakovitch or Glazunov violin concerto.

Although it may be worth noting that I am talking about orchestras ranked second or third in the whole country. (Yes, Japan ranks its amateur orchestras...)



May 30, 2015 at 04:21 AM · To me it seems there are several competing criteria:

Your pleasure (a harder, less familiar piece that will challenge you)

The orchestra and conductor's pleasure--and artistic satisfaction (a more familiar, "comfortable" piece that they can perform well and in which they can support you competently)

The audience's pleasure (a well-played, musical, and technically adept performance, most likely of something they are a little familiar with, so they can enjoy your artistry)

Whatever you choose should consider all three sets of criteria.

May 30, 2015 at 04:51 AM · There are levels of obscure. I figure that with Glazunov, for instance, there's a high chance that the members of community orchestra have accompanied it before, and have probably at least heard it. Shostakovich No. 1, less likely; Shostakovich No. 2, even less likely. The Elgar, also less likely.

There are probably some things that are rewarding for the orchestra even if the work is obscure. I remember doing Victor Davies's "Mennonite" piano concerto in a community orchestra when I was a teenager, and that was great fun, even though it was a work that no one had ever heard before (and may not have existed on record at the time, even). But it was also an easy work for the orchestra.

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