What's the difference between a soloist and an orchestra violinist?
The title says it all. What are the core differences between a typical orchestra violinist (or a musician as well I guess) and a soloist?
Do soloists normally play way better than orchestra musicians?
Do they practice a lot more?
Are they worse at some things?
What are the main skills that make you be a soloist?
The soloist plays the solo part; the orchestra violinist play first and second violinist parts!
In a world of hyper-precision virtuosity expected from anyone in the upper echelon of playing, I suspect being 'a soloist' as a career is more a result of:
If all the orchestra players played like the soloist it would sound very messy!
As a soloist you have to be able to perform flawlessly under terrifying scrutiny and pressure.
Here's Hillary Hahn interviewing Alex Kerr touching upon some of your questions.
this past entry on v.com is interesting, the two-volume book mentioned there is also very interesting, I have it.
And then there is that rare breed - CM + soloist + conductor + quartet founder/leader + teacher, all under one hat. I have in mind Dennis Simons, the current conductor of Bristol Chamber Orchestra.
Orchestra violinists usually sleep at home*, successful soloists - not so much!
I've thought about this in that past, and in other threads I've tried to inject the question as follows:
Once upon a time In America/NYC, it helped if the head of the violin cartel liked you ( if you aspire to a solo career and have the digital skills); or at least wouldn’t do anything to actively sabotage your career.
Mischa Mischakoff*, long-time concertmaster (CM) of the NBC Symphony under Toscanini kind of set the standard for CM-level talent - at least among the great orchestras of the Western Hemisphere. Even after he retired he was in demand as a soloist, playing concertos with other orchestras even into his 80s. I think that level of ability is still being hired to CM our great orchestras.
Joshua Roman was principal cellist with the Seattle Symphony for two years before his rockstar solo career began. I'm sure I've seen every one of the CMs perform as a soloist with the orchestra. Many of our symphony musicians play in chamber ensembles as well. They are all excellent musicians.
Violin soloists have several characteristics that make them successful:
There are many strata of soloists.
OK, by soloist I mean the violinist who plays the Bruch concerto and then the rest of violinists that play in the orchestra.
"What are the main skills that make you be a soloist?" Determination, skill, time management, personal discipline, and the willingness to be an independent contractor. Many professional musicians can play as well as the professional soloist but they don't want the life of a totally independent contractor.
Tim, I think
Andrew, my childhood violin teacher knew Mischakoff. They played together (I believe they may have shared a stand!) in the Scandinavian Symphony of Detroit, a pick-up group that Mischakoff led in his "retirement." The Scandinavian Symphony is not mentioned in Mischakoff's Wikipedia page, but you can find a recording of the group on YouTube.
A few points:
In a semi-pro orchestra, most (possibly all) of the amateur violinists would likely be able to play Bruch on two or three weeks' notice. They might need a month's notice to play it from memory. The pros would all play it from memory on no more than two weeks' notice, and the concertmaster would likely play it from memory on two or three days' notice.
An orchestra violinist needs to blend. Even in FFF passages will not need to have a booming sound.
“In a semi-pro orchestra, most (possibly all) of the amateur violinists would likely be able to play Bruch on two or three weeks' notice. They might need a month's notice to play it from memory. The pros would all play it from memory on no more than two weeks' notice, and the concertmaster would likely play it from memory on two or three days' notice.”
Hello to All ~
What are we calling a "soloist"?
On violin, it would be someone who can make a living playing concertos. On other string instruments, I'd consider a "soloist" to be someone best known for solo performances and recordings, even if they aren't full-time soloists. E.g. Carter Brey, who is probably better-known for his work a soloist than as the NY Philharmonic's principal cellist, or Roberto Diaz, who is best known as a viola soloist even though he played in orchestras throughout his career until he became the Curtis Institute's president.
Fascinating reading. Big thanks to those who commented.
Andrew, there is a long list of cello soloists who are not primarily orchestra musicians.
David Zhang said: "Once upon a time In America/NYC, it helped if the head of the violin cartel liked you ( if you aspire to a solo career and have the digital skills); or at least wouldn’t do anything to actively sabotage your career."
>On violin, it would be someone who can make a living playing concertos.
I think it's likely she could, now that she has a following and quite a marketing team behind. The fact that it wouldn't attract the attention of musicians or people who listen to classical often doesn't matter much since people in general don't care.
Lindsey Stirling could not make a living playing concertos, not even close, and definitely not with the Four Seasons. She doesn't have that kind of technique. She is truly brilliant at marketing but as a violinist, mediocre at best and I suspect her recordings are heavily auto-tuned. Not to mention that an individual hiring an orchestra is by definition not getting paid to play.
I think the way we normally use the word "soloist", we specifically mean a "classical soloist".
I presume the OP didn’t think of Lindsey Stirling when asking these questions about techniques and skills between orchestra violinists and soloists.
“Perlman is teaching a lot more these days. If, suppose, more of his income is related to teaching and not playing, does that mean he’s no longer a soloist?”
"I presume the OP didn’t think of Lindsey Stirling when asking these questions about techniques and skills between orchestra violinists and soloists."
There is a grey area to what constitutes a ‘soloist’ and what not. There is a grey area to most other definitions.
I know terms usually are not 100% objective. There's always a grey area around them and their limits, as I've read here,but for sure I was not thinking about Stirling at all.
"What makes Hahn, Heifetz, Vengerov, Garrett, Milstein, Mintz, Bell, Shaham, Zukerman... different from any regular random orchestra violinist?
“Well, it's a huge mistake to put the idea of "money" or "making a living" in the definition.”
I think money isn’t a necessary condition, in the sense that it is usually inferred from other conditions. Also, would you not call a doctor a doctor if he devotes his whole life to do volunteer treatment for free?
“would you not call a doctor a doctor if he devotes his whole life to do volunteer treatment for free?”
A. Should we always consider someone an amateur just because they play for free, no matter how great they are?
Are we really limiting it to the top handful of soloists, though? There seems to be a pool of musicians who have frequent solo engagements, sometimes as many as 40-50 a year, but mostly with regional orchestras and freeway philharmonics and making only a few appearances per year with higher-profile orchestras. I have a high school friend who was a piano soloist in that category for a decade, though it seems he's now settling down as a music professor. I've also seen a violin soloist who was probably in that category play with the LA Philharmonic. That might be the kind of soloist where the questions in the original post don't have obvious answers, on the rare occasions in which they are performing with a major orchestra.
“Having a career as a soloist is to be an outlier”. Aren’t we considering the population of soloists themselves? The outlier and atypical situations I was talking about are the people falling into grey areas (may or may not be classified as a soloist in a strict sense), sorry for not being clearer.
The same as the difference between a surgeon and a primary care physician. There are bad and good ones. They are both speciallist and important in their field, they just don’t have the same role.
Frieda, ‘There are naturally many grey areas for musicians’ - this is why we had so much trouble reaching an agreement on the definition of a soloist :) that’s why I proposed we just stick to a typical soloist in everyone’s sense without the need for that definition, after having quite long debate about it.
Just as a point of information, the Bruch is not a normal audition piece for professional orchestras. It's much too easy. The most frequently played concertos (or fragments, typically about three minutes) are Tchaikovsky and Sibelius.
Reading some of the jaw dropping comments here shows either ignorance or jealousy or both ~ I'm astonished upon seeing a pop entertainer w/violin & bow, Lindsey Stirling, being included with both my violin mentor's, Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. And have contributor's forgotten about Great Soloists Fritz Kreisler, Henryk Szeryng, Alfredo Campoli, Ginette Neveu, Arthur Grumiaux, Ricci, Ida Haendel, Toscha Seidel, Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, Elmar Oliviera, Mischa Elman, and Michael Rabin, plus ... ?
Willy wrote “ A. Should we always consider someone an amateur just because they play for free, no matter how great they are?
Frieda, there are solo careers and there are solo gigs.
"Taking money out of the definition, then any Tom, Dick, or Harry could hire a small orchestra, rent a hall, play the solo part and IS a soloist!"
There's plenty of soloist caliber players in a modern great orchestra. On the opposite side, many good players hate playing in orchestras and refuse to get into the audition process.
Something any young violinist just out of college and embarking on a solo career should be aware of, and I am sure they are, is that when performing with a professional orchestra any of the violinists in that orchestra is capable of doing that solo performance with the benefit of a lifetime of experience behind them.
~ to Tim Ripond ...
Kudos to Frieda. No one has made such comparison.
I want to point out that David Garrett is probably the closest example we have to a true crossover artist. Yes, he plays concerts that have heavy pop/rock elements, but he also does traditional concerto-with-orchestra and pure-classical-recital engagements.
Many soloists do more recitals than they do concerto-with-orchestra engagements. I don't think that makes them any less of a "soloist".
DG’s business & career model works for him. I think he made the right choice that taps into his strengths as an entertainer.
“To David Zhang: you mention the difference between a soloist career and soloist gigs. But aren't most soloist careers a series of soloist gigs, booked by an agent?”
So, an amateur CAN’T be a soloist, I get it :-))
One of my orchestras specializes in free charity concerts, which means that everything is on a fairly tight budget. One spin-off is that the orchestra is largely reliant on free downloads of music from IMSLP or borrowing from public libraries. Sadly, the current climate of austerity in local civic authorities this eastern side of the Pond is resulting in many public libraries being closed or mothballed :(.
The problem of using a completely hypothetical situation to make point is that it is rarely helpful to the discussion.
Frieda, because a soloist needs to fill the house without offending the sensibility of traditional audience of classical music. One can call herself JH reborn but she is NOT a soloist if people are not going pay to hear her.
“In short, a "soloist" isn't determined by reknown, amount of concert engagements, etc. but by musical function”
Sure, we are all soloists! I am engaged nightly in my basement and my daughter thinks my interpretation of solo Bach is more profound than anyone else’s := )
@Frieda, I am not saying that an amateur can’t be a soloist. I was saying I’m ok with this though I have a different opinion.
"It's a travesty against the artists to insult them by claiming only fame validates their art. Good art is good, whether well-known or obscure."
@Frieda don’t get me wrong. It was necessary to debate on the definition up to a certain extent. But the benefit of it gradually decreases as we dig further and deeper into it.
Frieda, I thought your non-redacted was an interesting choice of examples. R, while he didn't go on to a blockbuster career, continued to play a significant number of solo engagements until his old age, though mostly in Asia and Europe, and he continued to record on a reasonably major label, as well. But J retreated into mostly teaching.
Not sure if you said it with some sarcasm, but I honestly think it’s a good idea. Actually irrespective of how broad or narrow we define ‘soloists’, they are not a monolith, for both techniques and fame.
"So, an amateur could be a soloist for a performance, though not a career soloist."
I don't know how is it that hard to agree on the basics, really. There's a score "title" or "label" that says "solo violino", or "violin solo". Whoever plays that part, IS a soloist, period. No money, no fame involved, no public money needed, no public approve needed.
I continue to be a proponent of the role-based classification -- that a violinist may function as a soloist, as a chamber musician, or as an orchestral player -- and that where the preponderance of their time is spent is typically how we classify them in terms of career track.
“There's a score "title" or "label" that says "solo violino", or "violin solo". Whoever plays that part, IS a soloist, period. No money, no fame involved, no public money needed, no public approve needed.”
David can try to find little faults in a haystack, but to me it has been clear enough that we are looking at soloists who are solid classical performers of reasonably high caliber (the way I understood it from the OP and others). I think everyone roughly understands the word ‘soloist’ this way especially when put into context vs orchestra violinists.
False, if you work on partitas and those kind of pieces where there's only one instrument, then you're not a soloist, I mean, that's like running in a 1 runner marathon, it has absolutely no sense to call that a marathon or competition, it's only you against you, that doesn't count.
When you hear 'soloist' you think 'someone who regularly performs solo pieces for a living'. You can extrapolate or think of hypotheticals but this seems to be the most widely accepted definition.
There's nothing in the Bruch that's especially hard, at least on the scale of the Romantic concertos. Not every player -- not even Heifetz -- nails everything 100% of the time. (Some soloists are more consistent than others; Milstein, for instance, was extremely consistent.) And not every player necessarily feels obliged to have every note pop cleanly; by and large, the sweep of a run, and its initiation and top, are the important bits. Live performances are not recordings, and should not be confused.
Mendelssohn has those somewhat-treacherous octaves near the opening, at least. Bruch doesn't have anything of comparable difficulty in the beginning.
I would never recommend anyone play Mendelssohn for an orchestra audition, exactly because of those octaves on the first page. They are treacherous under stress. Mendelssohn is not the hardest concerto by a long shot but it is certainly more difficult than Bruch g minor.
“soloist is that one musician that gets to play the solo score, quite more difficult and demanding than all the rest of the scores, between hundreds or thousands of violinists.”
If Mendelssohn is too hard under stress I struggle to see why so many people choose Sibelius for auditions...
The octaves on the first page of Mendelssohn are unforgiving, with no margin for error. The fireworks in the first few minutes of Sibelius are difficult but more tolerant of very slight intonation variations. Sibelius has opportunities to dig in and work out some nerves; Mendelssohn does not.
Going back to the notion of skills, which was part of the original question:
Last Call ~
I imagine most people who read this site are quite familiar with the artistry of Nathan Milstein. Certainly I meant him no disrespect.
Interesting discussion, especially thanks to the contribution of Elisabeth Matesky. I wish there were more players of her calibre telling her stories and experiences!
When I responded to this, I was referring to non-superstar career soloists, which Frieda also mentioned. The superstars are a cut above everyone else, no question. But they are not representative of soloists, and they are not a majority of soloists.
To say that a performer is ‘consistent’ is neither arrogance nor ignorance. It’s appreciation.
You need to write a memoir. :-)
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