Do symphony orchestras expect you to have a certain grade of instrument?

October 6, 2018, 10:03 PM · Hi everyone!

I was just wondering if orchestras have standards for instruments that the musicians are using. So what I meanby that is do violinist need a certain price range for a violin to play in an orchestra or a certain grade of violin?


Replies (30)

October 6, 2018, 11:09 PM · Do you mean a community or a professional orchestra?
October 6, 2018, 11:09 PM · No -- but if you don't have a certain level of instrument, your tone quality will not be good enough at auditions.
October 6, 2018, 11:48 PM · On occasion we have asked the winning candidate at an audition to upgrade their instrument. But there isn't any specific price range. The violin just has to be good enough.

Usually though it is as Andrew says.

October 7, 2018, 5:31 AM · Weird, I've actually read that many orchestras do have price ranges for your instruments. I remember I read that one was requesting minimum $10 000 violin; I'm pretty sure I've read that.

At first I thought it was a little nonsense because prices can vary a lot from one year to another, they also aren't a guarantee of good sound, or "better than cheaper ones".

Edited: October 7, 2018, 5:54 AM · Some major orchestras will "encourage" their players to have good instruments, with things like low-interest loans for instrument purchases, or orchestra-owned instruments available for them to use.

For major auditions, it's not unusual for people to show up with borrowed Strads. Whether doing so actually helps (other than psychologically) I don't know. But there's certainly no advantage in showing up with an instrument which doesn't sound or play well.

Edited: October 7, 2018, 6:17 AM · It needs to be good enough that you beat everyone else at the audition. But orchestras with a decent budget often supply better instruments to players who need them, once they have won the audition.
Edited: October 7, 2018, 7:44 AM · It's probably generally not a good idea to turn up for an audition or competition with a borrowed Strad unless, (a) you are well used to the idiosyncrasies of instruments at that level, and (b) you've had 6 months to get used to the particular Strad you've borrowed.

If you're clearly good enough to win the audition/competition then I would expect this to be obvious to the adjudicators who should ignore instrument quality. After all, the event is a test of the musician, not a comparison of instruments. For the pianists who all share the same piano on stage it's a level playing field and a simpler situation.

October 7, 2018, 7:46 AM · The instrument is a deciding factor in tone quality and range of expression, which in a 2-10 minute audition is kind of a big deal.

I'm not saying it needs to be a Strad but a $2000 instrument for example is just not going to compete with the others.

October 7, 2018, 7:52 AM · Weve had a candidate show up with a Canada Council Strad and didn't make it past the first round.A finalist for the Associate Concertmaster audition was playing on a $7000.00 violin with a Hill bow.
October 7, 2018, 10:41 AM · I don't imagine for a minute that candidates for audition at any level have first to state how much their instrument is worth, then produce a certificate of authenticity to prove they're not lying. It's to be hoped that the auditioning panel have ears acute enough to tell the difference between a mediocre violinist and a good violinist playing a mediocre fiddle (in which case they might suggest he or she acquire a better one).
October 7, 2018, 10:53 AM · "It's to be hoped that the auditioning panel have ears acute enough to tell the difference between a mediocre violinist and a good violinist playing a mediocre fiddle (in which case they might suggest he or she acquire a better one)."

This, exactly, which is why we have on occasion requested that the winning candidate acquire a better instrument.

I don't know of any orchestra that routinely supplies better instruments to new hires. A few orchestras provide their concertmaster with a Strad or similar instrument. I have also heard of orchestras offering loans. New Jersey Symphony got taken to the cleaners some years ago by an unscrupulous dealer.

I have never heard of any orchestra specifying a minimum price range for their musicians' instruments and would like to see a link, as this strains credulity.

October 7, 2018, 1:16 PM · Hi everyone, thanks for the comments.

Perhaps it is the more higher class orchestras which have the higher expectations...hmm..

Anyway,I think in the future when I'm in university,I'm going to join some sort of orchestra. Perhaps the Auckland Philharmonic or if I'm lucky enough to go to Australia to study,perhaps the melbourne symphony.

(By the way I live in New Zealand)

Also from my last post about my $3000 violin,I have somehow convinced my parents to get me a very good sounding mirecourt violin for around about $7000 New Zealand dollars. I think in Us dollars I estimate probably that is $4000-$5000.

That still seems Kind of low for a violin.

But I hope in the future when I do join an orchestra this violin will be good enough.Probably not, but I'll just pray for now that it is.

October 7, 2018, 1:36 PM · The Melbourne Symphony is certainly "some sort of orchestra"
October 7, 2018, 3:25 PM · The Auckland Philharmonia and the Melbourne Symphony are both full-time professional symphonies. You won't be casually joining either one while you're at university.

Anyway, I agree with Mary Ellen. I can't recall an orchestra at any level that has ever specified that a player needs a certain dollar-figure violin, let alone "many" orchestras, as Tim claims. I'd like to see some kind of source -- preferably a credible source with examples -- for that statement.

Now, the Berlin Philharmonic does like its players to have instruments with a certain sound, and may assist them in acquiring antiques. Their Digital Concert Hall video archive has a neat video about the process of getting their principal cellist a very fine instrument. But you don't have to have that kind of instrument to get the job.

Also, Marin Alsop's family had amassed a significant collection of string instruments and bows, and quite a few players in the Baltimore Symphony have loans from that collection. But again, not necessary to win the job.

Edited: October 7, 2018, 3:48 PM · I was one of the volunteers assisting during the NJSO's Young Artists Competition when a young Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg placed second to another violinist (who I cannot remember). At the post-competition event the jurors advised Nadja to invest the second prize money in a better instrument. I guess the quality of the instrument can make a difference.

I do remember that the winner of the competition went on to Medical School and we all know what Nadja ultimately did. Actually Nadja returned the next, with a different instrument, year and won top honors.

October 7, 2018, 4:05 PM · "It's to be hoped that the auditioning panel have ears acute enough to tell the difference between a mediocre violinist and a good violinist playing a mediocre fiddle (in which case they might suggest he or she acquire a better one)."

It depends, doesn't it? There's a gradation here.

If the violin is good enough to show the violinist's ability, but not good enough for the orchestra, that would seem like the situation where the violinist wins the seat but is asked to get a better instrument.

If the panel can tell that the violinist's ability is above what the instrument can show, but can't be sure how good the violinist is because of the instrument limiting tone quality and expressive range, then the violin isn't good enough for the audition.

October 7, 2018, 4:44 PM · I think that the aspiring orchestral musician at this point is best served by buying an instrument from an excellent contemporary maker if they are not in the position of spending $100k for some beat up old Italian fiddle. If they couple that with a really great bow (which may cost as much as the violin) they have a chance tone wise.

There is also the option of buying an older fine sounding violin from the French or English schools. I, for instance, have a Thomas Kennedy violin appraised for $40k which I think sounds just as good as a Vuillaume I previously owned. I have loaned the Kennedy to trustworthy students who are auditioning for important music festivals, competitions, etc.

Edited: October 7, 2018, 5:40 PM · A family friend won his full-time position in a major US orchestra on a modern instrument that he originally bought for less than 10k (from a popular Chicago luthier). He's mentioned to me that he has the "least expensive instrument" in the entire orchestra, but he sounds fantastic on it and has no reason to change it. He's probably the outlier in all of this, as most of my professional colleagues who play for a living generally do all of their work on instruments in the up to 100k range. There's so many good modern makers these days, getting into race for an antique really isn't a qualifier to win a job.

The way to go is to get a good bow. There are lots of excellent French bows from the 1800's and 1900's that are still quite affordable, and give a much greater return on dollars spent. There are also contemporary bowmakers whose work is quite amazing...more recently I've really enjoyed new bows from Manoel Francisco, Klaus Gronke, and John Greenwood.

October 7, 2018, 7:23 PM · Bruce you can also spend $100000.00 on excellent condition semi modern Italian violins that aren't beat up and are more than adequate for professional orchestral playing (i.e Oddone,Ornati,Leandro Bisiach Sr., Sgarabotto,Riccardo Antoniazzi etc)
Edited: October 7, 2018, 8:38 PM · I think the OP is worried that his $4k violin won't cut it for professional auditions. It probably won't, but presumably if he goes to conservatory he'll have a teacher encouraging him to upgrade during his university years anyway.

We can probably guess that if he's playing a $4k violin as a serious high schooler, his parents aren't in a position to spend $100k on a "modern" Italian anytime soon, let alone the bow to go with it.

Saving for a contemporary violin and bow probably makes more sense for the OP. Or when the time eventually comes, borrowing a violin and bow for auditions.

October 7, 2018, 9:05 PM · VSOs get rented all the time. Why not excellent violins? Say, 1% of the value of the violin per week? Coming to (my city) for an audition? Rent my violin, etc. Sort of like AirBNB.
October 7, 2018, 9:22 PM · Excellent violins take time to get used to. You need loans that last for weeks, at minimum. And if you've never played an excellent violin before? Expect to adjust your technique, because things that will be forgiven on less-responsive violins come into stark clarity on a better violin.
October 8, 2018, 12:39 AM · Some decades ago, a teacher of mine was auditioning at an orchestra with a Gemunder. After a round or two, they invited him back but told him to use a decent Italian antique, which they lent him. Apparently, it had a very different fingerboard width, among other things, so it was a very stressful few days of practicing to get used to the new (old) fiddle.
October 8, 2018, 8:40 AM · Unfortunately (or fortunately) I've found I sound like me on anything. And I suspect a great player could take my violin and still sound great. And I'm equally sure I could take theirs and still sound like me.
October 8, 2018, 1:45 PM · I have never been asked about my equipment or a price level at an audition. The reality is that they judge you by what they hear; sound quality and volume, and the equipment is part of that. Good equipment can also be easier to play, faster response. One guide-line is that a pro. orchestra violin will cost as much as a new car, and a soloist grade instrument will cost as much as a house. You pay for them with a long-term loan, and cash them in at retirement.
Edited: October 8, 2018, 2:33 PM · It's a chicken & egg thing: should one go out and spend tens of thousands (even $10,00 may be a big stretch for someone just out of school or with limited resources) before you get a good orchestra job?

Most qualified candidates can probably make even a mediocre instrument sound well enough for an audition, especially if they've had the instrument for a while and know how to play it.

Just think of it this way: what causes most candidates to be eliminated? Is it their violin, or is it one of those other things, like:
-Rushing, dragging, or other issues such as poor dotted rhythms
-bow issues like sound consistency, distribution, spicatto
-Stylistic issues like tempi, use of rubato, articulation choices
-Nerves (which can degrade any of the above).

So sure, you can go out and spend a fortune on an instrument. But unless all of the above are in order, you won't fool anyone.

The other issue is how fine of an instrument do you really need, even in a top orchestra, if you're not a principal and playing solos. Didn't the NJ Symphony assume it would somehow be "better" if they invested a fortune in fine instruments? (of course, there were other issues involved in that whole deal...)

They can say "you need a fine old Italian violin" but are you really obligated to run out and spend a boatload of money? I know it's all relative, but violins are obscenely priced, even at the low end. Even mediocre Italians and French are in the "supercar" range.

October 8, 2018, 5:59 PM ·

Here is a link to a violinist who won a chair in a major orchestra with a “$100 violin” from her father.

I would concentrate on the quality of playing.

Edited: October 9, 2018, 12:43 AM · Darren as an Australian myself, I suggest you re-assess your view of the hiring process and level of the Melbourne & Auckland symphony orchestras...
October 9, 2018, 10:05 AM · Qing Li is a fabulous violinist!
Edited: October 9, 2018, 6:44 PM · Stephen's post rings bells! My father played a Gemunder until it got stolen. As I grew up, there was something about the tone of the instrument that I didn't like so much, that the replacement instrument didn't have.
My own Stainer model violin, at its best, was never valued at more than 2-3000 GBP, but when I put gut strings on it, its G-string tone was fabulous, and was the instrument powerful! However, when the sound post was shifted and the belly sank (I had fallen off a stage with it, and Nemes Senior had made a light repair warning us not to move the sound post, but we forgot) and I had to have wood put in (removing some of the power), which resulted in the necessity for a new bass bar, that G-string tone was little more than ordinary. The instrument, however, is still acceptable.

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