Why do the soloists go to the concertmaster when the string breaks

July 29, 2019, 9:21 AM · Why dont they swap the violin with the second violinist
I think the concertmaster is more important than other members in the violin section

Replies (14)

July 29, 2019, 9:26 AM · They're the closest, so the change happens most quickly?

And for the vast majority of orchestral accompaniments...it doesn't really matter. In a professional orchestra, the back of the section can play off-beats and whole notes as well as the front. :P

July 29, 2019, 9:32 AM · The concertmaster is immediately at hand, should be paying attention, and probably is playing a decent violin.

The concertmaster takes the violin from their stand-partner and there's basically an exchange that should go to the back of the section.

July 29, 2019, 9:43 AM · I recall a radio broadcast of Heifetz with the NBC Symphony Orchestra (I think - that or the Bell Telephone Hour) when they reported at the end that a string had broken and he exchanged fiddles with the CM. This had to be at least 70 years ago - unfortunately on radio you don't see this happen.

I broke an A string in my first and only performance in the back of the 2nd violin section of the Montgomery County Symphony (your neighborhood, Lydia) when I finally returned to "public playing" after finishing grad school. I was using gut strings (it was 1962) and there was no way I could mount a new string that would stay in tune. So I just sneaked behind the curtain and went home - we moved to California a few months later after which I never stopped playing in an orchestra, at least not yet!

July 29, 2019, 12:58 PM · They have nicer instruments than 2nd chair. I kid.
July 29, 2019, 3:53 PM · Well Jeff, you are onto something... Getting paid more than the rest of the minions, chances are that the 2nd best fiddle on stage is concert-master's! There is also a belief that excellent musicians keep looking for extraordinary instruments....
July 29, 2019, 4:44 PM · As noted above: (1) proximity and (2) the high likelihood that the concertmaster has the second best violin on stage, after the soloist.
July 29, 2019, 4:54 PM · Is the CM required to let the soloist play theirs if they break a string? Why not just have a backup ready to go like pro guitarists do?
July 29, 2019, 6:40 PM · You don't have time to change a string unless there's a long tutti.
July 29, 2019, 6:43 PM · Backup violin.
Edited: July 29, 2019, 7:03 PM · https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rkp8YSuePPM

Midori earning her moment in the sun.


July 29, 2019, 7:01 PM · Violins are much more expensive, especially violins of the quality that professionals are likely to use. A good violin does not leave the violinist's hands when it is out of its case. And strings break rarely enough that, if you put a backup violin on a stand on stage as guitarists do, the risk of damage to the instrument outweighs the small likelihood of needing to use the backup.
Edited: July 29, 2019, 10:44 PM · Some soloists might have a backup instrument backstage, but there's no time to go grab it except possibly in a break between movements.

As far as I know, concertmasters never refuse. Also, if you've ever been in an orchestra at the youth or community level and are the concertmaster, if the conductor is a string player they may occasionally want to grab your violin in order to demonstrate something. It is unwise to hesitate, much less refuse.

There is one circumstance in which a concertmaster has an extra violin on stage for themselves -- the scordatura solo in Mahler 4.

July 30, 2019, 10:44 AM · Lydia, I have an ancient memory of being a cellist in the orchestra for Mahler 4 (I think it was). During a rehearsal the CM made a fuss because there was no way he was going to tune one of his very good violins up a half-tone for that solo. What happened in the end was that his wife, a music teacher at a local school, borrowed one of the better VSOs from the music department and strung it up with steel strings. It did the job fine.

In the same era, at a concert in which I was in the first desk of the cellos a visiting solo cellist from one of the London colleges had a problem with his bow just before he was due to come on for the Dvorak concerto. My leader had a quick word with him and he borrowed my bow (I then used someone else's spare). I hadn't realised it at the time, but apparently I had the best bow in the section. The soloist thanked me profusely afterwards and said the bow performed excellently. I still have that bow.

July 30, 2019, 2:38 PM · I recently lent my violin and bow to a middle-school soloist during rehearsals for a concerto that the kid was performing with my community orchestra, after concluding that the projection challenges were primarily an equipment problem rather than primarily a technical issue.

I took the kid's violin and bow for playing my tutti part. That was an interesting experience. (They borrowed something for the performance.)

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