Orchestral career

March 4, 2020, 4:04 PM · Hello all
If one was to accept a position in an opera/ballet, such as English National Ballet/Opera or the Met, wohld one only play the ballet/opera stuff?

This may be a basic question, but its something I've been thinking about a lot recently.


Replies (20)

March 4, 2020, 4:22 PM · I would assume that the repertoire is chosen for you, you just do the job of playing it.
But I think you can play anything extracurricularly....
March 4, 2020, 4:24 PM · I did mean while playing with the orchestra haha
March 4, 2020, 5:20 PM · Depends on the group, but occasionally, "Opera" orchestras do play other types of concerts, and "Musicians from the Opera Orchestra" play chamber music and the like. But, most of the time as a member of that group, you would play opera music (or ballet music), yes.
March 4, 2020, 5:38 PM · Okay. So music director wouldn't programme a concert of like symphonies or something?
March 4, 2020, 5:39 PM · One thing you might do is get the score for The Nutcracker and check out the viola parts. You'll soon see that the name is quite apt.
March 4, 2020, 6:07 PM · No. Most ballet orchestras are not full-time; they are regional orchestras, sometimes purely freeway philharmonic with no set core at all. Some opera orchestras are similarly part-time.

If you are fortunate enough to land a full-time ballet or opera orchestra job, there is a lot of music to learn as well as a fairly stressful rehearsal and performance schedule. As far as I know, people with those jobs generally do very little else other than possibly teach.

March 4, 2020, 6:22 PM · Okay. Thats good. I think I'd get fed up of playing the same music over and over again with a ballet (I only know of like 2, maybe 3)
March 4, 2020, 7:26 PM · I think that most people who land these jobs feel very, very lucky to have them.

The general rule of thumb in pro orchestra playing: You will play the same repertoire a million times. This can be good, because every piece of music you already know means music that you're not spending a lot of time in the practice room with.

There are definitely more than 3 ballets in the universe. On the other hand, you might play three or four dozen performances of a Nutcracker every holiday season.

March 4, 2020, 7:34 PM · My teacher plays in a freeway-phil type opera orchestra. He enjoys it. But he also plays in the regular (freeway phil) symphony orchestra and, obviously, he teaches.
March 4, 2020, 8:24 PM · A job is a job.
March 5, 2020, 3:04 AM · Going back 40 years, possibly the worst full-time pro orchestra job I ever heard of was in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Orchestra which performed nothing but Gilbert & Sullivan. Imagine playing second violin or viola...
March 5, 2020, 4:23 AM · Everything becomes repetitive at some point. Even playing new music every evening is - in a way - repetitive.
When you land a job (any job) it will be repetitive on some level.

The trick is to find out what level of repetitiveness is tolerable to you.

With music - my level of repetitiveness is extremely high, because anything I do, I can try to do better next time. So variety comes from personal improvement, not repertoire.

Edited: March 5, 2020, 4:38 AM · I am not familiar with what the Opera/Ballet orchestras get up to in England, as I have not seen them play other works, except for ballets and operas.

However, the Welsh National Opera (my local) regularly put on performances of other works, in January they did a waltz themed performance in my city, not that the waltzes are fun for viola players (um cha cha).
WNO are also playing a Prokofiev Violin Concerto with their leader as soloist, Tchaikovsky Symphony 4 and another piece in April. So they do play other repertoire, but their main aim is opera works.

In the music world, a job is a job.

If and when you get to a music college, take advantage of their work placement programmes. Royal Welsh are paired with WNO, BBC NOW etc, and students regularly take a seat with them for a work period. This would give you a really good idea if going into an opera or ballet orchestra is something you are interested in.

Even in the amateur orchestra world, I am finding I am playing works I have done again and again. At the moment I do not mind, but maybe the 10th rendition of a Beethoven symphony might not be quite as enjoyable. However, I play in these orchestras for fun, to learn and to support other players.

March 5, 2020, 7:59 AM · Elaborating on my earlier response. I can’t speak to UK auditions, but in the US, auditions are a game of large numbers and the typical professional violinist takes several to many before winning a job (there are, of course, exceptions). That is, if the violinist ever wins a job. A not insignificant number of people do not.

Limiting the auditions one takes either on the basis of geography or of preferring not to play opera or ballet means that it may take that much longer to win a job. It’s true that most ballet orchestras are part time but the Metropolitan Opera orchestra is one of the highest paid orchestras in the United States, and Chicago Lyric is also a good job. Any city large enough to have a resident ballet company is likely also large enough to offer many freelance opportunities and students to supplement a part-time salary.

At the end of the day, a job is a job. :-)

March 5, 2020, 8:02 AM · Mary Ellen, I totally get that ^_^
March 5, 2020, 9:57 AM · The Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra is actually a mixed opera, musical, and ballet orchestra, so they can go together. Opera and ballet is not an unusual combination. The Kennedy Center combination with musicals is unique, though, and definitely seems to have a job-is-a-job feeling for its players.
March 5, 2020, 12:35 PM · The Royal Opera House does opera (duh!) and ballet. So a mixed diet there. And I think Pappano tries to do the odd symphony concert to keep people on their toes and bring in different kinds of money.
March 5, 2020, 1:25 PM · Basically, the answer is....it depends.

The orchestra of Opera North certainly used to have a parallel symphonic season. No idea about the current situation. The other major opera companies do the odd symphonic/pops/whatever gig (similarly, I think some of the symphony/chamber orchestras spend time with opera/ballet companies)

As for the ballet orchestras, AFAIK none of them have a 52 week season. I think most of them step out of the pit onto the stage a handful of times per year, but if you do land a ballet gig you'd have to supplement your income elsewhere anyway.

In terms of repertoire, there's loads of big stuff in ballet, eg Stravinsky,Ravel, Tchaik.....and other repertoire can also be repurposed for dance as well as new commissions.

But as Mary Ellen implies, if you get offered a stable playing job by any outfit anywhere (whether ballet, opera, symphony or chamber orchestra) you should take it.

Edited: March 5, 2020, 3:17 PM · Side note, friendly tip: Jake, I notice you have a professional page on Facebook. When you run a professional page, rather than just a for-fun friends-and-family amateur page (or a personal FB page), make the effort to have your videos look professional-ish.

I'm not talking about fancy filming. I'm talking about having the camera on a stable tripod that shows your body at a reasonable angle. Dress professionally (which will be more formal for classical than for folk etc., but just shirt and slacks is OK, avoid T-shirts/sweatshirts) -- but for goodness sakes stop filming yourself performing naked!

Play something that you've prepared and you don't have to write something apologetic about. Tune the viola before you start filming. Pay attention to your intonation.

Either prepare and record something that sounds professional and that you don't need to apologize for, or don't post it. Save works-in-progress for private friends-and-family posts. And write your text on your professional page at a level that you would expect a parent to want to see from someone searching for a teacher for their child, or a contractor looking for a professional player for hire -- i.e. shouldn't look like a teenager texting their friends.

March 5, 2020, 3:17 PM · I woukdn't call it a proffesional page, but I take your point :)

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha YVN Model 3
Yamaha YVN Model 3

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases



Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins


Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine