Which is more enjoyable to play in - a good amateur/semi-pro orchestra or a major orchestra?
Taking the money out of the equation, is it more enjoyable to play in a solid "amateur" or semi-pro orchestra or one of the higher tier orchestras - i.e. one where players make a large part of their living.
By "amateur" I don't necessarily mean a community orchestra where the intonation is always shaky and the repertoire is severely limited by the infirmities of the largely elderly participants but rather of the quality where 8/10 or 9/10 members of the general public probably wouldn't know the difference between them and the LSO. An organization on the order of this orchestra - the Richardson Symphony or similar. I gather they get paid a nominal amount to defray travel expenses and the level of musicianship is high but it's considered a "for fun" orchestra.
The impression I get that being in a higher tier pro orchestra is that along with the arduous process to get in, it can be a very tense environment. Is it on balance an enjoyable experience?
depends entirely on what you enjoy!
For players in major orchestras, I suspect the biggest difficulty is the schedule, not the pressure. Tenure takes away some of the pressure once musicians have it, but major orchestras play an intense schedule that involves learning and performing a whole new concert program (sometimes more than one) each week. Some writers have noted that the trend in programming toward an increased focus on larger-scale works has made the job more and more physically demanding over time.
The Richardson Symphony Orchestra sure as hell doesn't look anything like an "amateur" or even a "semi-pro" orchestra. It looks like a fully-professional per-service orchestra that's neither a ROPA nor ICSOM member, a so-called "freeway philharmonic". Audition expectations look fully professional, and player bios are suitably high-level. (Their concertmaster is no less than Elizabeth Adkins, former assoc CM of the NSO!)
What's enjoyable is a different thing for different people. Some people will enjoy working with a conductor or colleagues with an artistic vision, and disagree about what artistic vision will work. Some will love working with people who are very warm and friendly and it feels like one big family, others won't like that...
@Scott - My experience is in the DC area, so I do not know if it applies elsewhere. The amateur orchestras here are many and varied, so I think it is very difficult to generalize meaningfully. They tend to combine fun and hard work in varying amounts. The quality range is also quite variable. Once you get to the semi-pro level, i.e., orchestras that play a number of concerts during the year for which they charge a significant ticket price and pay their members something, the quality of the players and the group tends to be better and they work harder. But, they are probably having a good deal of fun, also.
The more enjoyable orchestra is the one that matches your playing skill level more closely.
Lydia Leong said:
A community orchestra is going to look like (finding these DFW groups on a quick Google search) the New Texas Symphony Orchestra, or the Fort Worth Civic Orchestra. They use words like "all-volunteer" on their website.
The pro orchestra is easier to play with. The ensemble is tighter, the intonation is well centered. They know how to play their instruments and they can play the parts. In a low level community, amateur, or student orchestra you have none of that. As a community orchestra concertmaster I am constantly fighting the people around me, constantly making split second decisions whether to play in tune or match the lead flute or oboe, whether to play in time or literally follow the conductor.
Since I've never played in either cited type of orchestra I cannot speak to which is better place to play.
It seems to me that the most important factor in enjoying almost any pastime is that you are up to the job yet still challenged.
The most enjoyable orchestra level is the one that you enjoy playing in the most.
To the OP: Most players in community orchestras won’t know what it’s like playing in a major orchestra and can’t make a true comparison to answer your question.
Wot Frieda said. I was going to joke about my days in the Berlin Phil, but then decided not to bother.
There's a local all-volunteer orchestra here that is significantly freelancing pros playing for fun -- many of them playing their secondary instrument or for violinists, switching sections (i.e. those who normally play 1st in their day job are playing 2nd or viola, etc.). It's a valuable change of pace, I suspect (and it has minimal rehearsal commitments, and plenty of social time).
In July 1973 I played one evening session of the "ad hoc" orchestra assembled every July for international maestro Herbert Blomstedt's Conducting Master Class at Loma Linda University in Redlands, CA. The mostly unpaid orchestra was "staffed" by a mix of talents including LA orchestra and studio professionals, the virtuoso-violin students from Heifetz's USC Master Class and other accomplished musicians --- and people like me. Playing under the baton of such a master as Blomstedt was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (this was a few years before he took over the San Francisco Symphony for 10 years). He ran the Conducting Master Class every summer for some years at loma Linda U (a religious school of his faith). Blomstedt's musical intentions were so transparent from his hand, arm and body language that he did not need to say a word about what he wanted the musicians to do. The only thing he conveyed to us by word was to follow the conducting students taking the class exactly as their "conducting" indicated. The students were mostly college music instructors and professors - (who really needed his help). Most of the students were really shocked by the sound they got when we musicians actually followed the way they conducted instead of the way the music should have sounded (which we all could have done).
High level is great. Given that nothing is perfect, the next step is figuring out which aspects of a performance give you the buzz more than others, assuming you have the choice.
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