Same with bows. I have retired at least one stick from orchestra work because it has too much emphasis on shimmering overtones and not enough focus on the fundamental.
In general, though, orchestra playing draws from skill at least as much as adding to it. Mischa Mischakoff used to practice scales for an hour or so after orchestral rehearsals.
IMO in orchestra its rhythm that is most important - you don't want to play out of turn since it will be an unwelcome solo that really stands out. One could argue that intonation is actually third, behind dynamics - again, its important to follow the volume of the section. Intonation can be critical - where the violin section is very prominent (and high) an out of tune violin may be noticed but more often the pitch of a single violin is masked by the rest of the section and the other instruments.
Note I have only played in amateur orchestras so will be interested if the pros agree.
I should add that yes, I think doing only orchestra playing does worsen your intonation for the priority issues above. The best way I have found to improve and maintain it is to practice for solo (w piano) recitals and record yourself so that you can hear what needs fixing. The amazing thing to me is that yes, you can fix it fairly easily once you know what is amiss. One reason you don't hear it when you are playing is that you simply get used to a note that is out.
In a professional orchestra, it is expected that everybody will play in tune.
I always try to use strings I can hear on my orchestral instruments and avoid orchestral playing on the instruments I cannot hear.
The first is simply that, especially in big orchestras, a string player cannot necessarily hear themselves well. That means that the automatic micro-adjustments we all make to be in tune don't occur. That can "train" the player to be careless in their placement of their fingers, since they aren't receiving the feedback they normally would.
When pros talk about how playing in orchestra wrecks their intonation, they're usually referring to the "I can't hear myself" phenomenon. Multiple folks in the BSO and other upper-end professional groups (including string principals) have told me that they practice a lot of scales daily after rehearsals specifically to try to reinforce precisely correct intonation after being unable to properly hear themselves.
The second is that bad ensemble intonation will throw your ear temporarily. You can lose track of what the correct pitch should be; i.e. "which of the three Cs that I am hearing from the other sections is the correct one?" (And then you have to think, "What is the implied chord that I'm tuning my own note to?" and hope you're not guessing wrong, which is much harder if you're not playing a solidly tonal work.) And if your own section's intonation is shaky, that's similarly going to throw your ear.
This is also a major problem in chamber music. For instance, if you're playing in a quartet and your cellist does not have rock-solid intonation (because you're generally taking the cello as the bass note of an implied chord), it will throw everyone off. One could argue that this is actually worse than the damage that orchestra playing does, because in a quartet or similar situation, you're much more attuned to the group intonation and if pushes you towards being wrong, it's harder to reset your ear afterwards.
Hearing ensemble intonation in the moment, in the midst of a group, is much more difficult, in my opinion. If you record an amateur group (whether orchestra or quartet), even a very good one, you will hear glaring intonation errors that you probably didn't hear in the moment. I remember playing in a quintet, years ago, that was made up almost purely of people who taught their instrument for a living (and held master's degrees in performance and so on), and we thought our intonation as a group was pretty solid (and we generally felt that individually, we were in tune), until we listened to a rehearsal recording, whereupon it became obvious that ensemble intonation was definitely not sterling.
I doubt that pros would be greatly affected, but it was really hard for me to make progress on the instrument when playing in an orchestra, so I quit in order to start putting in more concentrated time with a teacher, but I didn't have technique to spare
With that said, community orchestra is a great place, and ultimately the point is to make music. So I wouldn't want to discourage you from playing in the orchestra, but I really do believe that without a robust technique to start with, a lot of rehearsing and performing can block progress on the instrument, even though many skills get developed precisely through rehearsal and performance. There are seasons...
I don't do that because ultimately my technique serves my ability to participate in the things which give me joy -- and that's playing with other people in orchestra and chamber music. I accept that I play imperfectly, but that's one of the things about being an amateur -- it's okay to be imperfect. (Indeed, there was a charming Washington Post review of a Friday Morning Music Club concert some time back that emphasized that a balanced musical diet should involved hearing the enthusiastic efforts of those who aren't perfect.)
I don't think that amateurs rehearse enough for anything done in a rehearsal to become a 'habit'. Most amateurs will rehearse for two or three hours in a community orchestra, once a week (and maybe two-thirds of that time will involve actual playing). Assuming that the player is practicing outside of rehearsals, and does reasonable intonation-related work during that practice (not necessarily on the orchestra music), that shouldn't involve pitch destabilization.
If need be, you should be able to "reset" your ear post-rehearsal by listening to Mozart or a similar highly tonal composer on the commute home. Five minutes with the violin and either scales or a highly tonal work (the exposition of one of the Haydn concertos or Mozart concertos, for instance), after a rehearsal, should recenter everything.
The calculus for me just happened to point me in the direction of focusing on building my technique, since I was getting frustrated at the limits of my playing, which I was starting to see more clearly.
Intonation wasn't the particular area I would think would be most affected. For me, it was bad bowing habits and a lot of left hand tension. Everyone's mileage may vary, but I mostly wanted to point out that in my experience there was an actual tradeoff to playing in community orchestra.
I'm genuinely surprised to learn that pro orchestral players can't "hear themselves" either. I would have thought (hoped, for my own sake?) that the ability to extract your own sound from the ensemble would be something that is learned over time. In amateur orchestras the "I can't hear myself play" phenomenon can result in an orchestra that is entirely unable to play softly enough to stay underneath an equally amateur soloist who does not have an antique Italian cannon of an instrument and also lacks pro-level tone-production skills.
The "I can't hear myself" phenomenon is not strictly about being totally unable to hear yourself; I can almost always hear and identify the sound of my own viola when it's under my ear, but it's still harder to hear whether I'm entirely in tune because I'm also hearing other people's overtones. It's more problematic in highly chromatic passages. One thing that's helped me orchestral intonation immensely in the last year or two is using my phone to excerpts from rehearsal, and listening to the recording afterward. It's much easier to identify intonation problems when not trying to adjust in the moment.
Observations isn't the right word. There's clearly an assumption that string players' intonation is good before they go into an orchestra.
Is that even true to begin with?
And does the original "observation" come from someone of the calibre of Heifetz, and does it apply to lesser mortals?
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