The section leaders of the first violins carry the title 1st concertmaster. This is of course a particularly prominent position with a high responsibility. The Konzerthausorchester Berlin has three, at least one of whom plays in our concerts and sits in the first chair at the very outside front: Prof. Michael Erxleben, Suyoen Kim and Sayako Kusaka.
Sometimes, composers even included great solo passages for them into their orchestra piece, as did Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov in his "Scheherazade suite". But their job includes much more than playing those "Konzertmeistersoli" extremely beautifully!
"My task as 1. concertmaster is to ensure the connection between conductor and orchestra. To do that, of course, I have to understand what the conductor wants musically in the first place. With Iván Fischer, for example, this is not difficult for me, because he knows exactly what he wants and often illustrates the music with stories and images. On the part of the orchestra, in addition to the correct bowing and the same vibrato strength, it is very important to breathe together. I am responsible for all this in my position. The leaders of the other sections support me in this. When I notice that we have all breathed together before the performance, I can also be sure that the whole orchestra is pulling in the same direction and is creating the musical atmosphere that the conductor has in mind."
Our 1. concertmasters Suyoen Kim (1st stand left) and Sayako Kusaka (1st stand right) at a rehearsal on tour in Munich's Isarphilharmonie and at a concert at home in the Große Saal.
On February 9, 10 and 11, you can listen to Suyoen Kim playing the wonderful "Konzertmeistersoli" in Rimsky-Korsakovs "Scheherazade Suite".
Our 1. concertmasters regularly prove that they can also do wonderfully without a conductor: Sayako Kusaka is the artistic director of the Konzerthaus Kammerorchester, which gives four concerts every season. The permanent core of the ensemble consists of string players from the Konzerthausorchester and sometimes our wind players join in. Sayako conducts the concerts on January 19 and June 15. On March 30, the Konzerthaus Kammerorchester will play under the direction of her colleague Suyoen Kim.
Even more concertmasters
In addition, there are two associate concertmasters who sit next to the 1st concertmaster or at the second stand, depending on the current instrumentation.
In the second violin section, the two section leaders in our orchestra are also called “concertmasters”, and there are also two “associate concertmasters”.
Viola, cello, double bass
In the violas we have two principal violists who alternate as section leaders; in the cellos, two principal cellists, in the double basses, two principal double bass players. Two associate principals also play in each group.
Not every orchestra has an assistant principal for each string section to support the leadership team, as we do.
String players who do not sit at the first stands are called “tuttists” (from the Italian tutti, all).
In some symphony orchestras with a long tradition, the musicians at the first stands have slightly different or additional titles such as “concertmaster of the cellos” or “chamber virtuosi”.
Wind instruments also form instrument groups or sections, even though there are fewer players and everybody plays their own part. Here, for example, the principal oboist or principal hornist is a section leader.
Apart from “concertmaster”, the English title for soloists in the orchestra is “principal”.
Photos: Marco Borggreve (cover. concert); Pablo Castagnols (chamber orchestra); Co Merz (1. concertmasters)