How do you bow a Mahler symphony, left or right?

How do you bow a Mahler symphony, left or right?


norman lebrecht

September 06, 2015

Synchronising the string sections is never easy in a 100+ orchestra. The hard work is done by the concertmaster, unseen, often months before the first rehearsal. Chattanooga’s Holly Mulcahy explains how it’s done, step by step. Click here to find out.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more lucid account of what a concertmaster puts in behind the scenes.



  • MJ says:

    OMG, Norman! Is that a Woman Concertmaster?!?

  • WhoAmI says:

    A very good article! But.. it makes no mention of conductors (ie Carlos Kleiber; Lenny B) who mark their own parts and their own bowings, and get upset when their bowings are changed without consulation. Also unmentioned are instances when the bowings are staggered.

    • Holly Mulcahy says:

      I kept the article on the short side and tried to aim it towards people who don’t know as much about music or orchestras. The times I’ve had guest conductors bring their own marked parts means less work for everyone in the planning stages, which can be a really good thing as time and effort have already been spent to get the parts exactly the way the conductor wants.

      As for staggered bows, once again didn’t want to bring all of our tricks out at once to keep the article on the short and approachable side …perhaps a follow up if there is enough interest. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      • WHOAMI says:

        Thanks, Holly! A follow-up, and continued writing on this and other “insider” orchestra info is a MUST! It’s so important for young conductors and orchestral musicians.

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Holly, it is a wonderful article. You got the gist of explaining to non-musicians.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The bowings in Mahler symphonies are particularly problematic because the composer wrote them into the score himself, so they are printed, but they were based upon the idiosyncracies of the then 1st concertmaster of the VPO, Arnold Rosé, whose way of bowing is not generally accepted by other players of today.

  • M2N2K says:

    A short article cannot possibly explain everything that goes into bowing decisions, but it seems odd to me that one of the very basic components is not mentioned at all – the tempo of the piece! Not only the general speed, but the specific tempo that is favored by a particular conductor. Without knowing that, it is virtually impossible to make bowing decisions that would make playing the piece most practical and effective.

  • Blair Tindall says:

    Could someone explain to a clueless oboist what left and right bowings are?

    • John Borstlap says:

      But that is very simple…. ‘Right bowings’ are done in the right way, i.e. as prescribed by the concert master, and ‘left bowings’ are the bowings that have not been used and are kept for another time.

    • Holly Mulcahy says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Blair…I believe right or left might be interpreted as up or down. As the bow goes down it goes from left to right.