Star contender settles for a life as concertmaster

Star contender settles for a life as concertmaster


norman lebrecht

December 08, 2016

Only a few months ago, New Zealander Amalia Hall was battling it out in the finals of major international competitions.

Now the dust has settled, she has signed on back home as concertmaster of Orchestra Wellington.

From the media release:

Orchestra Wellington Music Director Marc Taddei says Hall is a major young star in New Zealand’s musical life, and one whose gifts have already brought her international acclaim.

“I am over the moon that Orchestra Wellington has been able to attract Amalia Hall as our next concertmaster,” Taddei says.

“This is brilliant news for Wellington and New Zealand, and I guarantee that great things will come out of this appointment.”

Hall is considered one of New Zealand’s leading violinists, having won all of its major concerto prizes while still in her teens. She received her education at Auckland University and the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia, and went on to win the Jeunesses Internationales Music Competition Dinu Lupatti, the Tunbridge Wells International Young Concert Artists Competition and the Postacchini International Violin Competition, as well as gaining prizes in the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition, the International Violin Competition “Premio R. Lipizer”, and the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians.

Hall is looking forward to leading the orchestra. She will join Orchestra Wellington from its first subscription concert, Firebird, on May 13 next year.

“I feel pretty lucky to be joining such a passionate orchestra and administration team,” she says.


  • MissPrinteditions says:

    I do not understand why it was necessary to use such a condescending headline, when something like “Prize Winner Accepts Concertmaster Position” would have simply described the situation without implying that the person in question once showed tremendous promise but will now become an orchestra drudge. I can hardly believe that I am going to elaborate, but I feel as if I must. Firstly, numerous orchestral players maintain flourishing solo careers, and secondly, the solo passages that fall to a concertmaster comprise some of the most challenging and wonderful music ever written, not to mention the glorious experience of playing the entire repertoire while leading one’s colleagues in musical adventures. How is that “settling”?

    • MacroV says:

      In addition, I would guess most concertmasters have won top prizes (and in many cases first) in some major competition or other, and can hold their own with the biggest-name solo violinists. Life as a solo violinist isn’t necessarily all that glamorous or stable; a nice orchestral gig as a base of operations (and income) isn’t at all a bad way to go.

    • Janis says:

      Headlines like this make it seem as if there is some behind-the-scenes resentment going on that we don’t know about. I hate to say it, but that really is how this sort of stuff comes across — some sort of petty cheap shot motivated by something none of us know. 🙁

    • Steven Holloway says:

      It was necessary because NL has never heard of the likes of Herman Krebbers and Steven Staryk. Next we’ll be reading about Menahem Pressler, “who settled for life as a chamber music player”.

    • Jsne says:

      Thank you, missprintededitions!

  • Carlos Solare says:

    Well, it’s always better than settling for a life as a professional mud-flinger…

  • Malcolm James says:

    This is hardly likely to be a full-time job and probably does not require her to be based in NZ. She will have plenty of time to develop her solo career.

  • Alexander says:

    Pieter Schoeman, the leader of the LPO, is one of the best violinists I’ve ever heard, as was his predecessor Boris Garlitsky, whom I once heard as a soloist (in an obscure concerto) with his own orchestra. I have heard both Schoeman and Garlitsky in chamber music performances too. The LSO leader Roman Simović is also a very fine violinist, and I have heard him play Hartmann’s Concerto funèbre with the LSO (the only time I have ever heard the work live). This raises the point that while we often bemoan the limited repertoire of most orchestras, the repertoire of a soloist is more limited yet. I can think of around half a dozen violin concertos that make up the large majority of programming for all the London orchestras/concert halls. Even Gubaidulina’s Offertorium, which I would think of as a fairly mainstream part of the repertoire, I have heard in London only once. Soloists undoubtedly have more concertos in their repertoires, but the opportunities to play them seem to be rare. I suspect that a concertmaster who also maintains a solo career probably has a much more varied repertoire than a soloist who travels the globe full time playing the same few concertos over and over again. Also, who would want the lifestyle of a soloist? There’s a lot to be said for coming back to your own home most nights, seeing your friends, not being permanently exhausted, and so on. It’s not really settling; it’s just a different career path. I can think of a lot of full-time soloists who are much inferior musicians to players such as Schoeman and Garlitsky, or the ROH’s Vasko Vassilev, another wonderful violinist.

    • Andrew Condon says:

      Quite so. Many London concertmasters in the past have combined orchestral and solo careers (eg Erich Gruenberg, Hugh Bean, Iona Brown) or have moved to a solo/chamber career after many years as a concertmaster (Manoug Parikian). Many have had concertos written for them by amongst others Alexander Goehr, John MacCabe and David Blake, and one even wrote an concerto for himself (Desmond Bradley).

      • Step Parikian says:

        Well – exactly! (But you didn’t mention Musgrave, Crosse and Wood in the composers who wrote concerti for them….)

      • Alexander says:

        I am a little too young to have heard any of these players live, but I know Hugh Bean from his recording of The Lark Ascending, which I believe is widely reckoned to be one of the finest recordings of that piece, if not the finest. Manoug Parikian was my own violin teacher’s teacher, so that name certainly means something to me.

  • V.Lind says:

    Astonished the story here is not that Wellington engages female concertmaster.

    Which would have been boring an irrelevant.

    The things wrong with the story implied by this headline are infinite. It suggests orchestras — who hold blind auditions to hire the best musicians they can find — are a life of drudges whose musical contribution is negligible. It suggests the few musicians lucky enough to land orchestra jobs are some sort of backbenchers of music (try playing Mahler’s 8th without an orchestra) stuck in the minors leagues.It suggests that engagement as a section leader is giving up on a career which, as has been ably pointed out already, is rubbish. Many are active soloists. Let alone concert-masters, who are often in demand.

    Etc. The article is an insult to every orchestra player in the world, let alone section leaders.

  • Mark Motycka says:

    Substitute “desirous” for “settles” then sit back, relax and lower your expectations.

  • Sarah Kapustin says:

    Norman, it is insulting and insensitive to say that a fine violinist is ‘settling’ for a concertmaster position of a fine orchestra. In order to get a job like that, you have to be able to play one of the standard violin concerti (i.e. Brahms, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky) at an extremely high level, comparable to the level of a great violin soloist. Furthermore, there are many concertmaster soli (Ein Heldenleben, Schererezade, Der Burger als Edelman to name just a few) which are devilishly difficult to play, some might even say more difficult than a violin concerto because one has to constantly alternate between leading the entire 1st violin section and playing the soli. I understand that you want to make a catchy headline, but could you find one that’s not immediately insulting all orchestral violinists/concertmasters?

  • Barbara says:

    I attended the last of Orchestra Wellington’s subscription series on Saturday. One piece was a new violin concerto premiered by Amalia Hall. She was great. After the applause Marc Taddei asked her if she would like to be the concert master (obviously having checked first!) and she said “Yes” – so we all clapped and cheered. A happy occasion.

  • Alexander says:

    A couple of times recently I’ve heard Sarah Oates as concertmaster of the Philharmonia Orchestra, including several solos. Again, she’s a really outstanding violinist and an excellent musician. She also has considerable experience as a soloist and chamber musician. I cannot say that I am always particularly impressed by many violinists today who are known mainly or solely as soloists. Yes, there are some truly great violinists, such as Ivry Gitlis, Itzhak Perlman, Nigel Kennedy, Gidon Kremer, and Alina Ibragimova, but there are many more who are merely technically flawless. Arguably, the concertmaster’s role (and, indeed, chamber music) demands a higher calibre of musicianship than an exclusively solo career. Sadly, the role of the concertmaster does not seem to be appreciated as much as it ought to be. Indeed, in my opinion there would be a case for concertmasters to give more concerto performances with their own orchestras. However, I fear that that would never take off because orchestras need the big name soloists to generate ticket sales.

  • Marc Taddei says:

    Hi Norman – I agree with many of the commentators here that your headline is most unfortunate. We at Orchestra Wellington are tremendously excited by Amalia’s appointment and we had made clear to her that we will be supportive of her solo endeavours going forward. The two propositions needn’t be mutually exclusive. We are also hugely excited about the prospect of her concerto appearances and recordings with the orchestra in the future.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Hi Marc – A headline is there to condense the story and magnetise the attention of readers. This one achieved both. Nothing unfortunate in that, and only good for raising the profiles of Amalia Hall and Orchestra Wellington. best, N

      • Janis says:

        ” and magnetise the attention of readers”

        That’s called clickbait, and it’s obnoxious. Aren’t you better than that?

        • Daniel Temkin says:

          There is something very unfortunate and demeaning in your deliberate choice of the word SETTLE. Other antonyms could have magnetized the headline to a similar degree while highlighting the brilliant musicality of Amalia in a more positive vein. (You are well aware of this! It is ok to admit to making a mistake.)

          For those of us who have had the great pleasure of working with and alongside Amalia, it is hard to see that word as anything but an affront to the warmth, positivity, and musicality she brings to everything she does. Where she SHINED in competition, so too will she as concertmaster!

      • MissPrinteditions says:

        I feel greatly saddened by this response.

        • Steven Holloway says:

          Yes, but it is the one most to be expected. Those magical phrases of healing — ‘I was wrong’, ‘I made a mistake’, ‘I’m sorry’ — are unknown to NL, as his defences of his past patent errors make only too clear.

  • Mr Oakmountain says:

    Apart from the fact that many musicians find playing the symphonic repertoire a lot MORE rewarding than going though scales, arpeggios, cadenzas and the hyperactivity that is – necessarily – the bread and butter of most virtuoso concertos.

    I’m sure most e.g. brass players would gladly swap their entire solo repertoire for being allowed to occasionally play a symphony by Bruckner, Mahler, Sibelius or Nielsen.

  • MissPrinteditions says:

    Referring to the definition of “to settle” and claiming it is not a pejorative is, in this case, disingenuous, Mr Lebrecht. When followed by “for” it very clearly implies accepting less than was hoped for, as I believe you well knew when composing the headline. Other uses of “settle” are constructed differently, as you are also aware, I feel certain. How disappointing to have been “magnetised” in this fashion.

  • M2N2K says:

    The issue is not whether “settles for” is pejorative or not, but that it is a clear indication of something that is not supported by any evidence and is therefore simply inaccurate. The story indicates that the violinist *chose* to become a concertmaster rather than pursuing a solo career exclusively, which is a kind of deliberate choice that many fine violinists made in the past and are continuing to make now. There is more to life than just playing violin, and for several valid reasons being a concertmaster of a fine orchestra is a much more attractive, not to mention healthy, way of life for most than being a soloist.