How a London orchestra chooses a concertmaster

How a London orchestra chooses a concertmaster


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2019

Internal memo at the Philharmonia:

We will be holding a Concertmaster audition for (name) on Monday 25 February at Walthamstow Town Hall.

Esa-Pekka has agreed to use the end of the afternoon rehearsal for this audition, so the afternoon will be:

14:30 reh Bruckner 7, Mozart Der Schauspieldirektor overture, 16:45-17:30 audition*************


Esa-Pekka has asked Robin O’Neill to conduct the audition.

The repertoire is listed below.



Mozart: Violin Concerto No.3, exposition

Beethoven: Violin Concerto, exposition


Solo extracts:

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis, Sanctus, solo to letter I

Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, solo at fig. 22-32

Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, fig. 27-35

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Mvt 2 beginning & K-N

Dvořák: Symphony No.8, Adagio, solo from letter D

Shostakovich: Symphony No.5, Mvt 2 solo

Ravel: Ma Mere L’Oye, last page solo


Without orch:

Schumann: Symphony No 2, Scherzo, up to bar 54

Strauss: Don Juan, beginning till 15 after D

Tchaikovsky: String Serenade Mvt 1, directed by (candidate)

There is not one modern piece in the schedule and this is a hell of a lot of music to cover in 45 minutes. As a point of etymology, it appears that the traditional English ‘leader’ has been supplanted by the German/American term ‘concertmaster’.


  • Anon says:

    Ah. A London Leader. Horrendous conditions, not enough money and an audition in Walthamstow! Plus this ad in SD. Times have changed….

    • PHF says:

      True. No wonder so many british fellows seek some dignity overseas in trumpland.

      • Mick... says:

        shows you how far the “empire” has fallen

        • Allen says:

          You are clearly outside the UK – US probably.

          Contrary to what you might think, or want to think, people in the UK got over this a long time ago and the only time it comes up in conversation, in my experience, is when someone from elsewhere confuses it with actual wit.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            To be fair…many Brexit supporters have a nostalgia for “the Empire” … (or “Empire preference” when they think about trade).

    • Bill says:

      This ad in SD? This is not a request for candidates; they have a candidate who is going to play with/for the orchestra as his/her audition. NL is just providing a description of what is planned for the single candidate to do during the evaluation.

      As for the working conditions and pay, if you find them unacceptable, vote with your feet. I suspect most serious candidates will have a good idea of what they may be getting themselves into.

  • Andy says:

    What would the salary be for a role such as this, does anyone know?

    • Anon says:

      Never enough. Negotiable. Depending on the number of calls, as the Philharmonia is a player run orchestra, with self employed status for the members!

  • Bruce says:

    (a) The audition list looks typical. Anyone who is seriously in the running for the job (and many who are not) will know all the pieces.

    (b) It’s a lot to cover in 45 minutes, but they may not want to hear everything. Or Salonen may hear some excerpts (e.g. the ones without orchestra) at a different time

    (c) Normally there aren’t any modern pieces on audition lists (at least, not more recent than Prokofiev or Hindemith). However, when there was a 2nd Flute audition in the LA Philharmonic years ago when Salonen was still the conductor, the list included a couple of Dutilleux symphonies. So it could probably be done in this audition if he thought it was important.

  • Pete Parker says:

    The Philharmonia has long used the term concertmaster.

  • FS60103 says:

    Some UK orchestras use this clunky US term “concertmaster” to distinguish a sort of associate player-director role from the actual leader. Or at the personal request of the individual player. In every other respect this looks like a completely standard audition (one of a whole series of tests that will probably take place before the individual concerned gets anywhere near being offered a job).

    Audition repertoire is generally chosen for a purely practical reasons: allowing easy comparison in a cross-section of standard repertoire. The panel alone is competent to decide what they need to hear in order to make a judgment, but these are pieces that every leader will, as a matter of course, have to play, and play well. It’s a practical process grounded in working realities, not a repertoire box-ticking exercise.

    • Bill says:

      Not a US term, really, as it is also used by orchestras in Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Mexico, Denmark, Japan, Hong Kong, Russia, etc.

      • LEWES BIRD says:

        I suspect American orchestras will stop using “concertmaster” before not too long. You see, it has racist and slavery overtones. A few years ago at Yale they’ve re-baptised all the college Masters of the 14 (then only 12) undergraduate colleges to “Heads”. So the “Master of Berkeley College” is now the “Head of Berkeley College”. That’s because the old title made African-American undergraduates feel like slaves, you see.

        So, what could an American concertmaster be re-baptised as? Maybe “leader”? Of course, “leader” in German is “Führer”. I hope Jewish members of American orchestras won’t object.


        • Sycorax says:

          One can overdo the political correctness. Than it becomes just silly.
          Konzertmeister is a term which was used since centuries and it certainly isn’t in any way connected to slavery.
          Why don’t the Americans rename “Meistersinger” to “Head singers”? And instead of “verachtet mir die Meister nicht” Sachs will sing “Verachtet mir die durch besondere Exzellenz ausgezeichneten Obersänger nicht!”
          Besides: My grandfather was a Schreinermeister (master of joinery). Shall I name him a “head of joinery” in future?

      • Eric says:

        Indeed, “leader” sounds quaint and slightly archaic to the rest of the world.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    For the most part the required pieces are the “usual suspects.” I agree that cramming all of that into 45 minutes sounds impractical. A good test to see if the candidate can play as fast as Heifetz.

    My teacher told me that many would-be concertmasters were flummoxed when unexpectedly asked to play the solo from Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite.

  • Bill says:

    I wonder if that Scheherazade excerpt has been wrongly specified — third movement seems much more likely for the K-N portion.

    Playing through those bits in 45 shouldn’t be difficult if everyone knows what is going on and has the music on the stand. Also the stuff marked “without orchestra” may not need to make it into that 45 minute window.

  • HCollier says:

    In England, we have “leaders”, not Concertmeisters.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Evidently not. Read the post.

    • Bill says:

      Better inform the Philharmonia of their mistake. Their listing of musicians starts off with Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay Concert Master. He’s had the job since 2007, you would think someone would have noticed by now!

      • Axl says:

        Andrew Haveron has been leader/concertmaster together with Zsolt Tihamér Visontay before moving in Sydney in 2013 so that vacant position must be vacated by him