The concertmaster conundrum – soloist, or salaryman?

The concertmaster conundrum – soloist, or salaryman?

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

May 24, 2021

Our Reader’s Comment of the Day comes from David K Nelson:

That kind of depends on how you define “solo career,” since so many concertmasters have some sort of side careers, often considerable ones, as soloists while retaining their concertmaster position.

I heard Philadelphia’s Norman Carol solo with the Milwaukee Symphony, for example, and St. Paul Chamber’s Romuald Tecco solo with the Chicago Symphony. Herman Krebbers was busy as a soloist the whole time he was the Concertgebouw’s concertmaster, and Michel Schwalbé also had an active solo career even as he was concertmaster of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Speaking of Norman Carol reminds me that he had a solo and recording career of sorts before becoming a concertmaster, and I have to think he is hardly the only one, so this goes both ways. Israel Baker also comes to mind.

Tossy Spivakovsky’s solo career lasted far longer than his time as concertmaster.

Carl Flesch felt concertmaster experience was important for any violinist he taught and he urged his best pupils to take on a concertmaster position before beginning their solo career; witness Peter Rybar, Ricardo Odnoposoff, and Bronislav Gimpel among others.

Gerhard Taschner had a “purely” solo career after being concertmaster in Berlin at age 19, under admittedly unusual circumstances. He made many recordings for radio broadcast but few commercial recordings.

Steven Staryk who was concertmaster of four major orchestras (“The King of Concertmasters” is what the Strad called him) was frustrated in his attempts to launch both a solo and recording career, and felt not without reason that perhaps too long a period as concertmaster tends to typecast a violinist adversely.

Mischa Mischakoff, with whom Staryk worked, was concertmaster of many fine orchestras but was a first rate violinist in general, including solo work.

And this very inadequate and incomplete discussion does not even delve into concertmasters who had active chamber music careers.



  • FrankInUsa says:

    A concertmaster wears many hats.

  • Cecylia Arzewski says:

    And there is Joseph Silverstein!

    • Gaffney Feskoe says:

      Yes, and Joey turned himself into a conductor too, and a violin teacher.

    • NYMike says:

      You beat me to it! Concertmaster, soloist, chamber musician, conductor, and master teacher @ Curtis!

    • BRUCEB says:

      I still remember him (summer of 1980? ’81?) rehearsing the Beethoven concerto at Tanglewood: right after the 1st movement cadenza, he turned slightly toward you and Emanuel Borok and said, out of the side of his mouth but loud enough to be heard by the students in the third row: “Trying to keep the tempo going here is like trying to raise the Titanic!”

      Ozawa was conducting 😛

  • Greg Bottini says:

    As usual, an interesting and well-informed comment by DKN.

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    A concert career requires that there be enough people that want to hear you play as a soloist and will buy tickets.

  • MacroV says:

    A lot of concertmasters are clearly very skilled soloists; I imagine a many section players are, too, but don’t get the chance to be heard.

    I would imagine in many cases you can make a better living as a concertmaster – in a major U.S. orchestra it’s close to a $500k/year job; how much would you need to generate in fees to do better as a soloist, and how many can do that? Plus the charm of travel surely wears off after a while.

    • nyc musician says:

      Also see Carter Brey/NY Philharmonic. He had a solo career before becoming Princ Cello

    • Saxon says:

      The leading soloists are making a slightly more than the US concertmasters (it depends on how many gigs they do, and only applies to the top ones). But there is no job security (always the threat of not getting the next gig), and the sheer grind of travel is lonely and unpleasant. It isn’t for everyone.

  • mikealdren says:

    and many others. Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Simon Goldberg spring to mind.

  • Donna Pasquale says:


  • Amos says:

    I’m not sure to what extent it still obtains but in the past the HR skills of the concertmaster vis-a-vis the conductor were an invaluable skill. Stories of Mr. Mischakoff standing up to Stokowski bullying and having a “calming” influence on AT as well as Mr. Gingold calming nerves when GS went off by employing violin double-speak are legendary. Both were great instrumentalists and so much more.

  • Gerry McDonald says:

    Joshua Bell

  • Daniel Lewin says:

    Joseph Fuchs. A legendary Concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as a soloist and chamber musician as great as any violinist of the 20th Century.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Scipione Guidi and Mishel Piastro of NYPO. Charles Muench was concertmaster of Leipzig Gewandhaus under Furtwaengler.

  • Marfisa says:

    David Nadien.

  • Novagerio says:

    And don’t forget Szymon Goldberg (!)

  • Stefan Ufer says:

    Surely Gerhart Hetzel was one of the finest ever until his tragically early death