Uncloaking meanings behind orchestra musician titles

Posted on: August 28, 2009

“Open any Cleveland Orchestra program to the roster page,” writes Zachary Lewis in Sunday’s (8/23) Plain Dealer (Cleveland). “There, next to all the names, you’ll encounter an array of similar-sounding titles, including associate principal, assistant principal and first assistant principal. One player is first associate principal. Confusion naturally follows. Even those well-versed in orchestral practice can’t help but wonder what such labels mean, especially because the terminology and duties attached to each title vary from section to section and from one ensemble to another. … Perhaps no other position in the orchestra piques more curiosity than that of concertmaster. … In Cleveland, concertmaster William Preucil greets the audience, leads the orchestra in tuning, handles orchestral solos and determines bowings. … The duties of those sitting around Preucil in the first violin section can be just as mystifying. Why, for instance, do we have both an ‘associate’ and a ‘first associate’ concertmaster, and why are there two ‘assistant’ concertmasters? In a word: Because. All orchestras have concertmasters and assistants, but maybe not so many. Rather than follow some rigid, military-style protocol, the Cleveland players have established their own tradition over many years as individual musicians have gravitated in different directions.”

Posted August 28, 2009