Conductor: a brief history of why musicians sit where they sit onstage

Posted on: May 1, 2017

“One of the questions I’m asked most often is why the string sections of the Jacksonville Symphony sometimes change where they sit between pieces in a concert,” writes Courtney Lewis, the orchestra’s music director, in Sunday’s 94/30) Florida Times-Union. “The common arrangement [is] first violins, second violins, violas, cellos and basses fanning from the left to right of the stage. Now we have two seatings: the first … with the violas on the outside (where the cellos previously sat) which I like for 20th century repertoire…. The second seating is … the first and second violins sit facing each other on my left and right, with the cellos and basses beside the first violins, and the violas beside the seconds…. Haydn [organized] his orchestra with the first and second violins opposite each other so that … phrases could be heard coming from opposite sides of the stage…. Leopold Stokowski … in the 1920s … made one change that stuck: he arranged the strings from high to low, left to right, arguing that placing all the violins together helped the musicians to hear one another better. The ‘Stokowski Shift,’ as it became known, was adopted by orchestras all over America.”

Posted May 1, 2017