By Aloysia Friedmann
We have indeed planned to play ROCO Celebrates Austria-Conductorless! without a conductor at the helm. The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra started the idea of a performing one “conductor-less” concert per year in 2007, our third season. “Why?” you might ask…
When a conductor leads an orchestra, the members of the orchestra are expected to rely on the maestro to not only lead the group with a baton, but also to make musical suggestions, balance suggestions, tempo suggestions and much, much more. As a result, each member of the orchestra gradually submerges their individual personality in favor of following their musical leader.
When our orchestra doesn’t have a conductor standing up and gesticulating in front of them, immediately our senses become much more alive. We truly become a chamber music group, or as Alecia once said, a string quartet times 10 (with winds!). We have to listen more, we have to watch each other more, we have to rely on the visual cues of each other more, and most importantly, we must rely on the concertmaster of the orchestra.
WHY does the concertmaster all of a sudden become so important? There still has to be someone who “leads” the orchestra; someone who can give a cue to start and stop; someone everyone can see and watch. The concertmaster is the natural person to do this.
You may have wondered about the concertmaster’s responsibility. You’re probably aware that the concertmaster is, among other things, the Principal First Violin. When a conductor is present, the concertmaster is also the liaison between the conductor and the orchestra. The concertmaster is the one who can make a suggestion to the conductor, representing the whole orchestra. When a conductor shakes the concertmaster’s hand after a performance, it is an acknowledgment of that responsibility.
Therefore, the ideal concertmaster is more than a strong player, and leadership qualities matter! A depth of chamber music experience, brilliant technique, knowledge of the full orchestral score, and ability to lead with the violin and make eye contact with other players: these are all prerequisites for a great concertmaster.
There are very few ful-ltime conductorless orchestras because so much of the repertoire does demand the full-time responsibilities of a conductor at the helm. Most orchestras, even faced with repertoire that might allow a conductorless setup, are fearful of the extra pressure. But ROCO thrives under these conditions. The players all aspire to great artistry individually, and working without a conductor gives us all our own voice.
We look forward to this opportunity to take greater control of our artistic destiny, to make suggestions to players
across the orchestra, and to try their suggestions in turn. Above all, we know that we have to listen with great care. This is a concert we look forward to every year.
Andrés Cárdenes is our concertmaster for the upcoming concert. He is the perfect person to be leading ROCO in our conductorless concert. For many years he was the concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony and also is a conductor himself, having guest conducted many orchestras around the country. He’s a great musician, chamber music artist, communicator and a gracious person, making him an ideal guest concertmaster for ROCO Celebrates Austria-Conductorless!