The concertmaster (from the German Konzertmeister) is the second-most significant person in an orchestra, symphonic band or other musical ensemble after the conductor or director. In the UK, the term commonly used is "leader".
In an orchestra, the concertmaster is the leader of the first violin section. There is another violin section, the second violins, led by the principal second violin. Any violin solo in an orchestral work is played by the concertmaster (except in the case of a concerto, in which case a guest soloist usually plays). It is usually required that the concertmaster be the most skilled musician in the section, experienced at learning music quickly, counting rests accurately and leading the rest of the string section by his or her playing and bow gestures.
The concertmaster sits to the conductor's left, closest to the audience, in what is called the "first stand" or "first desk" (in the UK). He or she makes decisions regarding bowing and other technical details of violin playing for the violins, and sometimes all of the string players. The concertmaster leads the orchestra in tuning before concerts and rehearsals, and other technical aspects of orchestra management. Leading the orchestral tuning is not just a mere formality; if the concertmaster believes that a section is not adequately tuned, he or she will signal to the oboe player to play another "A". Several larger orchestras have one or more assistant concertmasters, who lead the orchestra in the concertmaster's absence.
The concertmaster, along with the conductor and section principals, will normally participate in the auditions of important musicians (e.g., principal players) in the orchestra.
The concertmaster in a standard concert band is the principal clarinet, oboe, flute or saxophone and leads the ensemble's tuning. The first-chair clarinet concertmaster will, in common practice, play all solos for their instrument. Often the lead flautist will receive similar responsibilities to the clarinet concertmaster, depending on several factors such as age, skill and time spent in the ensemble. The concertmaster will, in both orchestral and wind band settings, also coordinate with other principals and section leaders, in most cases being their senior in terms of group pecking order.
The concertmaster has the duty of tuning the orchestra or band at rehearsals and performances. Sometimes, especially in performances given in America and/or featuring American or British orchestras, the concertmaster walks onstage individually after the rest of the orchestra is seated, takes a bow, and receives applause before the conductor appears. In continental European orchestras, this practice is uncommon. There, the concertmaster usually walks onstage with the rest of the orchestra. He or she is also the person in the orchestra or ensemble that shakes hands with the conductor at the beginning or end of a concert.
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