Welcome to the second half of my interview with CSO Concertmaster, Jean-Sébastien Roy. Today I thought we’d start with a bit of Symphony 101: what’s a concertmaster?
According to Merriam-Webster,
con·cert·mas·ter noun \ˈkän(t)-sərt-ˌmas-tər\
: a musician who is the leading violin player and the assistant conductor of an orchestra
To gain a better appreciation of this position, know this: If you’re good enough to be in a Symphony orchestra – any instrument, any position – then you’re really good.
Growing up, one of my band directors told us this:
It’s really hard to get into a Symphony. You have to be incredibly talented but once you’re in, you’re in for life. So if you’re not already in an orchestra, someone has to either resign or die for there to be an opening.
Competition is fierce and raw talent alone won’t be enough when you’re auditioning with the other musicians at that level who want it just as badly as you do
WQXR radio out of New York posted an article about auditions which taught me this:
In the past several decades, orchestral auditions have only gotten more competitive. A section position for a major orchestra might have 200-300 applicants, and then 100 will be invited to actually audition,
said Jonathan Mednick, CEO of MyAuditions.com, an orchestra job posting website. Available jobs have decreased as well, he said.
“Three years ago, we were averaging 300 plus jobs per month, and recently we averaged about 120.”
So with that in mind, imagine how a musician feels when making it into a top-notch, professional orchestra. Now imagine being that top-notch professional orchestra’s 1st chair violin.
That’s your Concertmaster.
What additional responsibilities do you have with the CSO as our Concertmaster? The bowings for the music, though most music already have them marked, so I just make sure it all makes sense.
Simply put, a Concertmaster is the 2nd highest ranking member of the orchestra behind the conductor. The conductor always shakes the hand of the concertmaster. The soloist always shakes the hand of the conductor – and the concertmaster.
The concertmaster is the last one on stage before a performance and is responsible for making sure the musicians on stage are all in tune. Once the orchestra has a chance to tune to the concertmaster, he (or she!) then takes the first seat to the left of the conductor, who then joins the musicians on stage and begins the concert.
To give you an idea of how busy he is, last month Jean-Sébastien met with me for this interview on a Tuesday, worked as a coach to the youth orchestra during a rehearsal (Dvorak’s New World and Saint-Saëns) on Wednesday and then on Thursday attended a fundraising dinner. Jean-Sébastien has also played for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra women’s organization lunches and occasionally meets with various people (donors) after concerts.
Smiling, he told me that,
They want me to do some of everything!
He went on to say, that he’s “…here with a one-year contract, so it’s a bit different than a full-time concertmaster, but with a Music Director leaving, they don’t want to name a permanent concertmaster until the new guy is here.”
The CSO is currently conducting its search for a new music director to succeed our current Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni.
How soon before a performance do you get your music? 2-3 weeks in advance, but if you have another performance, you might not have a chance to look at it. It’s difficulty vs. how well I already know it. Rite of Spring (with the Montreal Symphony) – it was so well-written, so smart, that I sight read it and performed on only a couple rehearsals.
It’s so hard to find well-written music. Music can be complicated, but it’s so hard to perform. Stravinsky was complicated, but easier to perform.
What are your thoughts on leadership within an orchestra: (Leadership is) important, but (sometimes) extremely tricky. It’s a group of very talented and highly trained musicians. You must lead them in a very respectful way. It’s tough from the music director’s point of view. You need someone to make a decision (we’ll do it “this way” or “that way”) but you have to do it in a way to respect the quality of playing, backgrounds, etc.
Where do you see the CSO in 3-5 years? I see a lot of motivation in both the administration and the musicians. It’s had a rough patch – they’ve been recovering for 3-4 years. They’re back in good shape, so they can grow again and make it better than what it was before. A lot of it hinges on who is chosen as the music director – with good chemistry with the musicians, the administration and the community, you can just make miracles. I hope we’ll get lucky and get a great person and a great musician. I hope it will get attention again in the community.
For what do you think the CSO will be known? Any particular specialty? Hard to say. With Maestro Zeitouni, it would be vocals since he is amazing with singers. It all depends on the next Music Director.
Why aren’t more soloists pulled from the orchestra itself?
What sells is a soloist.
Jean-Sébastien explained to me how typically speaking, a concertmaster will play one solo per year but, in his case, with an already planned out schedule and a one-year contract put together only a couple months prior to the start of the season, it wasn’t possible to add a solo for him this year.
Speaking of solos, what happens if you break a string?
If something breaks, it’s usually the E-string. If the soloist breaks a string, he can take the Concertmaster’s violin who takes the associate concertmaster’s violin who, then doesn’t play. If I change a string, I need to play about 4-5 hours before it settles in tune. (Will keep going flat) The E-string takes far less time. For that reason, I usually keep an extra string in my pocket when I go on stage.
With what other ensembles have you played? Edmonton Symphony, Boston Symphony – they have an incredible hall – very old – no technology, they just made it right. It’s amazing. (There are) amazing acoustics in a new symphony hall in Montreal – they have to rely on the technology.
What do you say to people who don’t think they like classical music? What experience do they have that would make them think they don’t like it? Classical music has so much variety. You are bound to like at least something. I’m sure you can find something you like. There are a lot of preconceived notions. It’s challenging – depends on the community.
We come across as very serious so sometimes that doesn’t help.
It’s not easy, but classical music DOES sell.
Other than Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, what violin music should I have in my music library? Bach sonatas and partitas; Paganini Caprice; Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms violin concerti.
Here’s Jascha Heifetz playing Paganini Caprice
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know our new concertmaster, Jean-Sébastien Roy. If you’d like to learn more about Jean-Sébastien and his music, visit his website and his bio on the CSO website. If you’d really like to get to know him, I recommend doing so through music. Holiday pops concert is the first weekend in December and the next classical music concert is the 2nd weekend in January. If you are new to the symphony, try it out. It’s really good and well – you may just discover you like it!
Thanks very much to Jean-Sébastien for granting me permission to use some of the photos off his own website.
- The orchestra: An introduction (operaveritatis.wordpress.com)
Not long after he was named our new concertmaster, I reached out to Canadian violinist, Jean-Sébastien Roy, to see if he’d be interested in letting me interview him for my blog. Giocosity was barely two months old and I hadn’t even met with the French horn section yet, so I was coming to him out of nowhere with absolutely no interviews under my belt. Within a day he responded back with a yes and even offered to do it over the phone if I weren’t able to wait until October when he was planning to move to Columbus.
Wow. Talk about above and beyond!
Last month I had the pleasure of meeting him downtown where he was kind enough to meet with me for a couple of hours while I asked him a myriad questions – about him, his music and his time so far here in Columbus.
If you’re just getting to know him, Jean-Sébastien Roy played as guest concertmaster with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra on two different occasions last year: the waltzes concert at the new year and the Mahler concert in February. He has played as guest concertmaster with orchestras all over the world – including with the Strasbourg Philharmonic in Strasbourg, France, where I spent my senior year in college, so I definitely wanted to ask him about that.
Here’s my interview. Enjoy!
Originally from outside Montreal (Joliette), Quebec, Canada, Jean-Sébastien joins the Columbus Symphony Orchestra as our acting concertmaster for the 2013-2014 season. In talking with him, I learned that he already had connections to Ohio.
Here are some of the basics:
Education: Le Conservatoire de Montréal, Cleveland Institute of Music
Home Life: I have a younger sister (5 years) who is a pianist. Mom and Dad are musicians, too (Piano and guitar), but make their living at other jobs. I also have a dog back home in Canada.
Any fun hobbies? I’ve become a wine enthusiast. (And yes, I like the Alsatian Rieslings!)
Why the violin? It’s always been the violin – since I was two. I started lessons at age four.
How often do you practice? Every day, but I sometimes have to take a day off from time to time. It (orchestra playing) can get very tiring.
Do you ever practice as a section? Not usually. (Sectionals are) used more with youth orchestras. If you have time, it’s great, but it’s usually only used if there’s an occasional very difficult piece.
Instrument: 1745 Carlo Antonio Testore, Jacob Eury bow made in 1830 (From 2006-2009, Roy played a 1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivarius on loan to him after winning the 2006 Canada Council for the Arts Music Bank Competition)
What do you gain from performing? I gain a thrill of playing – you go for it. The public wants to hear this piece, they’re here for a good time. You get on stage, you play your piece, people clap for you. When you rehearse, you start and stop. The energy isn’t the same. If you screw up, nobody’s there to hear. At concert time, you have adrenaline in you – you just go for it. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not as perfect as in a rehearsal because you’re nervous, but it’s a better experience.
COLUMBUS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
What do you think of the CSO so far? I love it – it’s a great orchestra. They respond very well to the conductor. They really care and wish to make the concert very good. I’m still new, but I’m very happy with it.
Is it nice to be able to work with fellow Canadians Jean-Marie Zeitouni and librarian, Jean-Etienne Lederer? Yes, but also Alicia Hui (Principal 2nd Violin) is from Canada – from Edmonton.
What should people here know about the Columbus Symphony Orchestra? We’re just a bunch of people getting together and playing music. It’s all very interesting with fun people, passionate people. It’s very demanding to perform, so we might look a little still and focused on stage, but there’s a lot of passion with every performer.
Which concerts are you most looking forward to playing this year? Carmen in Concert, the Bruckner, Guy Braunstein (Former Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic – will be playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto)
Are you looking forward to any particular, upcoming guest conductors? Michael Stern – and Jacques Lacombe (French-Canadian). Jacques Lacombe – he conducted when I was 10 at a festival put on by my teacher and I’ve seen him from time to time since then.
Ohio Theatre or Southern Theatre? Southern has better acoustics, but with a smaller place, it’s easier to fill. The Ohio – the most beautiful I’ve seen in my life.
Place to perform outside of Columbus: Europe in general – anywhere in Europe. This music was born there, there’s so much history. America has the incredible halls. When you set foot in Europe, there are great halls where great performers have been for centuries, it’s very special. You feel like you’re a part of its history.
Composers: Schubert, Richard Strauss, J.S. Bach, W. A. Mozart
Musical Era: End of the classical / beginning of romantic Mozart and Schubert were writing incredible music. Beethoven just opened the door to everything.
Show off pieces for the violin: Brahms Hungarian dances
Take a moment to listen to this video of Jean-Sébastien Roy’s playing Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 20.
Pieces for the Violin: Mendelssohn violin concerto is a beautiful piece. Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major Op us 77, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 Opus 47 “Kreutzer Sonata.”
Violinists: Itzhak Perlman, Jascha Haifetz, Nathan Milstein, I love the old guys!
Conductors: Wilhelm Furtwängler (Berlin Phil 40’s), Sergiu Celibidache, Leonard Bernstein
Performances: Hard to tell – very different playing in a symphony, playing solo, or in a chamber setting – most are special for different reasons. The Mahler #2 was nice – especially being the concertmaster.
You just arrived last month, so what parts of the city have you explored? German Village, Short North, Campus Area (I think!)
Can you sing the OSU Fight Song or Alma Mater? Not yet, but I just arrived. (OK – I’ll grant him that, but I came prepared and brought the music for the fight song with me just in case. Unfortunately, we met in a fairly noisy place, so Jean-Sébastien wasn’t really able to pull out his violin to play it for me. Next time.)
Any plans to see the Blue Jackets? Not sure yet – I don’t go that often. Tickets in Montreal are really expensive. (For you hockey fans out there, Montreal took on Columbus this past Friday and unfortunately, the Habs beat our Blue Jackets by a score of 3-2. Sigh.)
Igor Stravinsky – Rite of spring: Genius? Or just plain weird? Genius – the rhythm was incredible.
Finally – and most important – what’s your favorite Jeni’s Ice Cream flavor? There was an almond one that was amazing. I also like the Poached Pear Riesling.
Again with the Riesling. I think he might just need to check out some of our local wineries!
Come back on Wednesday when we talk about Jean-Sébastien’s role as concertmaster, his thoughts on leadership within the orchestra as well as what violin music we should all have in our music libraries! In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Jean-Sébastien and his music, visit his website and his bio on the CSO website.
Thanks very much to Jean-Sébastien for granting me permission to use some of the photos off his own website.
Watch next week for my interview with Jean-Sébastien Roy, our new concertmaster with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
Super nice guy – you’ll want to meet him!
In the meantime, check out that violin. My six-greats grandfather, Capt. Nathaniel Scribner, was only two years old when it was made in 1745. Yes – it’s older than either of our respective countries! Learn more about it next week!
Picture borrowed from The Violin Channel.
After a year and a half of searching, Canadian violinist Jean-Sebastien Roy, has been named the new Concertmaster to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
This exciting announcement was made earlier today and ended speculation as to who was finally going to permanently take over the leadership role of Concertmaster.
From today’s CSO press release:
“Jean-Sébastien Roy is a remarkable musician that I have known and respected for many years,” stated CSO Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni. “I look forward to his leadership as we work together to make the 2013-14 season unforgettable.”
Hailing from Montreal, like our Music Director, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, Jean-Sebastien Roy is a very talented violinist who plays on a violin made by Carlo Antonio Testore in 1745 and a bow made in 1830 by Jacob Eury. I read earlier that from 2006-2009, he was even lent the 1717 Windsor Weinstein Stradivarious. Nice!
Roy has played all over the world and has a reputation as a top-notch soloist and chamber musician. He has spent a lot of time in Europe and was even the guest Concertmaster at the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra – an ensemble I was fortunate enough to hear back when I studied in France at the Université de Strasbourg.
According to the article appearing in today’s Columbus Dispatch,
Roy will provide leadership within the violin section and represent the orchestra in central Ohio and beyond.
For my part, it will refreshing to put a public face on our orchestra, so I really do hope to see him out and about. Of course, having also been recently appointed as concertmaster at the McGill Chamber Orchestra, I’m a bit worried about how much time he’ll actually spend in our fair city. Like our Music Director, he’ll be splitting his time between two leadership roles: one here in Columbus and one in his hometown of Montreal, Canada. We’ll just have to wait and see though. Maybe he’ll fall in love with Columbus and decide to stay. We do have a pretty awesome city!
Our new Concertmaster will play his first concert with us at the season opener on October 5th. I’ll be able to see him perform the week after for some Rachmaninoff and Brahms.
Update 02 Aug 2013: I’ve learned that he is actually going to move to Columbus – which is really great news! HMB