1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

Position of DB players in relation to conductor

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Andy Mopley, Apr 28, 2015.

  1. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Hi all

    mostly, I've played to the right of conductor, but on occasions, we (the section) were asked to move to the left - just curious (should have asked at the time!) as to what the reason for this is (assuming an accepted practice).
    Does it come down to a conductor's decision?

    Thanks for reading!
  2. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    When the bass section is stage right, it's easier to have the f-holes facing toward the audience. "They" say this sounds better, but I've never done it.
  3. That's sometimes referred to as antiphonal seating. It actually has very little to do with the basses, and has nothing to do with the f-holes (you can orient yourself however you like on either side of the stage). The idea is to have the two violin sections on opposite sides of the stage, which is a sound many conductors prefer. In this case, the cello section must be moved over to the middle stage right, and the basses stay behind wherever the cellos are.

    There's also the old Viennese tradition of putting the basses in a line at the very back of the stage behind or next to the percussion. I think this actually sounds the best, and it's super helpful for the rest of the orchestra, but it's a total drag to play back there. You just lose any feeling of having a tight string ensemble.

  4. I play in one orchestra that puts the basses on the left of the conductor, behind the firsts. From left to right, its firsts (with basses behind), violas, cellos, seconds. With the separation from the cellos, I find that its much easier to hear myself and the rest of my section, but, yes, disorienting for the first couple rehearsals of the cycle.
  5. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    It is pretty common in string orchestras to have the basses behind the violins instead of the cellos. Some claim it's for balancing the bass sound, some claim it's tradition, some think it looks good etc. I never enjoyed playing in that configuration especially when there were passages with the cello section, it is really challenging to sound like one large bass instrument section when you're on opposite sides of the ensemble.

    That isn't to say that these are the only options. Paul's antiphonal seating was common in different places at different times, and some composers took advantage of this. When there is a call and response, echo, counter melody etc. in the violins it can be really effective to have that sound coming from opposite sides of the orchestra instead of from essentially the same place. I have played a few concerts where conductors who typically preferred the "standard" seating arrangement did so specifically for the repertoire. I also worked with a conductor that swapped the cellos and violas, so from left to right the string section was firsts, seconds, cellos, violas, with the bass section roughly behind both the violas and the cellos. I hadn't seen that before, but considering the violas tend to get buried a lot of the time it made sense.

    There have been a few cases where space was at a premium, we were working with a choir, or some other unique situation where I've seen some really creative seating arrangements but I believe this was mostly out of necessity and not actually desirable. I do think changing the seating arrangement is a useful exercise and gives you a chance to hear different elements of the orchestra which can help to open your ears. Having sat concert master for a while in my dark days of violin playing I do think the bass section misses out by being removed from the rest of the string section, but the audience would likely complain if we took up residence beside the cellos and blocked their view of the whole right half of the orchestra.
  6. These days, I usually take a seat in the front row directly to the right of the podium. It wouldn't work with a full section, but in a chamber ensemble this is absolutely the best arrangement.

  7. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    I've played all over the stage but most times it is directly behind the last stand of celli. I don't like being there as the worst cellist is usually right in front of me.

    I prefer to be in the pocket behind the violas. I'm a little closer to the conductor, away from the worst cellist and I can see the principal cellists bow arm better. Violists are usually more interesting to talk to, as well.

    I've been at the back behind the horns for a Mahler 1 concert. Having 8 horns standing with their horns pointed at your face is quite a treat, I can tell ya!

    I've also been at the back behind the winds on plywood risers, too. This was mostly so they didn't have to hire a 4th bassist (GRR!). However, the extra IATSE guy who "had" to be at all the rehearsals to move the riser ate up those "savings". (Double GRRR!) It was interesting to hear all the little things the winds do though. Being close to the bassoons helped both of us out, but the disconnect with the other strings was a bit disconcerting.

    I've been on the left behind the 1sts a few times. It was weird to be the player on the left and having to turn pages. It made the 1st play a little more in tune though. I received some interesting comments from the fiddle snobs, too. "Wow, it's like you actually play something besides boom, boom, boom." or "Ew, I can't hear myself think with you there."
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  8. I have to play Haydn's Mass In Time Of War with a large community choir in a large-ish chapel next week. I dread the situation most likely that the conductor will want the tympani on our side where there is hardly room between columns for us three basses any way. I hate being crammed up against the stand or chairs in front, or audience/players beside me, especially tympani or tuba. When they play we might as well go home - no contest. Occasionally in the SSO we sat "on the other side" with basses turning a little more towards the audience. The first desk looked uncomfortable and miffed because they were near the piccolo and didn't look so good. The Cellos sat in front of us, between the 1st Violins and violas, and the 2nds opposed the Firsts. This was called for by the music, to separate the 1st and 2nd Violin sounds. Otherwise we were happy on the "usual" side. I liked being on risers - they defined enough space to open your shoulders and PLAY the bloody thing properly.

    Space can also be a factor. The stage is usually set up with the conductor's podium in the center. The strings and brass to their right occupy/need more space than the violins to their left. Also no one wants to sit in the "blast zone" in front of the brass (very dangerous) or wear ear protection. In this respect though, playing on a concert platform is much more pleasant that cramming into an opera house pit IMO.

  9. mrmarbles


    May 6, 2015
    Washington DC
    The best is playing next to the Tuba and having the gentleman empty his spit valve all over your right shoe.
    Last edited: May 14, 2015
  10. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I liked best sitting with the bassoons when I played in a little community orchestra.

    But really, having the basses in front of the conductor and being surrounded with a ring of fire that blazes with greater intensity as the volume increases would be the most ideal position.

    Or maybe in a spinning cage above the orchestra? I guarantee that would draw a spendy crowd!
  11. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    One interesting set up I was involved with was at the Stratford Festival Theatre. It has a large jut stage with Greek amphitheatre seating. The stage crew forgot about the basses (probably because we don't use chairs) and the 8 of us in the National Youth Orchestra ended up playing on the floor between the stage and the first row of seats. We had to look through the gaps of cellists' arms and legs to see the conductor. Because of the permanent stage structure, the brass and percussion sections couldn't see each other. An interesting gig.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.