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The role of Leader of the Orchestra

14 April 2020
Head shot of David Adams on a grey background, smiling, wearing a white shirt.

Whether you are attending one of our operas or a concert by WNO Orchestra, if you are in your seat early you will see and hear members of the Orchestra taking their positions and tuning up.  Just before the Conductor takes their place on the podium, the Leader of the Orchestra will bring all of the players together ready for the performance – but what exactly does the Leader do? We asked David Adams, Leader of WNO Orchestra since August 2009, to tell us more.

‘The most obvious role of the Leader is liaising with the conductor in rehearsals to help the Orchestra interpret their ideas and make them sound as they imagine. This mainly affects the string section, but may also influence the rest of the Orchestra. It could mean changing the bowing, or simply making sure everyone has understood the idea and is executing it in the same way.'

In addition to watching the conductor, the musicians also keep an eye on the leader - because the conductor doesn’t make any sound, the Orchestra often actually sounds when the leader makes a sound. There are many exceptions to this depending on the context and conductor, but it is still a crucial aspect of the role.

As with all the principal seats in the Orchestra the leader will have many solos to play, some of them as demanding as the solo concerto repertoire although thankfully often shorter! It is important that the solos are at the highest level.

Every Orchestra will have its own set of ideals, depending on the repertoire and programme it delivers. WNO Orchestra requires a flexibility of expression, understanding of adapting to different style and a particular way of listening and shaping phrases to support the singers, among other things. It’s important the leader upholds and sets the example of these principles and ideals.

The responsibilities outside playing are similar to the other principal players, taking sectional rehearsals, sitting on audition panels, representing the Orchestra at receptions and functions. The leader is also consulted on rehearsal scheduling, planning, repertoire and choosing conductors.

WNO Orchestra has a wide range of performances. Alongside our main scale opera we perform several symphony concerts throughout the Season. We also have our Viennese tour and other ‘self-drive’ concerts (without conductor), invitations to festivals which can include such diversity as video games music concerts, opera galas, small chamber music concerts, wind or string orchestra concerts all in the same week and of course outreach work often including Family or Schools concerts for the full Orchestra. Each of these projects requires me to play a different role, often because of the repertoire and also how the project is led.

I am lucky enough to be able to direct several concerts from the violin each Season, this means a large amount of extra preparation. Choosing a programme takes quite a lot of time not to mention learning it and preparing it for the rehearsals and concerts, but this is something I enjoy enormously and the idea is that we, the Orchestra, learn to fend for ourselves during these projects which is great for our confidence and collaboration.’

Read more about WNO Orchestra here