Mud From A Scraper
No. 6 In An Occasional Series
An instrumental soloist is a musician who, by virtue of an over-developed technique and an excess of individuality, is unsuited to playing in orchestras. His task is a thankless one, for he is always conscious that there are fifty or more performers behind him watching for flaws in his performance. A solo violinist feels that he is being accompanied by twenty players who have studied the work he is playing in detail, and who know that they could play it better. A cello soloist is more fortunate, in that he rarely performs before more than eight of his critical colleagues.
Pianists are in a happier position as they seem to be divided into two classes: a) sensitive ones, who benefit from comparison with the insensitive ones who ignore the orchestra, and b) those others who are oblivious of any hostility they may arouse.
Singers are judged by different standards. It is an old saw that people are either gifted with musicianship or with a good voice; thus a singer exhibiting the slightest trace of artistic sensibility is welcomed by an orchestra however inadequate the voice may be. The majority are praised or condemned for their intonation and the quality of voice, and except in rare cases will be unfavourably compared with famous singers of the past, not only for their voice but also looks and sex appeal. Players know little or nothing about vocal technique, but refuse to relinquish their prerogative to criticise anything in earshot.
The artistic merit of any soloist can be gauged by the amount of applause afforded to him or her by the orchestra. Most players tap their stands at the end of a concerto or aria as an act of thanksgiving that the piece is over - but it also signifies gratitude for the audience the soloist has attracted. If they continue to tap whilst the soloist is taking his second bow, it means that they approve of the performance. If they are still tapping when he is recalled for a third bow, they think he is really good. However, no player applauds after this, lest the soloist be encouraged to play an encore.
Many orchestral musicians entered their careers under the illusion that they would one day be soloists. Despite this, there is no trace of jealousy in their indictment of concerto players, for they come to realise, after fifteen years in the profession, that though there is no kudos to be gained in their work, theirs indeed is the higher calling.