After studies in Bulgaria punctuated by competition first prizes (the Wieniawski Competition in 1985 with Maxim Vengerov, the Carl Flesch in 1988), Vesko Eschkenazy left for London to finish his studies at the Guildhall School. However, it’s in the Netherlands that he has laid down his hat and his violin case, becoming concertmaster of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra before being appointed to the same role at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam in 2000, at just 30 years old. He tells us about that appointment and about the peculiarities of his role in the orchestra.

Vesko Eschkenazy
© Diliana Florentin

How did you become concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra?

I became a concertmaster after a large orchestra committee chose me in a three-stage audition. The last stage consisted of actually leading the orchestra on a regular program of concerts. I never met the other contestants as we all had the auditions on different dates.

What is the role of the concertmaster within the orchestra?

When we speak of a concertmaster, we think of the person on the first chair on the left hand side of the conductor (looking from the audience). This position allows everyone from the orchestra to have visual contact with the person sitting there. Also, for the conductor it is the easiest place to connect with. The concertmaster is the musician/violinist through whom the conductor communicates with the whole orchestra – musically and otherwise. In other words, the concertmaster is the point of communication for the whole orchestra. The violin solos in the orchestral repertoire are written for the concertmaster, the discipline on stage is his/her duty, always takes part in listening to auditions and other committees etc. Last but not least, the concertmaster has a social part in the orchestra being able to connect to the colleagues and listen to each one when necessary, solve situations when and if they occur, being a leader not only on stage but also off stage. All this happens only when the necessary trust and respect is created and exist between orchestra and the concertmaster.

How do you facilitate communication between the conductor and the orchestra?

I try to find the best possible way for each and every one of our conductors. Each conductor has a different style of working, rehearsing and music-making. According to their way of working, the concertmaster helps and enhances that process to give the opportunity to conductor and orchestra to create the necessary connection and trust between them in order to achieve the best possible result in performances. Instructions and suggestions to the conductor in connection with the work process are welcome most of the time, as conductors who are new to the orchestra need more feedback in order to learn more about the orchestra and the way it works at its best. Conductors who know the orchestra well do not need such feedback but they might need other kinds of support – for example suggestions for bowings, logistical advice or sometimes just a casual conversation that would make everyone have a great time on stage. All of this varies per conductor and is being done by the concertmaster following his/her inner feelings and experience.

Independently from the conductor’s musical vision, what initiatives can you take interpretation wise?

Orchestras with great musical traditions carry those traditions and that is one of the factors that make them great. That does not mean that a conductor cannot go his/her own way in interpreting the score. Even the opposite – if there is a strong idea that works it is always exciting to try and make it happen. But we should never forget that each orchestra has a certain distinctive feature or “specialty” which is good for the conductor to know and explore, and the concertmaster is there to remind them of it or point it out. It is very helpful to talk to the conductor if there is an interpretation question to be solved. At the end of the day, music-making is about talking to each other, communicating with the language of music.

Vesko Eschkenazy
© Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

An orchestra is a complex organism, with its own hierarchical structure between the different sections. How do you make sure that this hierarchical structure works smoothly without conflict?

Our orchestra is based on teamwork and team spirit. Of course we all know the hierarchical order, but there is no need to be reminded of it constantly. Each member is aware of how this organism works and we all try to find ourselves and do the best in our positions in the orchestra. In my 18 years as a concertmaster of the RCO I did not have a single moment where I needed to remind a colleague of the hierarchy or how it works.

Is there one thing in the concert ritual that you would like to see changed?

A bow for the whole orchestra and not only for the conductor at the end of the performance would be nice to have, but this is unpractical and therefore has not been done.