The second violin section of the Brumington Symphony Orchestra are bracing for a vote on whether to leave or remain in their orchestra. The upcoming referendum has created anxiety throughout the orchestra amidst concerns that the second violins, who are the second largest section in the orchestra, are leaning towards a so-called Brexit (an exit from the Brumington Symphony).
Although the orchestra is one of only 12 salaried orchestras in the country and provides the second violins with a generous pension, paid sick days and funding for personal artistic development, some in the second violins feel that they have lost control over musical decision making. “It’s outrageous that we often don’t even control which direction our bows are going,” said Martin Geigeflegel, one of the organisers of the Leave campaign. “We’re constantly expected to match the first violins’ bowings, which are set by the leader, who is not a member of our section. Some bowings are even set by the conductor, who is not even a member of the orchestra. Voting Leave will restore our musical sovereignty- second violin bowings should obviously be decided by second violin players.”
It is clear that some of the discontent in the second violin section stems from frustrations with the dominance of the first violins, who are the largest section in the orchestra and get to play most of the memorable tunes. “When we came together with the woodwinds, the brass and the rest of the strings to form a musical union,” said Myrtle Shyftmysser, the long-time third assistant principal second violinist of the orchestra, “it was about creating a common marketplace for our musical talents. The first violins have become too dominant- they drive too much decision making and get too much audience attention. Frankly, I hate them all.”
Concerns have been raised as to whether a second violin Brexit would lead to the dissolution of the entire BSO, which has been riding high on a wave of critical adulation, sold out concerts, and one of the most lucrative recording contracts in the UK, one which is reported to generate dozens of pounds in income for the orchestra every year. The orchestra’s CEO Petri Jätehuolto said it would be a step into the unknown, “It is extremely unusual for an orchestra to perform without a second violin section. While they contribute very little to the music making of the orchestra overall and don’t seem to ever play a melody, they do take up quite a lot of space on stage, and I’m very concerned about whether audiences will think they’re getting value for money at our concerts when there is such a large open space on the stage. We’re currently looking at whether putting some small sculptures or possibly a water feature on stage would be a suitable alternative to a second violin section.”
Jätehuolto’s remarks brought Geigeflegel back to one of the major concerns of the Leave the Orchestra campaign- that too much decision-making power was in the hands of un-auditioned bureaucrats. “Jätehuolto and his team sit over there in the office building and decide who is going to conduct, what time rehearsal starts and what colour the posters are, and he’s never had to learn the first page of Don Juan.”
Leaders of the Leave campaign have expressed confidence that once they leave the BSO, the second violins will quickly be able to negotiate a new relationship with the orchestra’s audience for independent concerts. “We won’t be the first group outside the orchestra to perform in Market Hall [which is owned and operated by the BSO], said Shyftmysser, “the Tackacs Quartet and Lang Lang both did concerts last year which sold just as well as the orchestra, and we’re confident that once we’ve reclaimed our artistic independence, the market for our services will be better than ever. Personally, I think the BSO’s programming has become too highbrow, which is why I’ve suggested starting our new Second Violins Live series with a ViennaFest concert featuring all the best second violin parts by Johann Strauss Jr. I’m sure the audience will find it really exciting.”
Concerns have also been raised about the uncontrolled influx of new musicians onto the relatively small stage. “We regularly do concerts with choirs, who take up an enormous amount of room onstage and crowd the dressing room. Lines for the toilets at the intervals are too long, and it’s ridiculous that an amateur singer can come on our stage and sing Mahler and Verdi without even learning how to play off-beats or read alto clef.”
A look at the dynamics of the BSO as a whole reveals a sharp divide between sections seeking greater autonomy, such as the double basses, who many believe will follow the second violins lead and vote Brexit next season, and those demanding ever tighter union, such as the woodwinds.
The basses are reported to harbour deep resentment over having to play at the same time as the rest of the orchestra. “We’re constantly being told we’re late,” said bassist Don Murkee. “Well, who’s to say the rest of the orchestra isn’t early? If we leave the orchestra, I can play the bass when the bass is ready to be played.”
Meanwhile, principal oboist Nigel Bleistifthals says that a wider range of musical details need to be voted on by the entire orchestra. “We in the woodwinds feel that we should really have an equal say in the BSO’s bowings. After all, if the strings run out of bow, or play too loud, we’re the ones who have to bail them out. I’ve long thought Beethoven Five would sound better if the strings started down bow, and it’s crazy I can’t make them try it.”
While most of the orchestra’s artistic and administrative staff have been unified in pleading for the second violins to remain, the BSO’s apprentice conductor Alexander de Pfeffel has given his endorsement to the Leave campaign, although many suspect that in spite of his public calls for second violin autonomy, he intends to poach the entire BSO second violin section for his newly-formed rival orchestra, the Brumington Philharmonic, which is rumoured to be offering “an atmosphere of profound musician empowerment and self-realization in place of the gilded cage of a salary and benefits.”
“I have no plans to poach the BSO’s second violin section,” said de Pfeffel, “although I can hardly imagine a more stalwart group of violinists to build an orchestra around than these wonderful autonomous artists. If I was to form a Brumington Philharmonic, as has been rumoured, I would be honoured to make them the cornerstone of the new orchestra, even though none of them knows how to play above first position. They can always switch to viola in the BPO, which would make for a much stronger viola section than the BSO- everyone knows that most decent violists are actually violinists anyway.”
Meanwhile, members of the cello section expressed surprise at the pending vote. “Nope, I had no idea they were thinking of leaving,” said cellist Murray Nice
Nice’s stand partner, cellist Dwayne Comfort, overhearing Nice’s comments said “wait, you mean this orchestra has two violin sections? Wow- that’s cool. I had no idea- I just thought some of them kind of laid out or faked it when the parts got too hard.”