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An orchestra (/ˈɔːrkɪstrə/; Italian: [orˈkɛstra]) is a large instrumental ensemble typical of classical music, which combines instruments from different families, including bowed string instruments such as the violin, viola, cello, and double bass, brass instruments such as the horn, trumpet, trombone and tuba, woodwinds such as the flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, and percussion instruments such as the timpani, bass drum, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, and mallet percussion instruments each grouped in sections. Other instruments such as the piano and celesta may sometimes appear in a fifth keyboard section or may stand alone, as may the concert harp and, for performances of some modern compositions, electronic instruments.

A full-size Western orchestra may sometimes be called a symphony orchestra or philharmonic orchestra (from Greek phil-, "loving", and "harmonic"). The actual number of musicians employed in a given performance may vary from seventy to over one hundred musicians, depending on the work being played and the size of the venue. A chamber orchestra (sometimes concert orchestra) is a smaller ensemble of not more than about fifty musicians.[1] Orchestras that specialize in the Baroque music of, for example, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, or Classical repertoire, such as that of Haydn and Mozart, tend to be smaller than orchestras performing a Romantic music repertoire,[citation needed] such as the symphonies of Johannes Brahms. The typical orchestra grew in size throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, reaching a peak with the large orchestras (of as many as 120 players) called for in the works of Richard Wagner, and later, Gustav Mahler.

Orchestras are usually led by a conductor who directs the performance with movements of the hands and arms, often made easier for the musicians to see by use of a conductor's baton. The conductor unifies the orchestra, sets the tempo and shapes the sound of the ensemble.[2] The conductor also prepares the orchestra by leading rehearsals before the public concert, in which the conductor provides instructions to the musicians on their interpretation of the music being performed.

The leader of the first violin section, commonly called the concertmaster, also plays an important role in leading the musicians. In the Baroque music era (1600–1750), orchestras were often led by the concertmaster or by a chord-playing musician performing the basso continuo parts on a harpsichord or pipe organ, a tradition that some 20th-century and 21st-century early music ensembles continue. Orchestras play a wide range of repertoire, including symphonies, opera and ballet overtures, concertos for solo instruments, and as pit ensembles for operas, ballets, and some types of musical theatre (e.g., Gilbert and Sullivan operettas).

Amateur orchestras include those made up of students from an elementary school or a high school, youth orchestras, and community orchestras; the latter two typically being made up of amateur musicians from a particular city or region.

The term orchestra derives from the Greek ὀρχήστρα (orchestra), the name for the area in front of a stage in ancient Greek theatre reserved for the Greek chorus.[3]

Conducting an orchestra

Among the instrument groups and within each group of instruments, there is a generally accepted hierarchy. Every instrumental group (or section) has a principal who is generally responsible for leading the group and playing orchestral solos. The violins are divided into two groups, first violin and second violin, with the second violins playing in lower registers than the first violins, playing an accompaniment part, or harmonizing the melody played by the first violins. The principal first violin is called the concertmaster (or "leader" in the UK) and is not only considered the leader of the string section, but the second-in-command of the entire orchestra, behind only the conductor. The concertmaster leads the pre-concert tuning and handles musical aspects of orchestra management, such as determining the bowings for the violins or for all of the string section. The concertmaster usually sits to the conductor's left, closest to the audience. There is also a principal second violin, a principal viola, a principal cello and a principal bass.

The principal trombone is considered the leader of the low brass section, while the principal trumpet is generally considered the leader of the entire brass section. While the oboe often provides the tuning note for the orchestra (due to 300-year-old convention), there is generally no designated principal of the woodwind section (though in woodwind ensembles, the flute is often considered the leader.)[13] Instead, each principal confers with the others as equals in the case of musical differences of opinion. Most sections also have an assistant principal (or co-principal or associate principal), or in the case of the first violins, an assistant concertmaster, who often plays a tutti part in addition to replacing the principal in his or her absence.

A section string player plays in unison with the rest of the section, except in the case of divided (divisi) parts, where upper and lower parts in the music are often assigned to "outside" (nearer the audience) and "inside" seated players. Where a solo part is called for in a string section, the section leader invariably plays that part. The section leader (or principal) of a string section is als

Among the instrument groups and within each group of instruments, there is a generally accepted hierarchy. Every instrumental group (or section) has a principal who is generally responsible for leading the group and playing orchestral solos. The violins are divided into two groups, first violin and second violin, with the second violins playing in lower registers than the first violins, playing an accompaniment part, or harmonizing the melody played by the first violins. The principal first violin is called the concertmaster (or "leader" in the UK) and is not only considered the leader of the string section, but the second-in-command of the entire orchestra, behind only the conductor. The concertmaster leads the pre-concert tuning and handles musical aspects of orchestra management, such as determining the bowings for the violins or for all of the string section. The concertmaster usually sits to the conductor's left, closest to the audience. There is also a principal second violin, a principal viola, a principal cello and a principal bass.

The principal trombone is considered the leader of the low brass section, while the principal trumpet is generally considered the leader of the entire brass section. While the oboe often provides the tuning note for the orchestra (due to 300-year-old convention), there is generally no designated principal of the woodwind section (though in woodwind ensembles, the flute is often considered the leader.)[13] Instead, each principal confers with the others as equals in the case of musical differences of opinion. Most sections also have an assistant principal (or co-principal or associate principal), or in the case of the first violins, an assistant concertmaster, who often plays a tutti part in addition to replacing the prin

The principal trombone is considered the leader of the low brass section, while the principal trumpet is generally considered the leader of the entire brass section. While the oboe often provides the tuning note for the orchestra (due to 300-year-old convention), there is generally no designated principal of the woodwind section (though in woodwind ensembles, the flute is often considered the leader.)[13] Instead, each principal confers with the others as equals in the case of musical differences of opinion. Most sections also have an assistant principal (or co-principal or associate principal), or in the case of the first violins, an assistant concertmaster, who often plays a tutti part in addition to replacing the principal in his or her absence.

A section string player plays in unison with the rest of the section, except in the case of divided (divisi) parts, where upper and lower parts in the music are often assigned to "outside" (nearer the audience) and "inside" seated players. Where a solo part is called for in a string section, the section leader invariably plays that part. The section leader (or principal) of a string section is also responsible for determining the bowings, often based on the bowings set out by the concertmaster. In some cases, the principal of a string section may use a slightly different bowing than the concertmaster, to accommodate the requirements of playing their instrument (e.g., the double-bass section). Principals of a string section will also lead entrances for their section, typically by lifting the bow before the entrance, to ensure the section plays together. Tutti wind and brass players generally play a unique but non-solo part. Section percussionists play parts assigned to them by the principal percussionist.

In modern times, the musicians are usually directed by a conductor, although early orchestras did not have one, giving this role instead to the concertmaster or the harpsichordist playing the continuo. Some modern orchestras also do without conductors, particularly smaller orchestras and those specializing in historically accurate (so-called "period") performances of baroque and earlier music.

The most frequently performed repertoire for a symphony orchestra is Western classical music or opera. However, orchestras are used sometimes in popular music (e.g., to accompany a rock or pop band in a concert), extensively in film music, and increasingly often in video game music. Orchestras are also used in the symphonic metal genre. The term "orchestra" can also be applied to a jazz ensemble, for example in the performance of big-band music.

In the 2000s, all tenured members of a professional orchestra normally audition for positions in the ensemble. Performers typically play one or more solo pieces of the auditionee's choice, such as a movement of a concerto, a solo Bach movement, and a variety of excerpts from the orchestral literature that are advertised in the audition poster (so the auditionees can prepare). The excerpts are typically the most technically challenging parts and solos from the orchestral literature. Orchestral auditions are typically held in front of a panel that includes the conductor, the concertmaster, the principal player of the section for which the auditionee is applying, and possibly other principal players.

The most promising candidates from the first round of auditions are invited to return for a second or third round of auditions, which allows the conductor and the panel to compare the best candidates. Performers may be asked to sight read orchestral music. The final stage of the audition process in some orchest

The most promising candidates from the first round of auditions are invited to return for a second or third round of auditions, which allows the conductor and the panel to compare the best candidates. Performers may be asked to sight read orchestral music. The final stage of the audition process in some orchestras is a test week, in which the performer plays with the orchestra for a week or two, which allows the conductor and principal players to see if the individual can function well in an actual rehearsal and performance setting.

There are a range of different employment arrangements. The most sought-after positions are permanent, tenured positions in the orchestra. Orchestras also hire musicians on contracts, ranging in length from a single concert to a full season or more. Contract performers may be hired for individual concerts when the orchestra is doing an exceptionally large late-Romantic era orchestral work, or to substitute for a permanent member who is sick. A professional musician who is hired to perform for a single concert is sometimes called a "sub". Some contract musicians may be hired to replace permanent members for the period that the permanent member is on parental leave or disability leave.

Historically, major professional orchestras have been mostly or entirely composed of male musicians. The first female members hired in professional orchestras have been harpists. The Vienna Philharmonic, for example, did not accept women to permanent membership until 1997, far later than comparable orchestras (the other orchestras ranked among the world’s top five by Gramophone in 2008).[14] The last major orchestra to appoint a woman to a permanent position was the Berlin Philharmonic.[15] In February 1996, the Vienna Philharmonic's principal flute, Dieter Flury, told Westdeutscher Rundfunk that accepting women would be "gambling with the emotional unity (emotionelle Geschlossenheit) that this organism currently has".[16] In April 1996, the orchestra’s press secretary wrote that "compensating for the expected leaves of absence" of maternity leave would be a problem.[17]

In 1997, the Vienna Philharmonic was "facing protests during a [US] tour" by the National Organization for Women and the I

In 1997, the Vienna Philharmonic was "facing protests during a [US] tour" by the National Organization for Women and the International Alliance for Women in Music. Finally, "after being held up to increasing ridicule even in socially conservative Austria, members of the orchestra gathered [on 28 February 1997] in an extraordinary meeting on the eve of their departure and agreed to admit a woman, Anna Lelkes, as harpist."[18] As of 2013, the orchestra has six female members; one of them, violinist Albena Danailova, became one of the orchestra’s concertmasters in 2008, the first woman to hold that position.[19] In 2012, women made up 6% of the orchestra's membership. VPO president Clemens Hellsberg said the VPO now uses completely screened blind auditions.[20]

In 2013, an article in Mother Jones stated that while "[m]any prestigious orchestras have significant female membership—women outnumber men in the New York Philharmonic's violin section—and several renowned ensembles, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, and the Minnesota Symphony, are led by women violinists", the double bass, brass, and percussion sections of major orchestras "...are still predominantly male."[21] A 2014 BBC article stated that the "...introduction of ‘blind’ auditions, where a prospective instrumentalist performs behind a screen so that the judging panel can exercise no gender or racial prejudice, has seen the gender balance of traditionally male-dominated symphony orchestras gradually shift."[22]

There are also a variety of amateur orchestras: