The Concertmaster has the greatest single role in the orchestra— save for the conductor. They are the best of the first violins and have demonstrated great expertise on their instrument and a knowledge of the repertoire. It has become tradition to pay respect to this important position by allowing them a solo bow and giving them applause before the conductor takes to the stage.
One of the first tasks of the Concertmaster, after taking a bow, is to signal to the oboist (the first chair oboe player) to play a note tuned to “A” (a frequency of 440 Hz) to which the entire orchestra tunes, and then every musician can start off fresh and in sync with each other.
The relationship between conductor and concertmaster is a very special one. It is of the "push pull" variety, a "give and take" of the highest order. Often one will witness the conductor directing the concertmaster rather than the full orchestra. In return, the concertmasters help keep the conductors in tempo, and through gestures reminds them of changes. String players, through experience in string quartets, have become accustomed to following the first violinist. In the orchestral experience, they sometimes continue to look to the first violinist–the concertmaster–for leadership. The concertmaster is usually nearly as conversant with the score as is the conductor. Often, they are called upon to play solo passages, and sometimes performs entire concerti with his orchestra.
In the early 19th century, the role of conductor evolved from that of merely a time beater to interpreter. More often than not, conductors either had directed from a keyboard or with the violin (as first violinist), before distinguishing themselves with the baton. It's not uncommon to find that many conductors had begun their music careers as string players. Arturo Toscanini, a cellist, and Eugene Ormandy, a noted violinist are just two examples.
The position of Concertmaster is a respected one and just honors are accorded at each concert. From a stark practical standpoint, their bows and the audience’s applause also calls attention to the beginning of the performance!
the Music Master