Is there a standard location?

In any piano concerto that I remember, the soloist was to the right of the conductor.

In a recent cello concerto, the soloist was also to the right of the conductor and hence near the other cellos.

I am trying to remember violin concertos. I am less sure but I think that the soloist was to the left of the conductor and hence near the other violins.

Next week, I will see Mozart's Clarinet Concerto live for the first time. I don't know where the soloist will be.

(Right and left here are from the audience's point of view.)

  • 1
    Are you sure about piano soloists on the conductor's right, as seen from the audience? That is unlikely. Soloists always open the lid, and being on the right would mean that their sound is reflected away from the audience. – Kilian Foth Sep 29 '17 at 6:25
  • Two examples. In both cases, we seated in the front row to the right of centre (our point of view). We heard Rakhmaninov's second piano concerto earlier this year. Steven Osborne and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Symphony Hall Birmingham. The piano was right of the conductor and the pianist had his back to the conductor. So, the piano was open towards us. We had a good view of the underside of the piano. More recently, we heard Beethoven's fifh piano concerto: Federico Colli with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Albert Hall. The arrangement was the same. – badjohn Sep 29 '17 at 8:47
  • That's a way to do it, of course, but I find it strange that the pianist would be seated so that it's almost impossible to look at the conductor. – Kilian Foth Sep 29 '17 at 8:53
  • It was possibly a matter of room on the stage but it is an arrangement that I have seen often. In most cases, the venue is the Symphony Hall in Birmingham since that is near us but our most recent concert was The Albert Hall in London so it is not unique to Birmingham. – badjohn Sep 29 '17 at 8:55
  • I tried Googling for some images of this arrangement but failed so it seems that my experience is atypical. In most cases, the pianist is left of the conductor and facing him or directly in front of the conductor. – badjohn Sep 29 '17 at 8:59

Here's the first few pictures Google Images came up with for 'Piano Concerto'. The pianist must be facing (audience) right of course, because of the way the piano lid opens. The piano is typically centre, which puts the player slightly to the left of the conductor.

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This is also the typical position for an instrumental soloist.

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It took me quite a long time to find one where the soloist WASN'T to the conductor's left. Here's a trombone soloist standing to the right of the conductor. Perhaps the violins insisted!

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  • That matches some of my online research. It seems that I have attended a few concerts with atypical layouts. – badjohn Mar 3 '19 at 15:41

Standard practice is to have the soloist on the conductor's left (seen from the audience) and this is the arrangement you will see in the vast majority of concerts. If the solo instrument is a piano the player can see the conductor and the lid reflects the sound towards the audience

There may sometimes be reasons for having the soloist somewhere else:

  • logistical reasons. In some venues it might not be possible to put e.g. a piano where you want it. Organ soloists have to sit where the organ is (unless the console is moveable). Percussion soloists with a large set-up generally sit behind the orchestra on a raised podium.
  • acoustical reasons. Left of the conductor might be acoustically bad in a particular venue. One example of this is the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany. Some of the audience is seated behind the orchestra where they have problems hearing a singer positioned at the front of the stage.
  • artistic reasons. For example: in a church they might decide to position a singer in the pulpit
  • musical reasons. The composer might have stipulated a certain setup. I once saw a concert where the composer wanted the flute soloist facing away from the audience.

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