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I recently attended a concert by the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) and was surprised to see an unfamiliar layout of the instruments. I frequently attend CBSO concerts and most of the time the strings are arranged in the same way: from the left 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, and cellos with the basses behind the cellos. Occasionally, they use an arrangement that I now know is called antiphonal, see this previous question. However this recent concert used yet another arrangement. The violins, violas, and cellos were as is common but the basses were in a line at the back of the orchestra where the percussion typically is. Conversely, the percussion were behind the cellos.

Is this a common arrangement with some benefits or probably just a preference of the conductor?

The conductor was Klaus Mäkelä and we heard the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique; the soloist was Nicola Benedetti. Details here.

  • Why shouldn't a conductor or ensemble decide for a proper layout of the orchestra? In Brass band settings this is most usual that the basses are in the row behind the horns, while I have seen different settings that cornets are left and trumpets vis-a-vis on the right side, or Euphoniums are usually on the right side like the Cellos - and the trombones behind them in the second row. But in the military band we(Euphonium) were placed behind the Cornets in the second row and the trumpets at the right side. And I have also seen that they sat in the middle in front of the conductor. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 13 at 15:47
  • I am not saying that he shouldn't; just that I had not seen it before even though I have seen this orchestra in this venue many times. I have not seen this conductor. – badjohn Feb 13 at 15:50
  • It's ok. I've understood your question. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 13 at 16:16
  • Was it being recorded? Town Hall or Symphony Hall? I used to go there every week - mainly to the rehearsals, which I often got more out of than the concerts! – Tim Feb 13 at 17:44
  • @Tim Symphony Hall. It is a long time since I have been to a concert in the Town Hall. I did notice any indication of recording but I'll check. Recording is normally obvious but I guess that I could have missed it. – badjohn Feb 13 at 19:56
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I would say that the conductor wanted to highlight the double bass section, both aurally and visually. I have seen this only once before, with a Russian orchestra, and a big section of basses. The impact was immense.

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The CBSO doesn't normally use this arrangement, and neither does Klaus Mäkelä's own orchestra the Oslo Philharmonic, so this was presumably an experiment. The Vienna Philharmonic regularly uses this setup with the basses at the back.

  • Certainly, the CBSO don't normally do this. It was very surprising. – badjohn Feb 13 at 20:55
  • A quick Google image search confirms that. It even looks a little familiar. So, I may have seen it before in a recording but I have certainly not seen it live before . – badjohn Feb 13 at 20:58

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