A few moments before the first notes of the symphony concert are heard, concertgoers see an elegantly dressed woman walk to the front of the stage. Smiling warmly, she welcomes the audience with a bow, and then turns to the musicians and begins the process of tuning the orchestra. Only when she is satisfied with the sound does Concertmaster Nina Vieru take her seat as first violinist.
And thus begins the second concert of the Delaware County Symphony’s 2014-2015 season, which takes place inside the intimate, 300-seat Meagher Theatre on the campus of Neumann University in Aston, Pa.
The role of concertmaster (known in Europe by the more direct title of “leader”) is one that requires not only superb playing ability and broad musicianship, but also “grace under pressure, the optimism of a cheerleader, and the finesse of an ambassador” says Vieru.
“The orchestra can only really play together if the concertmaster and the conductor are working together,” Vieru says. “The concertmaster must lead the orchestra to play with unanimity of purpose.”
To that end, the job of the concertmaster involves several different roles, one of which is playing all of the violin solos (unless a guest soloist has been invited to participate).
“I must play with the focus and discipline of an orchestra member and strive to blend with the other first violins, yet when a passage arises for violin alone, I must play with the freedom and brilliance of a soloist,” Vieru explains. “This is one reason why the concertmaster must know the music cold. I have to know the first violin part inside out, of course, but I also have to know what the clarinet is going to play in a certain measure, when the brass will come in, and so on.”
She adds, “If you’re not prepared, other members won’t listen to you or follow you. It takes a lot of work. Therefore, I must balance my technical duties as a top musician with my leadership role.”
A resident of Delaware County who was born in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova, Vieru comes from a family of musicians. At the age of seven, she began her study of the violin at the Music High School in Chisinau. Six years later, her family moved to Bucharest, Romania’s capital, where she studied with noted violinist Stefan Gheorghiu. After graduation in 2007, Nina moved to the United States and studied violin with Edouard Schmieder at Temple University. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Temple, and it is there that she is currently pursuing her doctorate degree in music.
Vieru never tires of the symphonies and concertos of the standard orchestral repertoire, adding, “For me, each concert is a new creation.” One of her most critical roles for each performance is making sure that “the strings play as one voice’’ — a goal she attempts to achieve “as unobtrusively as possible.”
“I must study each score thoroughly and exert my authority in matters of bowing, articulation, and phrasing, which in turn is conveyed to the string sections that make up the majority of the players in an orchestra,” she notes. “My response to the conductor’s signals [begins a] domino effect that travels from the first stand of violins to the last.”
Vieru adds, “The players who watch me, as well as the conductor, see a manner of attack: my raising the violin, placing the bow on the string at a precise moment, perhaps leaning forward, much the same as a first violinist in a chamber ensemble. I might make a more conspicuous motion to guide the players at a difficult entrance, but the process is subtle and should not be noticed by the audience.”
The conductor depends on the concertmaster to be on the same artistic wavelength. “For a conductor to excel during a performance, he must have total confidence in the concertmaster,” Vieru says. “The skills and musicianship of the concertmaster must offer the conductor total artistic freedom to lead the orchestra. He must know that you will faithfully follow him and bring the rest of the orchestra with you. He must feel free of any technical issues to allow his conducting skills to flow and his artistic interpretation of the composer’s intent to be felt by the musicians and the audience. For a conductor, nothing limits achievement like constricted thinking; nothing expands possibilities like an unleashed imagination.”
Vieru enjoys playing with the Delaware County Symphony. “There is vibrant energy, enthusiasm, and talent in the orchestra, and it’s a joy to meet these musicians each Monday night for rehearsals and for our Sunday concerts,” she says.
She also enjoys connecting with the audience. “On many occasions I sense that segments of our audience are not regular concertgoers, and the music may be reaching them for the very first time,” she says. “I cherish those moments, because they are so extremely exciting. I can just feel the pulse of that audience as … they begin to understand that what is exceptionally moving about classical music is it shares beauty and our humanity without images or words. … I hope they find feelings they didn’t know they had.”
A well-known volunteer presence in the Delaware County arts community, Bill Conville is heavily involved with the Delaware County Symphony and contributes extensively to The Academy of International Ballet and International Ballet Classique.