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Viola seating in orchestra


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I've seen two different ways of how the violas sit in an orchestra: Upper divisi might sit on violin side or cello side. Why do these two "schools" exist? Actually the only orchestra I know where the violas sit the same way as the violins is the youth symphony I play in. All the orchestras I've seen (in Finland) seat the violas the same way as the cellos.

Is it possible to tell if one way is better than the other, or is it just a matter of preference? I'm wondering if I should suggest that we change our seating to sit cello-ways, but is there any reason to change, other than "everyone else sits that way"?

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With our orchestra it's a matter of the venue, sometimes the music, sometimes the actual number of us playing any particular gig. NORMALLY, the violas are with the celli, but there have been numerous instances where the first violins are in the first few rows, second violins behind the firsts and the violas behind the seconds. The cello section will be facing the first violins. I recall a few times when all the firsts were on one side, seconds, violas and celli on the other side.

Most professional orchestras sit the violas with the celli, at least I've never seen it done differently with the pros.

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That seems odd to me. I had always thought the norm was to put the upper divisi on the "audience" side. I'm adjusting to that now, since I have always played in seating with the celli on the audience right, placing the upper divisi on the left of the stand. I'm now playing principal cello in a string orchestra that places the celli audience left behind the 1st violins. It places me on the right of the stand (which makes me want to turn pages ). I don't think there is a particular "school" for the arrangement you describe - it sounds like a conductor idiosyncrasy.

GV it sounds like the question is not where the violas sit but which way the divisi is arranged. In both of the major "standard" orchestra arrangements, the violas are in the same place - they just swap the 2nd fiddles and celli. The Seattle Symphony puts the celli behind the 1st fiddles on the left when Schwartz is conducting.

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I used to play under a former opera conductor, and he told me that opera orchestras often use the upper-divisi-towards-the-violins arrangement. He also gave me a reason, which I have forgotten. I was thinking that it had something to do with winds being placed between violas and celli, but I don't think that's right,since I've never had that happen in any opera orchestra I've played in.

Maybe this will trigger someone else's memory.


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