Meet Madeline Adkins – Utah Symphony's New Concertmaster
“From the moment I started working with the orchestra, they were so warm and friendly. There’s a unique spirit to the group and everyone really has such a great attitude and loves to play music. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.”
The Utah Symphony is thrilled to welcome Madeline Adkins as she begins her role as concertmaster this 2016–17 season. Originally from the college town of Denton, Texas, Ms. Adkins knew from a young age that she wanted to become a musician. She is the youngest of eight children, six of whom are currently musicians. “My parents were music professors at the University of North Texas,” says Ms. Adkins. “We were encouraged to play starting at the age of five, and many of us continued professionally in orchestras around the country.”
Ms. Adkins received her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from the University of North Texas and her master’s degree from the New England Conservatory. She recently finished sixteen seasons with the Baltimore Symphony, five of as assistant concertmaster and eleven as associate concertmaster.
Ms. Adkins begins her appointment as concertmaster for the Utah Symphony at the opening concert of this season. She appreciates the rich history and legacy of the symphony, and looks forward to bringing her own experience and energy to the orchestra. She says, “It’s interesting to come into an orchestra in a leadership position because you’re bringing your years of experience but also respecting the traditions and the history of this group. It’s important to find that balance between bringing new energy and ideas while also wanting to take in what everyone else is doing and what Maestro Fischer’s vision is…each musician brings his or her own unique musical history to the group. That is one of the things that makes the orchestra such a fascinating musical organism… every person is unique and they each bring that experience to the orchestra. My goal is to strike that balance and try to jump on the moving train of where things are going.”
Ms. Adkins plans to lead with a spirit of optimism, enthusiasm, and dedication as she joins the orchestra as concertmaster. “I try to bring as much energy as possible to what I’m doing. It helps people around you,” she says. “I really try to bring not only a physical energy, which is important in leading the violins or the string section, but also an emotional energy, to just really give 110% percent all of the time. I think when you lead by example, people really respond to that.”
Ms. Adkins says there are numerous well-known concertmasters in the industry that she looks up to, but one of her biggest role models is Alex Kerr, who is currently concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, and has also served as concertmaster for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. She says, “He epitomizes, for me, that sense of optimism. He brings a positive attitude and obviously a great wealth of experience. I am impressed when interacting with musicians how positive he is…I aspire to emulate him more.”
To young aspiring violinists and musicians, Ms. Adkins advises, “It’s hard to get away from the competitive aspects of music, but I think the more you can keep your mindset on the music, on the listeners, on the people who get to enjoy and have their lives enriched by what you’re doing, the happier you’ll be. You’re going to make better music if you can focus on the beauty, the emotion, and having an impact on people’s lives.”
In discussing the upcoming 2016–17 season, Ms. Adkins said, “It’s a great season. There are so many interesting concerts scheduled. The fact that we’re doing all of the Ives and the Brahms Symphonies is an interesting juxtaposition between the lesser-known and the more standard orchestral repertoire.” She is especially looking forward to her solo concerto debut on November 18 and 19. She will be performing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2.“ Prokofiev is one of my favorite composers. I played for a number of years with Yuri Termirkanov, the director in Baltimore, so I feel an affinity with Prokofiev in particular. I’m really looking forward to playing that piece.” Ms. Adkins is also excited to explore the music of opera, which she hasn’t played much previously, and appreciates the unique opportunity the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera provides to play both symphonic and operatic repertoire.
What is a Concertmaster?
A concertmaster (from the German word Konzertmeister) is the leading violinist in a symphony orchestra. He or she is the principal violinist in the first violin section and acts as an assistant to the conductor and a spokesperson for the orchestra.
Historically, concertmasters would conduct the orchestra from their chair, but this became difficult as larger orchestras became more common. Today, the concertmaster is responsible for supervising tuning, following the conductor’s cues, ensuring that the strings play the same bowing motions and musical phrasing/articulation, playing solos in the absence of a soloist, and helping the orchestra to maintain a consistent, unified sound. In other areas of the world, like the United Kingdom, the concertmaster is simply known as “leader.” A concertmaster must have strong people skills and leadership abilities. They must maintain a level of professionalism and diplomacy, being able to skillfully communicate and negotiate with the musicians and conductor.
The role of concertmaster, however, encompasses much more than leadership. A concertmaster must be a highly skilled musician, with the ability to execute technically difficult passages, perform and maintain a wide variety of tempi (speeds), analyze full musical scores to discern bowing order and musical phrasing, and effectively count difficult rhythms and time signatures. The concertmaster must be flexible, with the ability to quickly make changes to follow the conductor’s cues or instructions. Additionally, the concertmaster must be very aware of his or her surroundings by listening carefully to all the different sections and constantly watching the conductor for cues.
Utah Symphony’s Vice President of Operations and General Manager Jeff Counts said, “I like the way Tim Page put it in his 2002 article about concertmasters. He called them ‘first among equals’ and I think this captures the complex nature of artistic hierarchy quite well. The concertmaster role is essentially one of leadership and partnership.”
Within Utah Symphony, Mr. Counts says the role has an impact on the sound and personality of the orchestra. “The concertmaster coordinates and defines the sound of the string section which, in many ways, has a significant impact on the personality of the entire orchestra. They accomplish this through the preparation of bowings and the offering of other stylistic direction during rehearsals,” said Mr. Counts. “They are also called upon to perform, with distinction, the frequent violin solos that occur in the orchestral repertoire. It’s a tough job, but the important ones often are.”