The BSO's Malcolm Lowe and the Art of the Concertmaster

Sep 13, 2019

As the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Concertmaster for 35 years announces his retirement from the ensemble, an interview from a few years ago illuminates that role - and its challenges - in the life of an orchestra.

In a 2013 interview, Malcolm Lowe describes his work as Concertmaster of the BSO:

As they say, the only constant in life is change. But sometimes those changes have a particularly jarring effect. This week, as we all begin to imagine Boston without Doyle's legendary bar in Jamaica Plain and Fresh Pond Market in Cambridge, there's another change to get used to as Malcolm Lowe ends his tenure in the most important position of the BSO.

I've been around the Boston Symphony for years, ever since I came to Boston for graduate school in the late 1980's. Lowe had arrived only a few years earlier, following truly legendary predecessors (Joseph Silverstein and, before him, Richard Burgin). He was only the third violinist to hold the title of Concertmaster of the BSO since 1920.

In taking on that challenge, Lowe not only assumed the full weight of any Concertmaster's responsibilities, he also assumed a sort of curatorship of a very specific way of playing orchestral music. No single player in any orchestra determines more about how that orchestra sounds than the Concertmaster. And very few orchestras around the world maintain as distinctive and historic a sound as the BSO.

That sound - by turns elegant, powerful, graceful, or aggressive, but always unmistakably the Boston Symphony - has been a constant. And now it will be another violinist's responsibility.

When I interviewed Lowe in 2013, he had just taken a year off to recover from an injury. And as you'll hear, these kinds of injuries aren't uncommon in major orchestras. You'll also hear what that year showed him about his position and about his ensemble.

And as you listen, you'll hear at least a few of the parameters that Andris Nelsons, the other musicians, and the BSO's management will consider as they look for what will be only the fourth Concertmaster in the last century.

In the meantime, thank you, Malcolm, for your artistry, your leadership, and your gracious presence backstage at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood.