Sunday, September 28, 2003

CCO concertmaster relinquishes his chair

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"It's hardest for any musician to say when it's time to pass the torch. I've been thankful I've been able to do it for so long," says violinist James Braid.

After sitting in the concertmaster chair of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra for 23 years, Braid is stepping down. He will become emeritus concertmaster, and remain a member of the orchestra.

For today's season-opening concert in Corbett Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati, Braid will take a seat in the first violin section.

Only one other violinist has sat in the first chair in the Chamber Orchestra's 29-year history. Braid was hired by founding music director Paul Nadler. He succeeded Jorja Fleezanis.

Braid, 53, says he was ready to step down from a job that can be grueling. The concertmaster communicates the conductor's wishes to the players, takes violin solos in orchestral pieces and sometimes has to step in for guest soloists at the last minute.

"It takes an awful lot of time and preparation," says Braid, who is also a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. "You have to be in shape in order to play a solo at any time. You have to maintain a reserve, so that when you are exposed, you can sound like a soloist."

The highlight of his CCO career was performing Leonard Bernstein's rarely heard Serenade After Plato's "Symposium" under Keith Lockhart at Memorial Hall in 1993.

"In my opinion, that's possibly one of the greatest 20th-century violin concertos - one of the top three," he says.

Another favorite memory was performing J.S. Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major and Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 under guest conductor Neal Gittleman in 1997.

"There were many great concerts, and we had a lot of great soloists over the years," he says.

Although the orchestra has wrestled with financial troubles since its founding, it is worth preserving, he believes. In a small orchestra, everyone's contribution is important.

"No matter where you sit, you feel more exposed, and more pressure to play your best. The result is, everybody tries harder, and it's a more exciting performance in many ways," he says. "The audience seems so pleased to be part of something more like chamber music, and to have a chance to meet and talk to the musicians, which I think is important for orchestras today."

Jennifer Roig-Francoli will serve as acting concertmistress while the orchestra conducts a search for Braid's replacement.

Meanwhile, says Braid, "I'm only moving to the third chair. I hope I won't be missed too much!"


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