Look out, Leopold: New concertmaster keeps busy

There's something charming and archaic in certain job titles. Like fishmonger, milliner, or apothecary, the orchestral concertmaster may seem to non-musicians like a character from another era.

Not so with Hasse Borup, the new concertmaster for the Charlottesville Symphony, who lives up to Old World visions. Young, handsome, and obviously European, Borup would be well cast in a Thomas Mann novella featuring a tragic love triangle entangling a music tutor, a consumptive maiden, and a predatory widow.

Of course, none of that is in his job description.

The concertmaster is the first violinist in a symphony orchestra, sitting closest to the audience and to the left of the conductor. Leopold Mozart was a leading concertmaster in his day, as was his slightly less professional son, Wolfgang. As the last member to enter the stage before the conductor, the concertmaster presides over the tuning-up and acts as an assistant to the conductor, transmitting his cues to the larger orchestra.

"The ideal concertmaster is trying to have a leg in both the managerial side and the artistic side," explains Borup over coffee on the Corner recently. "If you have the slightest doubt about what you're doing, it reflects on the whole orchestra."

In other words, the concertmaster is part co-captain and part union rep, with a whole lot of rhythm going on.

Borop offers still another comparison. "I have to be careful of analogies because I'm not from this country, and I don't really know, for instance, football so well... but everyone's talking about the quarterback?"

Borop, a native of Denmark, came to the US to study music at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. After earning a Doctor of Music Arts degree from University of Maryland, he helped found the Coolidge String Quartet, which lasted six years before folding under divergent personal ambitions. Borup began looking for an opportunity to combine chamber music, orchestral work, and teaching.

"I didn't know what to expect when I came here," says Borup of the caliber of Charlottesville's orchestra, "but it's been a very pleasant surprise."

The Charlottesville and University Orchestra comprises about 75 community and student musicians, and is directed through UVA's McIntire Department of Music. As a performance faculty appointment, Borup is tasked with teaching a University course in addition to his 19 private tutorials and scheduled rehearsals.

Oh, and a note for those eager young protégés who rush to the next performance (on January 25), moved by my promise of early 20th century romance and European high culture... see the lovely, dark-haired cellist attentively watching Borup's lead? That's the concertmaster's wife and musical partner, Amy Leung.