In a symphony orchestra the Concertmaster is an honored and important position. In smaller orchestras, the concertmaster served as the leader of the orchestra. As orchestras grew, a dedicated conductor was added to control the orchestra, but the concertmaster remains the first among the musicians. He or she is seated to the conductor's immediate left, and lead's the first violin section.

The concertmaster has many duties. The concertmaster must be an superb player, even by symphonic standards. If solo violin parts are called for, the concertmaster will play them, and he or she must set a standard for the other players through the excellence of their playing. In many orchestras, the concertmaster is responsible for preparing the bowings for the strings. This means that the concertmaster will decide how a piece will be bowed, chosing between and up or down strokes so that all the violins (and in doubled sections all the strings) are playing the same way. This keeps the sound is tighter, and the instruments all speak with one voice.

Bowings are indicated on the sheet music through a series of marks that in many ways resemble guitar tablature, and serve a similar purpose as pick marks. Excellence in bowing is one characteristic of the symphony orchestra.

Publicly, the concertmaster is foremost musician. He or she will be the last musician to take their place in the orchestra before the conductor, and will signal the oboe to sound the A 440 tuning note that gives the orchestra its final tuning.

An excellent concertmaster is required for any orchestra of quality.

In the United Kingdom the concertmaster is knows as the Leader of the Orchestra a term which points more directly back to the job's roots. Txikwa contributed that the term concertmaster comes more from the German Symphonic tradition, while leader of the orchestra is Italian. Blame Beethoven.