“I just carried on,” laughs the violinist david the greedconductor of the Opera North Orchestra since its inception in 1978. Now Europe’s longest-serving conductor, he looks back on his 44 years in office with a sense of ‘a massive accidental record of sorts’.
Before a proper swan song with Wagner’s Opera North concert stagings Parsifal in June, he looks forward to performing hand-picked repertoire at two special events in the Kirklees Concert Season.
At Sunday February 27he appears as a soloist in Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, the centerpiece of an imposing program from mid-century to Huddersfield Town Hallsupplemented by works by Ustvolskaya – a pupil of the Russian composer – and Bartók.
“I’ve always loved the first violin concerto and really wanted to do it with Opera North if it were to be possible,” says David, adding that having Opera North’s principal guest conductor Antoine Hermus on the podium will be “a special treat”.
“It’s just an incredible piece: it takes you everywhere. The first and third movements have that intense desolation that Shostakovich sometimes depicts in his music, but the second and fourth are firecracker music: relentless, rhythmic, fast, difficult stuff, and maniacal, witchy scherzando parts.
“It was written for one of the great fiddlers, David Oistrakh, and the cadenza – probably written by Oistrakh rather than Shostakovich – is for me the central element, where everything comes into play. It starts with this feeling of cold and desolate, but it ends everywhere: really energetic – angry, actually. Shostakovich was to produce two types of work: one to appease the Soviet authorities, the other to express himself properly, and this piece falls into the latter category.
“The writing for the violin part is dramatically colorful, and it is a tour de force for the orchestra as well as for the soloist: very unusually marked for lots of woodwinds, lots of horn, and only the tuba in the treble section. brass, which creates that dark sound. There’s also quite a bit of percussion, which is unusual in a violin concerto, and harp and celestial…I think that’s something that will really captivate Huddersfield audiences”.
In another celebration of his long relationship with Kirklees audiences, David will be joined by friends and colleagues for music and memories at a lunchtime farewell concert at Dewsbury Town Hall to March 16. “My history with Dewsbury is almost as long as my time at Opera North,” says David. “That’s another thing I’m really going to miss. In the mid 80’s a series of gigs in Dewsbury was set up by the Kirklees Music Officer, the late Aidan Plender, and for the first few years almost every gig was me and a band called Capricci. We started out in a modest hall that held 50 or 60 people, but eventually the crowds built up so we had to move to the main hall, which was a great triumph.
“I think the Dewsbury Lunchtimes has become quite a unique series and a bit of a national standout. It’s a beautiful hall with great acoustics, and it’s been such a varied trip with piano and chamber recitals, our Café Band and larger ensembles. The welcome is still just as warm and friendly, and there are faces in the audience that I have known for years. When you go on stage and say, “Hello, ladies and gentlemen,” they come right back with, “Hello, David! you know you’re onto a winner!
“The brilliant Keith Swallow, principal pianist of the Colne Valley Male Voice Choir for over 60 years, will return at the age of 91 to join us for this concert. He and I will play the last movement of Franck’s Violin Sonata, and he will perform a movement of Debussy’s Petite Suite with my friend and former Opera North colleague Tony Kraus. From the Orchestra, Jess Burroughs (Section Leader Cello), David Aspin (Principal Viola) and I will play a movement from Brahms’ Piano Quartet with Tony; another good friend and collaborator, soprano Bibi Heal, will sing a Mozart concert aria and a beautiful Strauss song titled Morgan; there will be Beethoven… It will be a real mix, with a bit of discussion about my days with the Dewsbury lunchtime crowd.
After this heartfelt farewell, David’s attention will turn to his final performances with Opera North: Parsifal, Wagner’s epic opera telling the story of the quest for the Holy Grail. “I just think our Ring The cycle was the most incredible thing, and I can’t wait to hear this huge orchestra again under Richard Farneshe enthuses. “He is truly a treat to work for, and I think – partly by his own choice – that he is one of the best kept secrets in this country. I wanted to do something really big with the Company once again. It seems like the most fantastic thing to do as a last opera”.
Kirklees and Opera North concert season tickets Parsifal are available from operanorth.co.uk