Leader of the orchestra of Opera North for 44-years, David Greed bows out

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I’ve just kept going”, laughs violinist David Greed, Leader of the Orchestra of Opera North since its inception in 1978. Now the longest-serving Orchestra Leader in Europe, he looks back self-effacingly on his 44 years in post as “a massive accidental record of some sort”.

Ahead of a fitting swansong with Opera North’s concert stagings of Wagner’s Parsifal in June, he’s looking forward to performing some hand-picked repertoire at two special events in the Kirklees Concert Season.

On Sunday 27 February, he steps forward as soloist in Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, the centrepiece of an imposing mid-century programme at Huddersfield Town Hall, bookended by works by Ustvolskaya – a pupil of the Russian composer’s – and Bartók.

I’ve always loved the First Violin Concerto, and I really wanted to do it with Opera North if it was ever going to be possible”, says David, adding that having Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor Antony Hermus on the podium will be “a particular treat”.

It’s just an amazing piece: it takes you everywhere. The first and the third movements have this intense desolation that Shostakovich portrays in his music sometimes, but the second and the fourth are firecracker music: unrelenting, rhythmic, fast, difficult stuff, and manic witch-like scherzando parts.

It was written for one of the great fiddlers, David Oistrakh, and the cadenza – probably written by Oistrakh rather than Shostakovich – is the central bit for me, where everything comes into play. It starts with that sense of cold and desolation, but it ends up all over the place: really energetic – angry, actually. Shostakovich had to produce two kinds of work: one to appease the Soviet authorities, and the other to express himself properly, and this piece falls into the latter category.

The writing for the violin part is dramatically colourful, and it’s a tour de force for the Orchestra as well as the soloist: very unusually scored for lots of woodwind, lots of horn, and only the tuba from the brass section, which creates this dark sound. There’s also quite a lot of percussion, which is unusual in a violin concerto, and harp and celeste… I think it’s something that will really capture the Huddersfield audience”.

In a further celebration of his long relationship with audiences in Kirklees, David will be joined by friends and colleagues for music and reminiscence in a lunchtime farewell concert at Dewsbury Town Hall on 16 March. “My history with Dewsbury is almost as long as my time at Opera North”, David explains. “It’s another thing that I’m really going to miss. In the mid-80s a Dewsbury concert series was set up by the Kirklees Music Officer, the late Aidan Plender, and for the first few years almost every concert was me and group called Capricci. We started in a modest room that held 50 or 60, but eventually the crowds built so we had to move into the main hall, which was a major triumph.

I think that the Dewsbury Lunchtimes have grown into quite a unique series and a bit of a leading light nationally. It’s a lovely hall with great acoustic, and it’s been such a varied journey with piano and chamber recitals, our Café Band and bigger ensembles. The reception is always so warm and friendly, and there are faces among the audience that I’ve known for years. When you walk out on the stage and say “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen”, and they come straight back with: “Good afternoon, David!” you know you’re onto a winner!

The brilliant Keith Swallow, Colne Valley Male Voice Choir’s Principal Pianist for over 60 years, will be returning 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’ll perform a movement from 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, the soprano Bibi Heal, will sing a Mozart concert aria and a lovely Strauss song called Morgen; there’ll be some Beethoven… It’ll be a real mix, with a bit of chat 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 that our Ring Cycle was the most amazing thing, and I can’t wait to hear that huge orchestra again under Richard Farnes” he enthuses. “It’s really a treat to work for him, and I think – partly through his own choice – that he’s one of this country’s best kept secrets. I wanted to do something really big with the Company one more time. It seems the most fantastic thing to do as a last opera”.

Tickets for the Kirklees Concert Season and Opera North’s Parsifal are available from operanorth.co.uk

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