David Greed, who has led the Orchestra of Opera North since its inception in 1978, will retire from the role following Opera North’s performances of Wagner’s Parsifal (1882) this summer. The violinist is the longest-serving orchestra leader in Europe.
“I’ve just kept going,” he laughs, talking about his 44-year tenure, describing it as “a massive accidental record of some sort”.
Prior to his final appearances with Opera North, which will take place in summer, Greed performed some hand-picked repertoire at two special events in the Kirklees Concert Season. On 27 February, he stepped forward as soloist in Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, the centrepiece of an imposing mid-century programme at Huddersfield Town Hall.
“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,” he commented.
“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.”
In celebration of his long relationship with audiences in Kirklees, David Greed was joined by friends and colleagues for 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,” he explained. “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 just me and a 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 acoustics, 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!”
David Greed’s final performances with Opera North will take place in June, with the company’s concert staging of Parsifal, Wagner’s epic take on the legend of the Holy Grail. The young eponymous knight must undertake a quest to save the life of Amfortas, ruler of the Kingdom of the Grail.
The production opens at Leeds Grand Theatre before touring to Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, Sage Gateshead, and the Southbank Centre, London. The Orchestra of Opera North comes under the baton of Opera North’s former music director, Richard Farnes.
Greed added: “I think that our Ring Cycle was the most amazing thing, and I can’t wait to hear that huge orchestra again under Richard Farnes. It’s really a treat to work for him.
“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.”
Leader of the Orchestra of Opera North David Greed performs in Huddersfield Town Hall (Justin Slee).