Edouard Alexandre Wood: Artist Profile

Bruch: Violin Concerto No 1
Sat 2 Jul 2016

Leader of the Amati Orchestra, Edouard made his concerto debut with orchestra last season in the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

Returning this season as soloist in the Bruch Violin Concerto No 1 on Jul 2 2016, we sat down with him to discuss growing up in Liverpool, studying with Hu Kun, Dartington International Summer School, and playing for Sir Yehudi Menuhin.

You grew up in Liverpool, famous musically because of The Beatles. Liverpool at that time had a huge amount of culture and music. What was your experience of it growing up?

I have always remembered being involved in the musical life of Liverpool.

I started as a chorister with the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King and sang in all the weekly round of services and celebration days. We also put on various operas in the crypt. One of the best memories was of the Magic Flute by Mozart. I was one of the three ladies who appear at various stages. My mother adapted one of her dresses and I wore a very fetching straw hat. There is a picture of this but it is not in general circulation.

As a chorister there are a few cherished memories. One was performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) and Choir in the concert hall conducted by Walter Weller the then Principal Conductor. That really cemented the idea of me becoming an orchestral musician and professional violinist.

The other was the visit of Pope John Paul II. That was really exciting…the pomp and extravagance! I had never imaged one person could be venerated so highly by so many. It was almost overwhelming. There is a painting in the Metropolitan cathedral of the ceremonial mass and I keep visiting it when I am there as I am in it, just a tiny figure at the end of the choir stall…..

My father is an organist and pianist and he played fairly regular recitals in the cathedrals and churches of the North West. We heard him practicing at home, day in day out, the concert pieces of composer such as J S Bach, Heinrich Schütz, Dieterich Buxtehude, Maurice Duruflé, Pierre Eugène Charles Cochereau, Marcel Dupré, Jean Langlais, and Olivier Messian just to name a few. I was always and still am hugely impressed by the organ and the players. They are supreme musicians all too often unheard…

My teachers were usually members of the RLPO and had their own chamber groups and I was invited to hear their concerts. This gave me a huge repertoire to explore as a child and I had, and still have, an avid ear for all forms and genres of music.

Music wasn’t just an experience but life and freedom itself.

You were inspired to learn the violin after hearing the Merseyside Youth Orchestra perform. What was it about the violin, specifically, of all the instruments in a symphony orchestra that drew you towards it? The Planets, for instance, requires a chorus. Were you not tempted to sing, instead of play?

I always knew I would lose my treble singing voice and the following school I attended didn’t really have a very good choir. I did continue to sing and sang all the solo parts in Handel’s “Messiah” at this school for a performance.

The concerts with the RLPO and the Merseyside Youth Orchestra (MYO) excited me to an extreme. The sound, balance, range and musical scope of a symphony orchestra just astounded me. The violins always seemed to be at the leading edge with all the most wonderful moments. I wanted to be part of that as soon as possible…

You studied at Trinity College of Music, at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level under Hu Kun. What impact did he have on your playing, your philosophy, and your outlook as a professional violinist?

I was somewhat lazy and sure of myself as a student in my first years. This was gradually put right and both Andrew Court and Hu Kun showed me their ideas on all aspects of music and musical life.

Andrew helped me with all my basics and was a very patient and caring teacher. I would sometimes push this to an unacceptable limit by not taking his advice on board but I remember all his kindness now as I rehearse my solo pieces in the practise room.

Hu Kun was different. He was very firm, demanding and at times unyielding but so, so good for me then. He pushed me to think for myself, to solve my questions about technique and interpretation. He very rarely told me how this or that worked. He asked questions so I could find the solution myself logically. We had three hour lessons at times and nearer the postgraduate exam date he would make me play through the program 4 or 5 times in one practice session to really toughen me up to the performance. This was exhausting until you could accustom yourself to this task. This made the concert and performance much more enjoyable because I was not uncomfortable in the least.

You first worked with Leo in Dartington in 2000, when you were Principal 2nd Violin of Concilium, and Leo was one of the student conductors on the conducting course. What was Dartington and playing in Concilium like, and coaching chamber music there?

I was very lucky to have either attended Dartington summer school as a student and as a player. I was the first violinist of the Marcucci String quartet at Trinity and we were given a number of scholarships by the College to attend the advanced chamber music masterclasses with Joely Koos and Sandor Devich of the Borodin String Quartet. We also had the opportunity to coach some of the amateur string chamber groups and this was a great musical experience.

Being one of the members of the resident orchestra Concilium at Dartington was a thrill. It was a small chamber orchestra set up and run by the members themselves. We gave a sensation performance of Schubert 3 the evening before the student conductors had their first coaching session on the conductors’ course run by Diego Masson. Leo, our conductor at Amati was one of the students and this is where we first met. Dartington is a wonderful place to create and take part in music. The gardens and surrounding country side is so breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful. In fact I once stayed there for the whole course working and playing it was so inspiring (4 -5 weeks I believe).

You played under Sir Yehudi Menuhin, a towering figure of the violin world last century, a cultural ambassador, and global icon. What impact did he have on your playing?

I have been a great admirer of Yehudi Menuhin as a violinist and humanitarian. He has been one of the standards I have always pitted myself to. His playing at his zenith was incredibly sonorous, musically pure and full of vitality. Wonderful interpretations I could relate to. But to meet him and play under his baton in a series of concerts in Athens was one of those moments in life one dreams about. I practised my orchestral parts until they were so shiny it hurt. I just wanted to do my very best for this man…

You made your concerto debut with the Amati Orchestra last year, performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. This is probably the most difficult, tiring, taxing, and intellectually exhausting violin concerto in the entire repertory. What drew you to choose this work for your concerto debut?

I have for as long as I can remember loved this piece. I had a copy that was my grandfathers from 1926 with all his markings in blue and red pencil. The paper had turned a brownish hue and I distinctly remember the smell of this old manuscript. He had practised and played it at one moment in his life on the same violin I performed it on. This was one of the reasons I had to learn the Beethoven properly.

I have heard many musicians say that it is “just full of scales and arpeggios and not much of a tune”. It is a concerto of simple and lyrical beauty but also uncompromising in its ideas. It sings straight to the heart and mind with touches of fantasy, love, yearning and honesty. It was such an incredibly brilliant and sonorous experience to learn and play. I hope I can repeat the experience again one day.

Bruch is leading me to a different experience but one that is curiously connected. It is a richly sensuous, almost seductive work, at times ardent and sentimental with flowing melodies and graceful rhythms reminiscent of an earlier era. Looking forward to playing this one and the time of year will be quite apt on hopefully a warm sultry night…

Edouard Alexandre Wood performs Bruch Violin Concerto No 1 with the Amati Orchestra on Sat 2 Jul at St James’ Church Sussex Gardens London W2 3UD. Advance tickets from Brown Paper Tickets | freephone 0800 411 8881