Dewsbury Lunchtime Chamber Concert – David Greed’s Farewell Recital

Finding anyone who has been in the same employment for 44 years is a great rarity, particularly in the modern age. Such length of service approaches a theoretical maximum timespan, bridging leaving education and reaching a sensible retirement age. David Greed’s tenure as the Opera North Orchestra‘s leader is currently the longest in Europe.

“It was 1978 and I emerged from Music College, aged 22, not really knowing what to do with myself, when I heard they were recruiting for a new orchestra in Leeds. I emerged from the interview as the orchestra’s leader, the youngest in the country as it happens.” This sense of happy serendipity seems to have pervaded much of what he has done since.

Now, aged … – well, you do the maths – he and his faithful 1757 Guadagnini – he owns a quarter of it, the part including the G string – are heading for horizons new. Such a retirement from his special musical position cannot be done in a single session. He has already bowed out as soloist with a performance of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto and looks forward to ending on the concert platform with a programme of works by Turnage, Britten and Elgar in Huddersfield and finally in the pit with Wagner’s Parsifal back at Opera North’s Grand Theatre base in Leeds. His farewell from chamber music, that most intimate form of music-making, can only be fittingly given in Dewsbury.

“My history with Dewsbury is almost as long as my time at Opera North. 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 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.

Performing at Huddersfield Town Hall.

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 amongst 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 on to a winner.”

Indeed, the whole set-up amongst the ornate, yet subdued, calming grey and white panels of Dewsbury Town Hall strikes the visitor as being one of the North’s most well-kept secrets. It is possible to take refreshments, from a cup of tea to a full meal, and sit down to enjoy it leisurely at dining tables at the back of the auditorium. There you may remain for the recital that follows, or find a place nearer the stage in more familiar concert seating. Fully 45 minutes before the scheduled start, David Greed emerges and mingles freely with the audience.

“Hello, you may not remember me, but I’m a friend of Elaine’s.”

“How are the boys doing?” “Two of them are coming today.”

A man approaches with a newspaper cutting from the Dewsbury Reporter. “Wonderful. May I keep this? Thank you very much.”

“You’ve been coming here longer than me?”

“I’m 97.”

“Now, you’re just bragging!”

This being my first time, I begin to think of myself as some kind of Alan Bennett interloper. Indeed, as I muse at making this discovery at the very moment that David Greed takes his leave at this, the last of the 2021-22 series, I feel like the unfortunate schoolchild who has only found something interesting to do on the very last day of a long summer holiday.

And the music? David performs the joyous song that is the opening movement of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata and the finale to Cesar Franck’s Sonata, with its playful canon interplay. He takes a breather for pianist friends Tony Kraus and Keith Swallow to play Debussy’s original 4-hands piano arrangement of the Ballet from the Petite Suite. There is a Schubert String Trio, the last movement of Brahms’ A major Piano Quartet, with members of the ON orchestra, a rarefied optional appendix aria from Mozart’s Idomeneo, soprano Bibi Heal providing the vocals, concluding with the serenely beautiful Morgen by Richard Strauss.

With the Opera North String Quartet: Jessica Burroughs, Katherine New and David Aspin.

As a lengthy, but entertaining interlude, there were generous and heartfelt video appreciations from those who have worked with David over the years: Vivienne Campbell, Anthony Hermus, conductors Steven Sloane, Garry Walker and Martin Brabbins, who recounted the incident in 1988 at Chesterfield when Hungarian soloist, György Pauk, was suddenly taken ill, having performed the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Backstage, it was agreed he had to go to hospital for treatment. Meanwhile, in the concert hall, David Greed completed the performance by stepping up and playing the solo part in the second and third movements. There were recollections of further unrivalled musicianship from ON colleagues like David Riley, who, for 27 years, sat at the second desk of the first violins, immediately behind the leader, and could attest to how safe David’s sedentary down-bow direction of the orchestra could be, even when the conductor’s baton was less easy to follow. Of his easy manner in human relations, Martin André recalled how well their two families got on when touring Ravenna. Lastly, Richard Farnes, “Farnesy“, spoke of his phenomenal playing, diplomatic skills in settling any disquiet between conductor and orchestra, and incorrigible humour. He and David had been discussing families when David turned to his son, himself now a father, with the observation, “And to think, it was only a few years ago, I was wiping your bottom,” to which the lightning response came, “And to think, in a few years’ time, I’ll be wiping yours”.

David himself came up with a brief list of highlights from his time with Opera North: the struggles of the first three years of the Company, the necessity of borrowing rehearsal space, including the City Varieties, his involvement in recruiting new players, a remarkable number of whom stayed on to become long-serving instrumentalists, the privileged duality of playing both in the fresh air of the concert platform and in the operatic pit, and the undoubted musical pinnacle that was the Wagner Ring Cycle production in 2016, surely ON’s coming of age as a world-class opera company.

At the end, all the participants assembled on the stage for well-deserved plaudits, but all eyes, fittingly, were on the smiling musician who has enriched the lives of so many over forty-four fruitful years. Nicholas Ward, someone commented, had managed 37 years with the Northern Chamber Orchestra. “It’s good, but anything under 40 years is not quite good enough, wouldn’t you say?”

Leader of the Orchestra of Opera North, Mr David Greed.

Photographs provided by Opera North. Photography by Justin Slee. Cover photograph: David Greed performing at Huddersfield Town Hall.

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