Anthony Marwood - Guest artistic leader for 2016-17

Anthony Marwood is recognized for his exceptional artistry and remarkable ability to draw a rich palette of sound from his instrument.

The talented British violinist returns next season for his artistic leadership with NCO, in which he is giving three performances throughout the season, featuring Vasks' violin concerto, Mendelssohn's string octet and Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante. Here is an interview article recently written for our season programme. 


Anthonhy Marwood plays on a Carlo Bergonzi, an exquisite and rare violin made in Cremona in 1736. It was acquired from a chance meeting had had with a businessman from New Zealand, Christopher Marshall on a flight to Los Angeles. Marshall happened to have tickets to one of the concerts Marwood was playing in New Zealand at that time. Marshall was fascinated by the violin and offered to help him to buy an instrument of his choice. – I found a Bergonzi which was bought by a team of benefactors collected by Marshall. And you can hear it in three concerts with Norwegian Chamber Orchestra this season!


Anthony Marwood, this season’s guest artistic leader, is known for his interests for contemporary music and has chosen Peteris Vasks’ violin concerto for his first concert in November.


–      You have collaborated with many of the contemporary composers?

I cannot imagine not collaborating in this way - all music is written by living composers, after all! It's a privilege to try and get inside the mind of a creative artist, and to be the one to bring a certain piece to life. Engaging with the new - starting from zero in a way - is a process that influences my approach to established repertoire. I've been lucky to have had some outstanding composers write concertos for me, among them Thomas Adès, Sally Beamish, Steve Mackey and the young American composer Samuel Carl Adams. Peteris Vasks’ violin concerto 'Distant Light' was written for Gidon Kremer in 1997 but I took it up soon after, meeting and working with the composer. It has remained a favourite piece in my repertoire ever since.


-       In the first concert with NCO, you have programmed contemporary music - Vasks’ violin concerto – together with Bach, Dvorak and Biber. And your previous concert with NCO last season, you combined Beethoven with three world premieres. Do you enjoy programming over such a wide stretch of time?

Yes, I often include a range of works from different eras. I enjoy programmes that reveal unexpected connections and patterns between diverse works. A well-known piece can sound fresh in a certain context, and a new work can shine when placed thoughtfully with earlier music.


BBC Music Magazine once raised a question “Is there nothing Anthony Marwood cannot do?” and added that “he plays the violin, acts, dances, and can do all at once. He directs the Irish Chamber Orchestra, plays with the Florestan Trio, commissions composers, jointly runs his own festival and has a network of worldwide collaborators. To cap it all, this consummate artist is blessed with boundless energy, intellectual curiosity and creative wizardry.” 


-       Are you the kind of person who thrives with many different roles?

I suppose I am basically a collaborative animal and feel inspired in good company! Musically, I was brought up to be as broad and versatile as possible. But, when I was a student, performers often stuck to their territory: soloists were soloists, quartet players only played quartets, and so on. It was not considered cool to switch roles. That was an unhealthy trend - and my wish to be diverse had some disadvantage in terms of my career. I think presenters and managers were initially confused by who I was. But I learned a lot, even though switching roles was challenging. Nowadays having versatility is considered a plus and is "useful". Having said that, after my Florestan Trio disbanded in 2012 I decided not to join any other chamber group, but to incorporate playing chamber music - which one should never be without - at festivals around the world, including my own Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival, in Sussex every June.


-      You are also known for his crossover collaborations. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

I love the theatre and am fascinated by the craft of acting, having been surrounded by actors most of my professional life. When I was very young, acting held equal appeal to being a musician. A few years ago I met Mayuri Boonham who was not only a performer in another art form, but in a fascinating new (to me) discipline: Classical Indian Dance. Our friendship grew into a desire to collaborate, without much clue initially as to how to do it! We were from "classical" traditions, but both of us were interested in extending and also finding common ground between us. As we worked (painstaking and time consuming, a creative as well as interpretive process) it was wonderful to discover how similar were the "codes" in our traditions, and how much they could speak to each other. We created new work in which violinist and dancer were part of an intimate duet, and I undertook the challenges of being able to play and move at the same time.


-      And you once played the lead actor in Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale when the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields staged the work? 

Yes, I took on the unusual role of the soldier-violinist in Stravinsky's well known drama. (Usually the acting and playing roles are separate.) It was a joyful project that was made possible also by the brilliance of the director Lawrence Evans, who understood the connections between musical and dramatic interpretation, and enabled me to cross the divide in an unselfconscious way. It involved many weeks of rehearsals as part of a small company of actors. And the production was so imaginative and resourceful.


-      Have these experiences formed the way you perform music in any way? 

Yes, of course, any artist will be extremely sensitive to environment, and to the spiritual and emotional challenges of life. Since art attempts to make sense of our life experience, our growth as artists is bound up in the way we grow as human beings. Everything life throws at us, good and bad, informs us. As for professional experiences, they are countless - how lucky we are to be able to converse musically with each other and come away from the experience enriched.


-      So how did it all start? Who were your earliest inspirations? 

I grew up the youngest in a family of four musicians - I don't remember a time without music around me. Somehow I knew I needed to play the violin and was passionate about starting. My first experiences of playing music with others was therefore with my family, and I was lucky that some of my local teachers were extremely outward looking and introduced me to many wonderful recordings from artists of an earlier era. My teacher in London between the ages of 14-18 was a great man and musician, Emanuel Hurwitz. He was a vastly experienced, wise player and teacher, with a sense of joy and wonder, and a mischievous sense of humour. 


-      In addition to your residency with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, you have also been engaged as Principal Artistic Partner of the Canadian ensemble, Les Violons du Roy. How does one manage to hold continuity with an ensemble over time that is also led by others?

Although the three year engagement with Les Violons starts from the 15-16 season, I have worked with them every year for the last five years. So the Artistic Partnership is a formal recognition of a happy relationship. I don't think it's healthy for an orchestra/conductor/soloist to be exclusive - on the contrary, it's refreshing to bring experiences from elsewhere to the musical partnership.


-      And how much ‘fingerprint’ do you think you can set on the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra during your one-year residency?

I'm not thinking of it like that at all! Quite simply, we really enjoy working together, so we are giving ourselves a few more chances to do that, and to deepen the relationship.


-      The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra has been an important institution in the Norwegian music scene for 39 years. How would you ‘rate’ them in terms of their competence on an international level?

NCO is a great and skillful ensemble at the highest level, with a sense of adventure. But I don't need to tell you that!


Interviewed by Hilde Holbæk-Hanssen