Anthony Marwood: The magic violinist

Anthony Marwood has numerous strings to his bow, including playing on stage in the nude. No wonder he's tipped to be Instrumentalist of the Year, says Michael Church

When the Royal Philharmonic Society names its Instrumentalist of the Year at the Dorchester next week, the recipient of this honour will join a band of living legends including Itzhak Perlman, Julian Bream, Evelyn Glennie and Mitsuko Uchida. The hot tip to win is not yet a household name, but he's a magic name in the business: Anthony Marwood. Who is he? Well, if you consider what this 40-year-old violinist has done in the past year alone, the answer is: quite a guy.

He has brought out two solo CDs, run his annual festival and done chamber concerts galore in Britain, America and India; he's premiered Thomas Adès's new violin concerto at the Proms, become soloist-director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and artistic director of the Irish Chamber Orchestra. To cap it all, he also devised a touring exploit for himself - plus three actors, plus an elite group of musicians from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields: he would speak and mime and also play the violin in a groundbreaking theatrical version of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, for which his costuming ranged from military gear to dapper City suit to stark naked.

Tall and spare, and producing a sound on his Bergonzi to match his sartorial elegance, Marwood radiates single-minded passion: when he is asked about his beginnings, his story is unassuming. He gravitated late to the violin, at seven. "It was all my siblings' fault. I'm the youngest of four, and they were all playing things," he says. "Music was going on all round the house, and I just got drawn into the cacophony." He progressed routinely through the grades, but when he was 13 he encountered that didactic doyen Emanuel Hurwitz, at the Royal Academy, who became his guru. "One lesson with Manny changed everything. It made me feel everything was fresh. I played Paganini's La Campanella to him, and he said: 'Well, that was quite wonderful.' Then, after a dramatic pause, he added: 'Did you know it was half speed?'" After four intensive years with Hurwitz, Marwood went on to the Guildhall.

His career, he says, has been a slow burn, not meteoric. He toured with his brother and two sisters as the Marwood Ensemble, and was invited to join the Raphael Ensemble as leader. Meanwhile, the work he'd done with the experimental Domus Ensemble led the cellist Richard Lester and the pianist Susan Tomes to ask him to make up a trio, and thus was the award-winning Florestan Trio born.

There had been one major peak in his early years when, at 27, he played Prokofiev's Second Concerto at a Prom. That was, he says, a huge experience, "maybe too soon but a phenomenal thing to do. Ever since, I've longed to go back and do another." Last summer, he did, in a concert that was in other ways phenomenal: premiering a concerto that Thomas Adès had written for him. The idea germinated 10 years ago, when he went to see Adès's opera Powder Her Face. "I was blown away by it. And - you know the way ludicrous ideas sometimes occur - a voice spoke in my ear: 'You've got to ask him for a concerto.' So I wrote and asked him, and he rang me and said: 'Of course I will, but we'll have to wait for the right commissioning bodies to surface.'"

Writing that letter, says Marwood, was like throwing a boomerang, and in time he almost forgot about it. "Then, suddenly, it was on the cards, and the Proms agreed to take it. I started to get bits and pieces in late July, a page or two at a time. Tom wanted to know what it was like to play. Then more pages came; then he had a question about the end of the first movement: he sent me a fax with various alternatives, and wanted to know which were physically possible. It went from the highest point, way off the fingerboard at the top, cascading down in broken ninths to the bottom, then up again, then down again, and so on, very fast, with the journey being slightly shortened each time, till it finally broke up. I couldn't believe my eyes. I decided not to answer the question of whether it was possible - I just decided it would be, somehow. I was determined not to be the man who is laughed at by posterity, like someone saying the Brahms concerto was too hard."

He had less than a month between getting the full score and the concert. "But I'm convinced this is a masterpiece which will stay in the repertoire for ever." He's doing his bit to ensure that: in July, he'll play it at Aldeburgh, and then in Paris and Hamburg.

Marwood's initiation into the Academy of St Martin in the Fields came about by accident, when he was playing The Four Seasons for one of Raymond Gubbay's costume spectaculars. "One of the players was from the Academy, and he told them they ought to have me in, so I did a trial concert with them as director. It felt great, and we agreed to do more together."

Realising the Academy wanted to broaden its appeal, he proposed The Soldier's Tale as a staged theatrical project. The tour was a critical success, and the Academy now plans to take it to America.

Does nothing go wrong in this charmed career? Even his pursuit of the perfect instrument has gone to plan. "One of my friends employed somebody to scout the world for an instrument for me. There are only 50 Bergonzis in the world, as opposed to 600 Strads. But we had a syndicate ready to fund one for me, and when mine came up, we were ahead in the race." It hadn't been played for 50 years. "Initially, I called it the Sleeping Beauty. Now it's waking up."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment