We are delighted to announce that Andrew Watkinson of the Endellion String Quartet will teach the Cambridge Grade-1-athon novice violinists
“Until now, I thought that diving off the ten metre board, playing solo Bach to a packed Lichfield Cathedral, or the groom’s speech at my wedding were the scariest things I’d come up against, but with Grade-one-a-thon fast approaching I realise these were chickenfeed!”
I was born in Glasgow in 1953 and, though I left when I was ten and haven’t lived in Scotland since, I feel completely Scottish. My years there have left memories of a terrifying (but brilliant) violin teacher, deciding to become a violinist whilst sitting on a bus, and running up and down blocks of flats with election leaflets.
I left to go to the Menuhin School, then quite new and without any rules, where I spent four mixed years, the first two very happy and the next two miserable because my wonderful violin teacher left! It was a shock to return to a “normal” school but I found entertaining if useless ways of passing the time!
Then aged just 17, and intending to take a gap year before going to Cambridge, it was arranged that I should disappear to Switzerland to learn from the legendary and ancient Joseph Szigeti. It was a strange year for someone still a boy and afterwards I definitely needed something more normal! This was provided by two years at the Lucerne Conservatoire with the wonderful Italian violinist Franco Gulli.
I then thought that the greatest school of violin playing was to be found in Russia, so I obtained a scholarship to study in Leningrad. I didn’t find out much about the Russian School but after an extraordinary year I knew a lot more about survival! Not able to return to Leningrad for my projected second year because of complications with the KGB, I stayed in London and started to earn a living whilst having some postgraduate lessons with Yehudi Menuhin and Yfrah Neaman. It was a quite frantic time, freelancing with most of the London chamber orchestras, learning new solo repertoire in the breaks of recording sessions and (especially after winning second prize in the 1976 Carl Flesch Competition) rushing around playing concertos and recitals.
Around this time David Waterman rang me up out of the blue to ask if I would like to have a quartet reading session with some mutual friends. We enjoyed playing together and repeated the experience fairly regularly (with different middle players) until we started to think that it might be an idea to form a regular group and give some concerts. It took us some time to find compatible players but on January 20th 1979 we had our first serious rehearsal.
We were lucky enough to win second prize in the Portsmouth International Competition within three months of starting up and with the help of our enthusiastic first agent our career was hectically launched!
That was nearly a quarter of a century ago and I’m not sure what’s happened since then! In 1980 I married Shuna and a few years later we were lucky enough to have two sons. Neither of them wants to have anything to do with music! The quartet has travelled all over the world and played about 2500 concerts. I have also spent a lot of time directing orchestras and playing as a soloist. It has been an incredibly rich life.
I suppose the unifying thread through all this has been the fantastic music I have had the privilege to learn and play. There have been very few days in the last 25 years when I have not had the joy and the challenge of struggling to fathom the bottomless depths of a late Beethoven quartet, or trying to empathise with the tortured emotional switchback of Schubert’s late chamber music, or attempting to turn into sound the perfect simplicity and joy of a Haydn quartet without getting in the way I believe that anyone who has the opportunity to absorb this miraculous music can only be healed and enriched by it.