As a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral leader, the virtuosic stylings of Helena Wood have enchanted audiences throughout the concert halls of Europe. She has led a variety of distinguished orchestras and appeared as a soloist with numerous ensembles such as the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, London Mozart Players, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, English Sinfonia, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Cape Town Opera. In 2014 Wood led the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms. Former positions include Principal Violin at English National Opera and guest Concertmaster at Australian Opera. In 2013 Wood succeeded Alan Smale as Concertmaster of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in Dublin.
Final Note caught up with the charming violinist to chat about her flourishing career, finding her instrument, and her exciting new tour with Music Network.
Ever in demand as an orchestral leader and director, how do you approach working with a new orchestra for the first time?
Working with a new orchestra is always an exciting prospect but it can also feel a little nerve-racking. My plan is to always be ultra prepared in terms of learning the music, and making sure that I know people's names. It's also important to figure out how I am getting to a new venue (especially if I'm in a new country), so that I can arrive nice and early to have a decent warm-up, and to get the lay of the land.
What elements are important to the development of a good working relationship between a concertmaster and a conductor?
I think the most important thing between a conductor and leader is respect. Your aim is always to get the best possible artistic result, so being open-minded and respectful, whilst working with a conductor on their ideas, is essential.
What is the most fun performance you have had to date?
It would be incredibly difficult to pick my most fun gig to date but I can honestly say that rehearsing for these concerts has been a total blast. I haven't laughed so much and had so much fun for years!
Top 5 favourite concertos to play?
It's hard to pick a favourite concerto to perform but if I had to, it would probably have to be Beethoven. It's incredibly difficult but simply exquisite, and I fall in love with it every time I play it. The 2 Prokofievs are also wonderful to play, as they have so many colours and mood changes. At the other end of the scale, you can't beat Vivaldi's concertos for their energy and verve.
If you could travel back in time to any musical era, which would you choose and why?
It would have to be the Baroque era. I would absolutely love to meet and work with Bach, Vivaldi, and Monteverdi, and then stay around to meet Mozart, who I think must have been a real character.
Take us through the search for your current instrument—a Christian Bayon—and why you made this your violin of choice?
I was lucky enough to be lent beautiful old instruments for many years—from a 7/8 size Amati to a Montagnana that I played for around 5 years. It wasn't until I was in my 30s that it become clear that I really should have my own violin, as you never know when generous loans can come to an end. I was recommended Christian Bayon by a friend in London, so I tried one that he had made for Isabelle Van Keulen. I thought it was fantastic straight away. This was before I began my job in Dublin...coincidentally, Isabelle played her first ever performance on her new violin (the Berg concerto) with the RTÉ NSO in Dublin. I love my violin and it was stunning from the first moment I tried it, which is unusual for new instruments. There is also something quite magical about having one made especially for you and trying it for the first time in the workshop with the Luthier. My Bayon violin will always be incredibly special to me.
When not music-making, what do you like to do?
When I'm not working, I have to admit that I listen to very little music and love silence! I will immerse myself in a good book, spend lots of time with my husband, and take my friend's dog for a walk.
You are set to join Mia Cooper, Katherine Hunka and Ionna Petcu-Colan in an all-violin quartet tour with Music Network this April—what inspired this coming together of such an exceptional bunch of violinists?
It was the composer Ian Wilson who came up with the idea for the four of us to get together, and I am so glad that he did! He approached Music Network who ran with the idea and have made this whole tour possible.
What can audiences expect from the programme?
The programme for the tour is pretty eclectic! It took months of emails bouncing back and forth between us all to come up with what we hope is a fun, captivating, and varied programme. If you really want to know, then you'll just have to come and hear it for yourselves!
How will you be spending the Summer months?
August is holiday time for the National Symphony Orchestra so I will be in London with my husband, and I'll be spending as much time with my family and friends as possible. I might even have a little bit of time off from the violin.