Ahead of a performance with the English Symphony Orchestra at the Elgar Festival on 1 June, the violinist shares the significance of this work throughout her musical journey

Zoë Beyers (credit Gail Secker)

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When did you first come across the Elgar Violin Concerto? When did you first perform it? 

In 2007, I was asked to play it in my home country of South Africa with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes. I had listened to the work as a child and student with a fair bit of scepticism. It wasn’t until I’d played Elgar’s symphonies that I began to grow closer to and understand the Violin Concerto for myself. I’m very glad I came to it in that order: symphonies first, concerto second. It’s very much a symphony for violin and orchestra.  

How do you think this work compares to the mighty Cello Concerto? 

I can’t compare them! They are two completely different things. For me, the Cello Concerto is like a series of perfect postcards, or poignant photographs capturing a place or time.  

The Violin Concerto is vast, with much less of an immediate ‘hook’ in terms of melody. The solo line is interwoven with the orchestra in a completely different way - Elgar treats the violin less like a solo voice and more like an extension of the orchestra. Even the cadenza is accompanied - it’s the least soloistic concerto in the canon in many ways.  

Do you have any advice to string players learning the work? What’s the trickiest section or technique for you in the piece, and how do you overcome it? 

The Violin Concerto has many tricky technical elements, but I would say the main challenge is stamina. One has to produce a sound that is continuously projected but always with the utmost quality. This is tiring, and it is a very long work! It also requires real knowledge of the orchestral parts to understand the dialogue between orchestra and solo, so I study the score a lot. 

What’s the best part about performing this work? 

The vast emotional range - it takes everyone on a real journey, soloist, conductor, orchestra, and most importantly the audience. 

Tell us about the instrument you’ll be playing on in your performance on 1 June. 

I am very fortunate to play an Alessandro Mezzadri violin (1709) by the kind support of the Stradivari Trust. It is a wonderful, dark-toned instrument perfect for all the rich melodies of the Elgar concerto. I have been playing it since 2020. 

Zoë Beyers will perform the Elgar Violin Concerto with English Symphony Orchestra in Worcester Cathedral on 1 June – Gala Concert at the Elgar Festival. Find out more here. Watch Zoë perform an excerpt of Steve Elcock’s Violin Concerto here:

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