From The Back Desk - Nicole Wilson, English National Opera

1 July 2013, 16:00

Turns out violinists visit the osteopath as much as they visit the pub, as the ENO's principal violinist Nicole Wilson tells us in this week's From The Back Desk interview.

Name: Nicole Wilson    

Instrument: Principal Violin

Ensemble: English National Opera

Why did you decide to become a musician?
My Dad wanted to try teaching the violin and used me as a guinea pig…

What's the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
Peter Grimes last year. I had played it and loved it previously from the shelter of the pit under the stage, then we played it on the Royal Albert Hall stage with the cast and I was quaking in my seat – not from nerves but from the terrifying presence of Stuart Skelton as Grimes lurching across the stage, feet away from me and plunging into the arena to his tragic demise… I didn’t know where to look.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you on stage?
I appeared as the solo violin on stage in Ligeti’s Grande Macabre and was thrilled to hear I would be in costume. I imagined a bouffant wig and bustier. However I ended up in a boiler suit, wellies and a gas mask – not really the look I was hoping for.

If you could work with one musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Donizetti – so I could harass him to write more interesting second violin and viola parts.

In concert, have you ever thought, "I can't actually play this bit very well, I'm going to mime and hope no-one notices"?
Yes I’ve mimed, although not because I couldn’t play it but because my desk partner had unwound my strings for a laugh to see how I’d manage, so I had to look very convincing. I pulled lots of ‘musical’ faces and played with my bow an inch off the string all the way through the piece.

Could you give us an example of the downside of the profession, something that the average concert-goer might not know about?
Opera requires a lot more stamina than symphonic work. The operas are often more than four hours long and the string players in particular often play most of the way through. Trips to the osteopath and physiotherapist are a regular occurrence. It’s taken me a long time to build my strength up and I’m still terrified of ever playing the Ring Cycle by Wagner…

Does the touring lifestyle bring out rock star behaviour in the orchestra?
ENO rarely tours - we are based at the Coliseum near Trafalgar Square – and so we know our home very well, including our local public house right by stage door. It’s an incredibly social scene after our shows where we stumble into the pub only to collide with many other West End musicians, all finishing their shows around the same time. I wouldn’t say it’s a rock star scene but opera is thirsty work you know…

Have you witnessed any serious diva strops in your time as a musician?
Sadly not. I live in hope.

What's the biggest challenge facing musicians like you these days?
Seeing enough of my family and still giving my all to my job. I’m exhausted most of the time and look fairly haggard. Good job I sit in the dark under the stage.

What's the best thing about being a musician?
Working with my friends. Music is a huge family. Sure, there are annoying aunties and uncles amongst them but you make friends for life and every time I go to play with a new orchestra there’s someone there I know from the past with whom I can share a drink and a laugh. I’m a lucky girl.

Nicole's latest project, a CD of nursery rhymes with big band arrangements, can be found here.The ENO is performing 'Opera Alfresco' at Kenwood house on August 31st - more details here - and their new season starts in September with Beethoven's Fidelio.