• Born 1965
Often appears with
David Watkin is one of the leading cellists in the period performance movement in London. As a boy he had thorough training in the cello, including private lessons with Sharon McKinley and school lessons with Margaret Moncrieff and Amaryllis Fleming. He attended St. Catherine's College, Cambridge, as a choral scholar. This meant he was an adult-voice member of the college's chapel choir and received thorough training in voice and interpretation and a scholarship to the college for singing daily services during the school term. While there, he also won an award for his cello playing. As a Cambridge student he studied with the great teacher William Pleeth.
He played his debut recital in 1989 at St. John's, Smith Square. His accompanist was Howard Moody, who before and since has been Watkin's duo performance partner. They had already been friends for ten years, meeting in 1979 when they were both members of the National Youth Orchestra in Britain.
Watkin believes in informing his music making with scholarship, and does considerable research into the history and performing practice of the music he plays. This has naturally led him into the "period" or "authentic" performance movement. He has appeared as a soloist with many of London's period instrument orchestras. His performance of Vivaldi cello sonatas on the Hyperion label won the highest possible rating in BBC Music Magazine. He has recorded with the English Concert, the Academy of Ancient Music, Collegium Musicum '90, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
One of his achievements was the thorough researching of the method used in the Baroque era by cellists in realizing figured bass, a practice more usually associated with keyboard players. After writing an article on the practice in Early Music magazine, he became the first cellist in the modern era to give a complete concert realizing figured bass, playing Corelli's Op. 5 Violin Sonatas, which he recorded on the Novalis label. (His partners in this endeavor were the Trio Veracini.)
Watkin was principal cello in three leading period ensembles, the Academy of Ancient Music, the English Baroque Soloists, and L'Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. It may have been membership in the latter that stimulated his interest in researching performance practice of the 19th century.
While commentators have long realized that there were striking technological and interpretational changes from the Classical era to the Romantic era (a period generally exemplified by the career of Beethoven), Watkin came to accept that there had been an equally abrupt change about a century later. For instance, the eminent teacher Leopold Auer felt it necessary in 1919 to write an article urging violinists not to adopt the practice of Auer's most famous pupil, Jascha Heifetz, in constantly using vibrato. Vibrato, advocated Auer (doubtless reflecting the established earlier practice), was meant to be applied sparingly for expressive purposes. Watkin discovered also that the use of portamento (glides from one note to another on the same finger) was commonplace and was documented in published performers' editions of Romantic music giving fingerings. Using such research he published an article on the performance of Beethoven cello sonatas and then recorded them in a highly acclaimed and radical performance. Gramophone Magazine wrote of it, "If you're not sure about the advantages of original-instrument performance of classical chamber music, try this disc!"
In 1999, he joined the Eroica Quartet, which shared his interest in "performing the music of the Romantic period and rediscovering the style of its performance." He has written the Eroica Quartet's official mission statement, and with them, has recorded discs devoted to quartets of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Robert Schumann.