My friend Edmund Reid, who has died aged 85, was a violinist with a number of orchestras across his long career, including the London Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic, and was principal violinist at the Welsh National Opera and then the English National Opera. He stands out as a black man who made it to the top of the European classical music scene.
Edmund was born in Jamaica, where he was raised by his Aunt Doris. He fell in love with the violin at an early age and gave his first recital at eight. Attending Kingston College secondary school, at 16 he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he also studied under the violinist Sascha Lasserson.
In 1959 he married Gretta Barrow, a fellow student at the Royal Academy of Music, and after graduation he gave some successful recitals at the Wigmore Hall in London. His first orchestral appointment was as first violin at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, before he moved on to become a violinist at Sadler’s Wells in London. He also played first violin with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic.
He played first desk at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for 10 years, and then was co-leader of the Welsh National Opera and, later, the English National Opera.
Edmund’s achievements did not come without a struggle. For many years he found he was the only black musician in the orchestras he worked for, and recalled how, when he auditioned at the Royal Opera House in 1964, it took two months for the committee to discuss “whether it was OK to employ a black man”.
On tour with Sadler’s Wells, his colleagues would quickly find digs, but he would be roaming the streets far into the night trying to find somewhere that would accept someone of his skin colour. In 1987 he successfully took his then-employers, the English National Opera, to an industrial tribunal after they refused to give him the title of co-leader, even though he had acted as lead violin for two years.
Edmund told the Guardian in 2008 that “when I started, I told myself I wouldn’t get in an orchestra if I played as well as the next person, so I decided I had to be 300% better”.
Alongside his orchestral career, he was a renowned teacher to whom many professionals had recourse before their auditions for major orchestras. In retirement he led the Rehearsal Orchestra in London and the Orchestre de l’Opéra De Baugé in France, where he was a genial and much-loved figure. He was made MBE in 2020.
Edmund is survived by Gretta, their two sons, Robin and Russel, and two daughters, Sandra and Carol.