Classical violinist Nicola Benedetti topped Justin Bieber on this week's UK album charts (screen shot)
"Chasing vacuous fame as if it's something in itself just isn't remotely fulfilling. This obsession must be fought against." Twenty-five-year-old violinist Nicola Benedetti thinks about every word she says incredibly carefully. It's no surprise as, since she won the BBC Young Musician Of The Year Award in 2004 at the tender age of 16, she's been in the spotlight. She caused a minor media stir in 2007 when she criticized the cult of celebrity in classical music (and with it some of her fellow soloists) and has always been very outspoken in her views. Hugely articulate and with a passion for music education it's clear she's a musician with a soapbox.
Nicola Benedetti's The Silver Violin shot to No. 31 on the UK album charts following her appearance on the Proms.
The Scot's performance at the Last Night Of The Proms on Sept. 8 (broadcast on BBC Television and BBC Radio 3 to an audience of 5.1 million), was the perfect end to London's summer in the international spotlight and the perfect start to Benedetti's latest album's success. That night she performed a number of pieces including Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor. The following day The Silver Violin (Decca Classics, released Aug. 27 in the U.K.) shot to No. 32 in the Official Albums Chart (according to Official Chart Company stats), making it the highest chart position for a British solo instrumentalist since Nigel Kennedy in 1991 and ahead of Justin Bieber. The disc, which features the Korngold Violin Concerto and works by Mahler and Shostakovich as well as the theme from "Schindler's List" by John Williams, also hit #1 on the Amazon chart. Not bad for someone who has so vocally and determinedly shunned becoming a crossover artist.
True to form, she won't comment on whether she's a Belieber or not, but says in her trademark diplomatic style, "He's, er, very cute I suppose." She is delighted to have made the chart, however, saying, "It's wonderful to have made the pop charts without ever having done crossover. I just hope people are listening to the Mahler and the Korngold…!"
Since she won the BBC Young Musician Of The Year, Benedetti's star has ascended carefully and credibly over seven core-classical albums with Universal (on Deutsche Grammophon and now Decca). It could have been so much glitzier. "I was clear with everyone from the start what I did and didn't want to do," she says. "There is a huge difference between crossover music and crossover audience. Crossover music is when you take a pop piece and enforce classical music on it or vice versa and I have not and WILL not do that." However, she adds, "I cannot stand the notion something is good quality because few people listen to it. The end product needs to be of quality and relevance."
It seems like a career in the States is next on the cards. The Silver Violin will be released stateside in January 2013 (France, Germany and Australia will go this autumn, dates tbd) and she is performing at the Ryder Cup golf tournament closing ceremony in Illinois on Sept. 30 that plays to an audience of millions. She's also got appearances with the Dallas and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras booked in for early 2013.
Decca president Dickon Stainer says Benedetti's U.S. potential is huge. "The American office see her as someone with a long and successful American record career," he says, "She has a unique ability to communicate and she is credible. She's also a great spokesperson for classical music." Straight after our interview she's off to Beijing to perform at the Far East Conference, consolidating the "considerable" interest in her there ahead of the album's release in Hong Kong and Singapore in February.
Benedetti is typically sanguine about her appeal and the success of her album. For all her seriousness, she laughs a lot, a deep throaty Scottish laugh. "I don't know how to say it without blowing my own trumpet but I really have had a great year," she says. And next year looks like it might just be even better.