Interview: Nicola Benedetti
“I left home at age 10 so I had to get over my home-sickness”
The Scottish classical music sensation chats to No.1 about life on the road plus her hopes and dreams
Whether you’re a huge fan of classical music or not, you’ve not doubt heard of Nicola Benedetti as she is one of Scotland’s most acclaimed musicians. The 27-year-old, from North Ayrshire, began playing the violin at the age of four and by the time she was eight, she was the leader of the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain. It’s safe to say this is one high-achieving young lady. Now she spends most of the year touring the world playing a variety of masterpieces as well as dedicating a lot of time to her educational programmes. We met up with Nicola in Silverburn, Glasgow, where she was unveiling her Raymond Weil watch at jewellers, Chisholm Hunter – adding yet another string to her bow! The talented star told us all about her passion for music, education and about the time she made a fool of herself in front of Jamie Oliver...
Why did you decide to collaborate with Swiss Luxury watchmaker, Raymond Weil?
I came across the company in a very classical music based environment a good few years ago. I struck up many conversations with their CEO, Elie Bernheim, who’s a big lover of classical music. He believes strongly in trying to promote that kind of culture in the mainstream world.
The watch you’ve designed with Raymond Weil is very classic – how involved were you with the actual design process?
I was involved but not in an extensive way because obviously that’s not my field. I was just asked generally about my likes and dislikes as well as colour palettes and the things I find beautiful. I then immediately thought about the look of my violin which has a lot of gold on it – that’s where my natural home is aesthetically and in terms of colours.
You’re now one of Britain’s most well-known and well-respected violinists, did you always want to be a musician?
I’ve never had a moment of thinking that playing the violin in something that I don’t want to do. I started playing really young and you have to do so much practice to get better at something like the violin, it’s endless. For the rest of my life I’ll be trying to play as well as I want to.
You famously admitted that you cried all the way through your first lesson age four, why was that?
I was very shy and also I’m left-handed so I kept picking up the violin the wrong way and I’m sure my teacher got frustrated with me at points. A lot of people have asked if being left-handed makes it harder for me to play well, but I always say that I don’t know because I have nothing to compare it to.
Your older sister is also a very successful violinist – do you both pull out your instruments and play at family parties?
Not really [laughs]. But if we’ve got our younger cousins there we do. Unfortunately, the older generation of our family is no longer with us. But all my grandparents, great uncles and aunts would almost always ask us to play because they just loved it. But that doesn’t happen so much anymore. Our family really was centred around the older generation and we just loved and respected all of them so much that without them it’s just not the same.
You spend a lot of your time touring the world, do you ever get homesick?
I left home when I was 10 to go to a music boarding school so I got over those stomach pangs and longing for home when I was that age. I’ve never really had them to that same extent since, but it was a young age to have to learn that. Because I’m away so much now I couldn’t really afford to feel like that anymore. However, I do recognise the importance of having some regularity in your life and being at home, so I do try to schedule that. I’m booking concerts two years in advance and, because I’m essentially a freelancer, it’s tempting to overbook myself, but I try not to.
What’s the best thing about being able to tour the world?
It’d have to be meeting and interacting with people from different worlds from your own. Provided your mind is open enough and your whole state of being is open enough, there is just so much to learn and to enjoy whilst interacting with people.
Do you still feel a massive high when you walk out on stage in front of thousands of fans?
I do still get a thrill but it’s not the same as when I was 18. When you do it so often it’s impossible to maintain a state of euphoria the whole time, so of course I’m a little bit more on an even keel now. But it still feels amazing and I have a huge sense of excitement about it. I also feel admiration for the fact that all of those people are there to sit and listen to me play really complicated notes for an hour and a half. It’s such a phenomenal thing that everyone has gone to all that effort and bought tickets – if you really sit and think about that, it’s something you must be grateful for.
Why do you think classical music concerts are still so important to people?
I think it’s just the amount of silence - so many people bitch about the stuffy or staid atmosphere of classical concert halls. But I don’t see it that way, I just think it’s one of the last safe havens and places of absolute silence and concentration we have. Everywhere is pumped full of music all the time and lots of images and so many things that take your attention and make it very fleeting – it’s over-stimulation.
How do you feel about the pieces you play?
I only really hear it properly for the first time when everyone else does. There have been times when I’ve had the most overwhelming moments when I realise ‘Oh this is what those notes are there for and this is how they actually make people feel!’ Suddenly the whole meaning of the piece can hit you.
How do you manage to keep fully concentrated when that happens?
Sometimes I’ve been overwhelmed to tears and I had to just keep myself completely under control!
You must have met many famous faces over the years, have you ever felt star struck?
Yes! I’ve met so many phenomenal people and it’s always a privilege. But I had the most awful encounter with Jamie Oliver. I’m a huge fan of his because I think there are very few people who are good at what they do but their constant concern is for people that are potentially suffering from a lack of knowledge. I admire his work in schools and different communities, trying to get people to learn about nutrition and about cooking. I’m not being particularly articulate about it right now and I was less so when I met him! Oh my goodness I just blabbered for the first few minutes. I should have just said, “Nice to meet you and thank you for having me at your event”, and instead I just went on and on.
You also do a lot of educational work, why is that so important to you?
Anyone who has been touched by any kind of creative experience in their lives will say, “Thank God I did that”. But if you have people who have never ever had those experiences, which is a huge percentage of the country, it’s sometimes difficult to convince people why working on your expression and communication, all of the invisible things in life, is important. People ask, “Well is it going to get me a better job?” I say that, in a round about way, yes it definitely will because if you’re a more confident, communicative person, that helps you in everything. When you walk into a room you have a certain presence and a certain way of being and people react to that, those things need to be worked on in school. And music is one of the things that does target that part of you. But sometimes all that falls on deaf ears.
You clearly have a lot on your plate at all times, do you ever get to relax?
I do when I’m with my boyfriend and my family. I love to cook and go on walks but very rarely do I get a proper period of time that doesn’t just come to an end very quickly and I have to get back to the pressure of everything.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I’d like to be a better violinist than now and hopefully, a more understanding person. I hope that in five years’ time I’ve managed to expand my knowledge of music and that my general overview of the world has expanded but that I’ve still managed to maintain a lot of hope within that. I worry because I’m always so concerned with soaking everything up that the information could get depressing. It’s inevitable that you hear about a lot of things that you really don’t want to know but I don’t want to give up learning about everything, I just want to find a way to do that and also stay positive and hopeful. It’s a really difficult balance to strike and I tend to take things to heart a lot. They’re really very internal things because I don’t think you can really control the rest, so there’s no point wishing for them.
‘I had the most awful encounter with Jamie Oliver, who I’m a huge fan of, I just blabbered on and on when I met him’