In­ter­view: Ni­cola Benedetti

“I left home at age 10 so I had to get over my home-sick­ness”

No. 1 Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

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’

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