Driven by a passion for classical music

Nicola Benedetti.  Photo by Simon Fowler
Nicola Benedetti. Photo by Simon Fowler
  • The globally acclaimed violinist Nicola Benedetti presents an Italian-themed concert at Leeds Town Hall next week. She spoke to Chris Bond.
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IT’S been quite a month for classical music fans in Leeds.

First there was the acclaimed international piano competition, the last with Dame Fanny Waterman at the helm, which saw 25 year- old Russian Anna Tcybuleva crowned the winner after two-and-a-half breathless weeks of staggeringly brilliant music.

If that wasn’t enough the world’s greatest pianist, the Chinese superstar Lang Lang, performed a dazzling recital, along with Federico Colli, at Leeds Town Hall.

And now to top it all off the acclaimed violinist Nicola Benedetti returns to the same venue for a concert inspired by Italy, with which she has close personal ties.

The town hall has established itself as one of the country’s most popular classical music venues on the back of its excellent concert series and is one of just eleven places featured on Benedetti’s latest tour.

It’s in good company, with the Royal Albert Hall, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and the Corn Exchange in Cambridge among the other venues.

Benedetti’s concert will include two popular works from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as well as Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, which she will perform with an ensemble of musicians.

At just 28, Benedetti is already a global star with numerous awards and best-selling albums to her name and is only likely to get better in the coming years.

Part of her appeal (although she might not thank me for saying so) is her glamorous image and movie-star looks. Although this would count for little without her prodigious musical talent.

She has also managed early on in her career to break out of the sometimes stuffy and rarefied world of classical music, and make the works of maestros like Verdi and Mozart accessible to an audience that might otherwise have given them a wide berth.

It’s just over 25 years since Nigel Kennedy became Britain’s most celebrated and, in some people’s eyes, controversial classical musician after the release of his recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Benedetti is similarly recognisable today, but while she’s passionate and forthright she is a much less divisive figure among music fans.

Her story, though, is a fascinating one. Born in Ayrshire to Scottish-Italian parents, Benedetti was just four years old when she first picked up a violin and tried to play it.

Although, as she points out, this wasn’t the joyous experience you might assume it would have been.

“I’m left handed and the first time I came across a violin it was quite traumatic because I wanted to play it the wrong way round.”

She might have run away from the instrument never to return, but even at such a tender age her mother had instilled into her the importance of perseverance and after a couple of lessons she found an affinity with the violin that has remained with her ever since.

By the time she was eight years old she was leading the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and a couple of years later she won a place at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School.

Like most teenage girls she enjoyed listening to pop music, although not to the same extent as she liked listening to classical music. For her Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven trumped the likes of Take That, Oasis and Kylie Minogue.

“Pop music never really did anything for me in terms of the kind emotion or excitement that I felt when I listened to classical music.”

Despite her obvious talent she says she didn’t set out to become a star.

“It was never a conscious decision to become a professional musician, I was just drawn towards playing.”

Her big break came 11 years ago when she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year award. Since then she has worked tirelessly to bring classical music to a wider audience.

“For me it’s like a great meal, you want to share it with someone. Classical music is different from anything else and for me this music lifts you in a way that nothing else can, and I want as many people as possible to experience that feeling.”

This chimes with her belief that music, and in particular classical music, ought to play a bigger part in children’s lives at school.

“Our education system does very little to help us become better citizens and I think music encourages us to be creative and more nurturing.”

It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication for Benedetti to get where she is today and she continues 
to practise every day to ensure her high standards don’t slip.

She has played at Leeds Town Hall before and she is looking forward to next week’s concert – the programme will include the world premiere of a new work for the violin and cello by Mark Anthony Turnage.

But despite all the international tours, live performances and concerts, she doesn’t take her success for granted.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” she insists. “I’m probably a bit calmer now before a performance.

“But people pay good money to come and see me and I have to take each and every performance seriously...there’s no diluting of the senses.”

• Nicola Benedetti will be performing at Leeds Town Hall on Thursday, September 24 at 7.30pm. For tickets call the box office on 0113 224 3801 or to book online visit www.leedstownhall.co.uk