As the LSO International Violin Festival continues into May with a performance by Nicola Benedetti, we find out more about this violin star and the concerto that is a centrepiece of her career.
Nicola Benedetti was born in Scotland to an Italian father and a Scottish mother. She took up the violin when she was four and, after a stint as Leader of the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain, began studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School when she was 10.
A defining moment of her career came in 2004 when, aged 16, she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, performing Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, a work that has become a centrepiece of her repertoire. A year later she recorded the work with the LSO and Principal Guest Conductor Daniel Harding; in 2012 she chose it for her debut UK performance with the Orchestra at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall; and on 3 May this year she reprises it once again for her appearance in the International Violin Festival.
Nicola on Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No 1
‘Szymanowski's First Violin Concerto made an enormous impact on me the first time I heard it. I couldn't believe a so-called 'violin concerto' could contain such colours and orchestral depth. Studying this piece with Polish professor Maciej Rakowski gave me a depth of appreciation for Szymanowski's place in Polish culture which I hold with me to this day. The piece is fantastical, other-worldly, mystical and impressionistic, but not without soul or emotional expression. It possesses deeply moving melodies, in particular a short reoccurring motive that reflects the emotion of the poem this piece was based on.’
Nicola is also a passionate supporter of music education, working with charities, schools and colleges, fulfilling the role of ‘Big Sister’ in Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise project, and even setting up her own education and outreach initiative, The Benedetti Sessions. In June, she collaborates with LSO Discovery for Take A Bow, a project in association with The Benedetti Sessions that brings together 80 young musicians from schools in East London to perform music alongside Nicola and LSO musicians.
> Find out more about Take A Bow
Nicola plays the 1717 ‘Gariel, Stark’ Stradivari violin. Now owned by LSO patron Jonathan Moulds, it is named for Charles-Marie Gariel, a founder member of the Academy of Science in Paris, who owned it from 1881–1917. Previous owners include violin maker Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume and the Italian collector Luigi Tarisio.
Describing her violin, Nicola says: ‘Lots of instruments just don’t suit the person playing them. I was incredibly lucky that we suited each other so well. It’s like falling in love.’
Some excerpts originally printed in The Strad and re-printed with permission
Nicola Benedetti appears in the LSO International Violin Festival at the Barbican on Sunday 3 May, performing Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto.
> Buy tickets to the concert
We'll be getting to know the stars of Violin Festival on the LSO blog throughout the Festival, so keep checking back to read our latest interviews and behind-the-scenes stories.