Nicola Benedetti

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Biography

At the age of 23, several years into a professional career which began at 16 with a hugely popular victory in the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year competition, Nicola Benedetti is finally doing what’s expected of her. Indeed, what’s been asked of her.

“A lot of people I speak to after concerts have been asking about the romantic concertos. When was I going to record them? Taking a look at other current CD releases, there can be a lack of imagination and creativity which is something I have always tried to avoid. But I’ve been performing Tchaikovsky and Bruch quite a lot, and just thought, ... Read more

At the age of 23, several years into a professional career which began at 16 with a hugely popular victory in the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year competition, Nicola Benedetti is finally doing what’s expected of her. Indeed, what’s been asked of her.

“A lot of people I speak to after concerts have been asking about the romantic concertos. When was I going to record them? Taking a look at other current CD releases, there can be a lack of imagination and creativity which is something I have always tried to avoid. But I’ve been performing Tchaikovsky and Bruch quite a lot, and just thought, why not? I have never recorded a straight, predictable CD, and thought perhaps now was the right time.”

It’s not often that a serious musician goes into the recording studio to play requests. But then few classical soloists have the sort of relationship that Nicola Benedetti does with her audiences all over the world. In six years she has scarcely been off the concert platform, apart from the odd self-imposed break to hone her skills.

Nicola is now four CDs into what will no doubt be a long life in the recording studio. Thus far she has kept her listeners guessing, shuffling much loved violin staples such as Mendelssohn’s concerto and Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending with the likes of Tavener and Pärt. “Even though I have recorded some very popular works, it has always been within a very untraditional format.”

Thus this headlong dive in the Romantic repertoire. In the violin concerti by Bruch and Tchaikovsky, Benedetti has chosen to tackle those compositions against which all violinists must test themselves.

Now seems the appropriate moment. Why? For one, she is no longer young player who gave such a delicate interpretation of the Mendelssohn. “It sounds quite polite and careful in comparison to how I play it now. But the vulnerable qualities of the recording I think really suit the youth of the piece.”

Those qualities would not really work for these two concertos, however. Both were composed by young (or youngish) men, at an equivalent moment in still nascent careers. Bruch was 28 in 1866 when he completed his first violin concerto, Op 26 in G minor, although it was then reconfigured and re-premiered a year. Tchaikovsky was ten years older in 1878 when the D major concerto, Op 35, was written, but he was only beginning to find fame. That said, they should not be seen as cut from the same cloth.

“They are two unique concertos,” Nicola declares. “But one similarity between them is a romantic, passionate strong-heartedness.”

There is a historical one too. Tchaikovsky worked up his concerto while staying on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He was joined by a composition student of his who happened also to be a violinist. Yosif Kotek arrived from Berlin, where he had been working with his violin teacher Joseph Joachim. It was Joachim who, eleven years earlier, had first performed the revised version of Bruch’s concerto.

Despite this connection, the two concertos are musical expressions of two wholly different psychologies. And while we can hear it for ourselves when we listen to Nicola’s two renditions, in the end it can be only the violinist, charged with teasing them out on their own instrument, who can truly comes face to face with the intensity of the concertos’ inner truths. So what, in Nicola’s view, are the differences?

“Bruch always has a certain content in his music,” she explains. “There is something that is peaceful. The passion is ever optimistic and finds peace. The second movement, which is heartrending and in my opinion one of the best romances ever written, is still so joyous. The softer moments have a sense of calm. The most euphoric and dramatic moments are searching but always end in a blissful, resolved state.”

Not that the composition was without experimental flourishes. Bruch’s was the first major violin concerto to adopt the Mendelssohnian technique of segueing between movements – the first movement is conjoined to the Romance by a low note from the first violins – and dispensing with an excess of orchestral framing.

“The structure of this violin concerto is very unusual. Traditionally the opening movement of a concerto is, in many respects, the most substantial, in sonata form and with the cadenza appearing before the recapitulation. This opening movement is in fact a ‘prelude’ which begins and ends with short, haunting cadenzas from the violin. It is, in many ways, a revolutionary concerto, which I think has been forgotten with its’ popularity,” she says.

The emotional landscape conjured up by Bruch, still young, freshly celebrated and not yet exposed to the disappointments which life would later inflict, is thus benign. The Romance swoons, but there is resolution. Agony is vanquished by ecstasy.

“There is a certain straightforwardness about this concerto that perhaps suits me,” Nicola says. “It translates to people on a very open level, and has an optimism which leaves audiences feeling elated. I think I tend to have quite an unaffected, natural approach to music which was born in a totally unmusical environment so I think the simplicity and flow of Bruch’s music probably sits well with that side of me.”

Compare and contrast with Tchaikovsky. “It seems quite common amongst composers who have surpassed their peers with their achievements that, generally speaking, they have not lived such happy, comfortable existences. With the likes of Tchaikovsky, his music often sounds to me like an outpouring of hidden anxiety and frustration. Trying to think of a moment of true contentment in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto is almost impossible.

“The second subject of the first movement, for instance, which begins so contained, develops into something so obsessive and unrelenting to the point where the violin is literally crying out for something that can’t be satisfied. It’s like an insatiable appetite for both melody and drama, that spins and spins. This is one of the greatest thrills of Tchaikovsky’s music. He insists with a theme way beyond what most composers would dare, and because of the striking superiority of his material, it works.”

The unrest, it is always presumed, is the composer’s furious response to the bitter catastrophe of his marriage to Antonina Miliukova. Tchaikovsky spent his entire life grappling with his homosexuality. The violin concerto was the piece in which that struggle seemed to surface in his music. Though we can’t be certain, it’s intriguing to speculate whether, even if only at a subconscious level, this was at the root of the concerto’s initially cool reception. Its structural anxiety, its obsessive repetitions and failure to seek out resolution may have come across as not just artistically unseemly, but morally so too.

The first soloist to find fault with it was its dedicatee, Leopold Auer. The distinguished soloist counted the honour conferred by Tchaikovsky a mixed blessing. “My first feeling was one of gratitude for this proof of his sympathy toward me,” he said many years later, “which honoured me as an artist. On closer acquaintance with the composition, I regretted that the great composer had not shown it to me before committing it to print. Much unpleasantness might then have been spared us both.”

Auer denied, as had been reported, that he had declared the concerto “unplayable”. But he did think it suitable to make adjustments, particularly to the conclusion. “He didn’t necessarily make the third movement any easier,” says Nicola. “Just a bit less tiring. In my opinion the third movement was not complimented in any way by Auer, quite the contrary in fact. The whole concerto had a slightly crazed, repetitive, extremely wild and rustic character, and to diminish this not only disturbs the structure but takes away the character. I also find that many of the smaller, more technical changes to the first movement only weaken the character.”

The changes were partly a question of technical correction. Nicola allows that Tchaikovsky “was not one of the best composers for violin, compared to others”, by which she means his knowledge of what was feasible on the instrument were limited. “It’s not always terribly violinistic. He doesn’t use techniques developed by Paganini.” But that, she adds, is the piece’s strength. “It carries itself as a magnificent piece of music, not a focus on the violin’s technical capabilities. Despite being a concerto that does test almost all of them, it does not draw the listener to focus on this.”
In short, Tchaikovsky took out his frustration on the violinists of posterity, from Auer onwards. One could also suggest that it was Bruch’s easy relationship with the violin which helped to yield a less troubling concerto. Either way, in Nicola’s interpretation they make for an intriguing study in contrast for the Romantic violin.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

At the age of 23, several years into a professional career which began at 16 with a hugely popular victory in the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year competition, Nicola Benedetti is finally doing what’s expected of her. Indeed, what’s been asked of her.

“A lot of people I speak to after concerts have been asking about the romantic concertos. When was I going to record them? Taking a look at other current CD releases, there can be a lack of imagination and creativity which is something I have always tried to avoid. But I’ve been performing Tchaikovsky and Bruch quite a lot, and just thought, why not? I have never recorded a straight, predictable CD, and thought perhaps now was the right time.”

It’s not often that a serious musician goes into the recording studio to play requests. But then few classical soloists have the sort of relationship that Nicola Benedetti does with her audiences all over the world. In six years she has scarcely been off the concert platform, apart from the odd self-imposed break to hone her skills.

Nicola is now four CDs into what will no doubt be a long life in the recording studio. Thus far she has kept her listeners guessing, shuffling much loved violin staples such as Mendelssohn’s concerto and Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending with the likes of Tavener and Pärt. “Even though I have recorded some very popular works, it has always been within a very untraditional format.”

Thus this headlong dive in the Romantic repertoire. In the violin concerti by Bruch and Tchaikovsky, Benedetti has chosen to tackle those compositions against which all violinists must test themselves.

Now seems the appropriate moment. Why? For one, she is no longer young player who gave such a delicate interpretation of the Mendelssohn. “It sounds quite polite and careful in comparison to how I play it now. But the vulnerable qualities of the recording I think really suit the youth of the piece.”

Those qualities would not really work for these two concertos, however. Both were composed by young (or youngish) men, at an equivalent moment in still nascent careers. Bruch was 28 in 1866 when he completed his first violin concerto, Op 26 in G minor, although it was then reconfigured and re-premiered a year. Tchaikovsky was ten years older in 1878 when the D major concerto, Op 35, was written, but he was only beginning to find fame. That said, they should not be seen as cut from the same cloth.

“They are two unique concertos,” Nicola declares. “But one similarity between them is a romantic, passionate strong-heartedness.”

There is a historical one too. Tchaikovsky worked up his concerto while staying on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He was joined by a composition student of his who happened also to be a violinist. Yosif Kotek arrived from Berlin, where he had been working with his violin teacher Joseph Joachim. It was Joachim who, eleven years earlier, had first performed the revised version of Bruch’s concerto.

Despite this connection, the two concertos are musical expressions of two wholly different psychologies. And while we can hear it for ourselves when we listen to Nicola’s two renditions, in the end it can be only the violinist, charged with teasing them out on their own instrument, who can truly comes face to face with the intensity of the concertos’ inner truths. So what, in Nicola’s view, are the differences?

“Bruch always has a certain content in his music,” she explains. “There is something that is peaceful. The passion is ever optimistic and finds peace. The second movement, which is heartrending and in my opinion one of the best romances ever written, is still so joyous. The softer moments have a sense of calm. The most euphoric and dramatic moments are searching but always end in a blissful, resolved state.”

Not that the composition was without experimental flourishes. Bruch’s was the first major violin concerto to adopt the Mendelssohnian technique of segueing between movements – the first movement is conjoined to the Romance by a low note from the first violins – and dispensing with an excess of orchestral framing.

“The structure of this violin concerto is very unusual. Traditionally the opening movement of a concerto is, in many respects, the most substantial, in sonata form and with the cadenza appearing before the recapitulation. This opening movement is in fact a ‘prelude’ which begins and ends with short, haunting cadenzas from the violin. It is, in many ways, a revolutionary concerto, which I think has been forgotten with its’ popularity,” she says.

The emotional landscape conjured up by Bruch, still young, freshly celebrated and not yet exposed to the disappointments which life would later inflict, is thus benign. The Romance swoons, but there is resolution. Agony is vanquished by ecstasy.

“There is a certain straightforwardness about this concerto that perhaps suits me,” Nicola says. “It translates to people on a very open level, and has an optimism which leaves audiences feeling elated. I think I tend to have quite an unaffected, natural approach to music which was born in a totally unmusical environment so I think the simplicity and flow of Bruch’s music probably sits well with that side of me.”

Compare and contrast with Tchaikovsky. “It seems quite common amongst composers who have surpassed their peers with their achievements that, generally speaking, they have not lived such happy, comfortable existences. With the likes of Tchaikovsky, his music often sounds to me like an outpouring of hidden anxiety and frustration. Trying to think of a moment of true contentment in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto is almost impossible.

“The second subject of the first movement, for instance, which begins so contained, develops into something so obsessive and unrelenting to the point where the violin is literally crying out for something that can’t be satisfied. It’s like an insatiable appetite for both melody and drama, that spins and spins. This is one of the greatest thrills of Tchaikovsky’s music. He insists with a theme way beyond what most composers would dare, and because of the striking superiority of his material, it works.”

The unrest, it is always presumed, is the composer’s furious response to the bitter catastrophe of his marriage to Antonina Miliukova. Tchaikovsky spent his entire life grappling with his homosexuality. The violin concerto was the piece in which that struggle seemed to surface in his music. Though we can’t be certain, it’s intriguing to speculate whether, even if only at a subconscious level, this was at the root of the concerto’s initially cool reception. Its structural anxiety, its obsessive repetitions and failure to seek out resolution may have come across as not just artistically unseemly, but morally so too.

The first soloist to find fault with it was its dedicatee, Leopold Auer. The distinguished soloist counted the honour conferred by Tchaikovsky a mixed blessing. “My first feeling was one of gratitude for this proof of his sympathy toward me,” he said many years later, “which honoured me as an artist. On closer acquaintance with the composition, I regretted that the great composer had not shown it to me before committing it to print. Much unpleasantness might then have been spared us both.”

Auer denied, as had been reported, that he had declared the concerto “unplayable”. But he did think it suitable to make adjustments, particularly to the conclusion. “He didn’t necessarily make the third movement any easier,” says Nicola. “Just a bit less tiring. In my opinion the third movement was not complimented in any way by Auer, quite the contrary in fact. The whole concerto had a slightly crazed, repetitive, extremely wild and rustic character, and to diminish this not only disturbs the structure but takes away the character. I also find that many of the smaller, more technical changes to the first movement only weaken the character.”

The changes were partly a question of technical correction. Nicola allows that Tchaikovsky “was not one of the best composers for violin, compared to others”, by which she means his knowledge of what was feasible on the instrument were limited. “It’s not always terribly violinistic. He doesn’t use techniques developed by Paganini.” But that, she adds, is the piece’s strength. “It carries itself as a magnificent piece of music, not a focus on the violin’s technical capabilities. Despite being a concerto that does test almost all of them, it does not draw the listener to focus on this.”
In short, Tchaikovsky took out his frustration on the violinists of posterity, from Auer onwards. One could also suggest that it was Bruch’s easy relationship with the violin which helped to yield a less troubling concerto. Either way, in Nicola’s interpretation they make for an intriguing study in contrast for the Romantic violin.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

At the age of 23, several years into a professional career which began at 16 with a hugely popular victory in the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year competition, Nicola Benedetti is finally doing what’s expected of her. Indeed, what’s been asked of her.

“A lot of people I speak to after concerts have been asking about the romantic concertos. When was I going to record them? Taking a look at other current CD releases, there can be a lack of imagination and creativity which is something I have always tried to avoid. But I’ve been performing Tchaikovsky and Bruch quite a lot, and just thought, why not? I have never recorded a straight, predictable CD, and thought perhaps now was the right time.”

It’s not often that a serious musician goes into the recording studio to play requests. But then few classical soloists have the sort of relationship that Nicola Benedetti does with her audiences all over the world. In six years she has scarcely been off the concert platform, apart from the odd self-imposed break to hone her skills.

Nicola is now four CDs into what will no doubt be a long life in the recording studio. Thus far she has kept her listeners guessing, shuffling much loved violin staples such as Mendelssohn’s concerto and Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending with the likes of Tavener and Pärt. “Even though I have recorded some very popular works, it has always been within a very untraditional format.”

Thus this headlong dive in the Romantic repertoire. In the violin concerti by Bruch and Tchaikovsky, Benedetti has chosen to tackle those compositions against which all violinists must test themselves.

Now seems the appropriate moment. Why? For one, she is no longer young player who gave such a delicate interpretation of the Mendelssohn. “It sounds quite polite and careful in comparison to how I play it now. But the vulnerable qualities of the recording I think really suit the youth of the piece.”

Those qualities would not really work for these two concertos, however. Both were composed by young (or youngish) men, at an equivalent moment in still nascent careers. Bruch was 28 in 1866 when he completed his first violin concerto, Op 26 in G minor, although it was then reconfigured and re-premiered a year. Tchaikovsky was ten years older in 1878 when the D major concerto, Op 35, was written, but he was only beginning to find fame. That said, they should not be seen as cut from the same cloth.

“They are two unique concertos,” Nicola declares. “But one similarity between them is a romantic, passionate strong-heartedness.”

There is a historical one too. Tchaikovsky worked up his concerto while staying on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He was joined by a composition student of his who happened also to be a violinist. Yosif Kotek arrived from Berlin, where he had been working with his violin teacher Joseph Joachim. It was Joachim who, eleven years earlier, had first performed the revised version of Bruch’s concerto.

Despite this connection, the two concertos are musical expressions of two wholly different psychologies. And while we can hear it for ourselves when we listen to Nicola’s two renditions, in the end it can be only the violinist, charged with teasing them out on their own instrument, who can truly comes face to face with the intensity of the concertos’ inner truths. So what, in Nicola’s view, are the differences?

“Bruch always has a certain content in his music,” she explains. “There is something that is peaceful. The passion is ever optimistic and finds peace. The second movement, which is heartrending and in my opinion one of the best romances ever written, is still so joyous. The softer moments have a sense of calm. The most euphoric and dramatic moments are searching but always end in a blissful, resolved state.”

Not that the composition was without experimental flourishes. Bruch’s was the first major violin concerto to adopt the Mendelssohnian technique of segueing between movements – the first movement is conjoined to the Romance by a low note from the first violins – and dispensing with an excess of orchestral framing.

“The structure of this violin concerto is very unusual. Traditionally the opening movement of a concerto is, in many respects, the most substantial, in sonata form and with the cadenza appearing before the recapitulation. This opening movement is in fact a ‘prelude’ which begins and ends with short, haunting cadenzas from the violin. It is, in many ways, a revolutionary concerto, which I think has been forgotten with its’ popularity,” she says.

The emotional landscape conjured up by Bruch, still young, freshly celebrated and not yet exposed to the disappointments which life would later inflict, is thus benign. The Romance swoons, but there is resolution. Agony is vanquished by ecstasy.

“There is a certain straightforwardness about this concerto that perhaps suits me,” Nicola says. “It translates to people on a very open level, and has an optimism which leaves audiences feeling elated. I think I tend to have quite an unaffected, natural approach to music which was born in a totally unmusical environment so I think the simplicity and flow of Bruch’s music probably sits well with that side of me.”

Compare and contrast with Tchaikovsky. “It seems quite common amongst composers who have surpassed their peers with their achievements that, generally speaking, they have not lived such happy, comfortable existences. With the likes of Tchaikovsky, his music often sounds to me like an outpouring of hidden anxiety and frustration. Trying to think of a moment of true contentment in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto is almost impossible.

“The second subject of the first movement, for instance, which begins so contained, develops into something so obsessive and unrelenting to the point where the violin is literally crying out for something that can’t be satisfied. It’s like an insatiable appetite for both melody and drama, that spins and spins. This is one of the greatest thrills of Tchaikovsky’s music. He insists with a theme way beyond what most composers would dare, and because of the striking superiority of his material, it works.”

The unrest, it is always presumed, is the composer’s furious response to the bitter catastrophe of his marriage to Antonina Miliukova. Tchaikovsky spent his entire life grappling with his homosexuality. The violin concerto was the piece in which that struggle seemed to surface in his music. Though we can’t be certain, it’s intriguing to speculate whether, even if only at a subconscious level, this was at the root of the concerto’s initially cool reception. Its structural anxiety, its obsessive repetitions and failure to seek out resolution may have come across as not just artistically unseemly, but morally so too.

The first soloist to find fault with it was its dedicatee, Leopold Auer. The distinguished soloist counted the honour conferred by Tchaikovsky a mixed blessing. “My first feeling was one of gratitude for this proof of his sympathy toward me,” he said many years later, “which honoured me as an artist. On closer acquaintance with the composition, I regretted that the great composer had not shown it to me before committing it to print. Much unpleasantness might then have been spared us both.”

Auer denied, as had been reported, that he had declared the concerto “unplayable”. But he did think it suitable to make adjustments, particularly to the conclusion. “He didn’t necessarily make the third movement any easier,” says Nicola. “Just a bit less tiring. In my opinion the third movement was not complimented in any way by Auer, quite the contrary in fact. The whole concerto had a slightly crazed, repetitive, extremely wild and rustic character, and to diminish this not only disturbs the structure but takes away the character. I also find that many of the smaller, more technical changes to the first movement only weaken the character.”

The changes were partly a question of technical correction. Nicola allows that Tchaikovsky “was not one of the best composers for violin, compared to others”, by which she means his knowledge of what was feasible on the instrument were limited. “It’s not always terribly violinistic. He doesn’t use techniques developed by Paganini.” But that, she adds, is the piece’s strength. “It carries itself as a magnificent piece of music, not a focus on the violin’s technical capabilities. Despite being a concerto that does test almost all of them, it does not draw the listener to focus on this.”
In short, Tchaikovsky took out his frustration on the violinists of posterity, from Auer onwards. One could also suggest that it was Bruch’s easy relationship with the violin which helped to yield a less troubling concerto. Either way, in Nicola’s interpretation they make for an intriguing study in contrast for the Romantic violin.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

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