Making sweet music - Nicola Benedetti

Making sweet music - Nicola Benedetti

7th September 2019

Nicola Benedetti is one of the world’s most famous violinists and she will be appearing with the English Symphony Orchestra at the Assembly Hall this month. Eileen Leahy talks to the talented musician about her passion for playing

Nicola Benedetti started learning the violin from the tender age of just five. She says it was something that just came naturally to her as she had an older sister who also played. “I was just copying her and I loved it from the get-go. There was no particular moment where I thought I would dedicate my life to playing it. I never really questioned playing it,” she explains.

Such a natural gift for playing resulted in Nicola, who is of Scottish and Italian heritage, leading the National Children’s Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at just eight years old. By 1997 she had entered the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey and was soon touring the world playing some of its most prestigious classical music venues alongside many of its esteemed orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestre Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse.

She tells me that she has also enjoyed playing in Tunbridge Wells ‘many times’ and that she is very much looking forward to coming here again on September 7 in order to play with the English Symphony Orchestra alongside a very special group of talented young musicians for a special one-off concert.

“I have known the conductor Kenneth Woods for some time and he has consistently invited me to play for a long, long time but we have never found the right date until now.”

'I love connecting with people in all different types of ways and doing concerts like this is a great opportunity as traditionally classical concerts are so strict'

She will be playing Elgar’s profound and personal Violin Concerto, a suite she describes as being ‘very difficult’, not just for her younger counterparts in the youth orchestra but for everyone.

“They will certainly have their hands full with this epic piece but both orchestras are extremely serious about what they do.” The second part of the concert will feature Brahms’ lighter Second Symphony.

Nicola is very committed to helping nurture the future generation of musicians and so finds herself mentoring as well as playing with many youth orchestras. She was named Young Musician of the Year in 2004 and founded a charity to help fledgling musicians perform to their highest standards courtesy of the Benedetti Foundation. She is also ambassador for the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the National Children’s Orchestra.

She says mentoring is a vital element to her work and something she prioritises. “I found playing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and more recently the San Francisco Youth Orchestra hugely rewarding and so I like to prioritise it as I think so many musicians remember the experience of being next to someone who is also young but has been in the profession a long time. Doing so can make a huge impact so I try to be very personable and ensure there is plenty of dialogue between us, even if it’s for just 20 minutes after a rehearsal.

“Doing these types of events is more dutiful than about what I personally get from it. I love connecting with people in all different types of ways and doing concerts like this is a great opportunity as traditionally classical concerts are so strict.”

She goes on to say: “The orchestra is rarely able to have interaction with the audience, it is always very quiet and controlled so to be working with young musicians and making music with them is something I try to do whenever I can.”

What does she think audiences gain from seeing this slightly ‘looser’ version of a traditional classical concert? “Well personally I would say that to see 80 young musicians playing together would give me so much enjoyment from watching and hearing them.

“It will be difficult and they will have to be focused and overcome challenges while performing but it is such a sight to behold when they do play as they make a great sound and there’s so much excitement and anticipation from working with or seeing a youth orchestra perform.”

Nicola says combined concerts like the one at the Assembly Hall are a great way for young people to access the often overpriced and elite nature of many classical concerts. “The ticket price is very reasonable and I think that seeing people your own age on stage doing something makes you think actually anything is possible.”

And what about her advice for anyone wanting to pursue a professional career playing their instrument? “Well you have to put pressure on yourself to a certain degree but it’s important to have faith in repeating and consistency. Enter each day’s practice with a level of patience and slow heartbeat and remember that what you are looking for is at end of the year not the end of the week.

“That doesn’t mean that it’s an excuse for laziness! And good practice is more important than doing things more and more as musicians can often repeat mistakes instead. Get ahead by being in a focused state of mind and write down lists of things that you want to focus on.”

To book tickets to see Nicola play on September 7 at the Assembly Hall visit www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk

Pulling strings

Nicola Benedetti plays the Gabriel Stradivarius (1717), courtesy of Jonathan Moulds. It is worth an estimated £2million and previously belonged to an ancestor of Princess Diana

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