Hannah Nepil interviews superstar violinist Nicola Benedetti, who plays Korngold’s Violin Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Thursday 1st November at Royal Festival Hall, London.
It’s hard to remember that Nicola Benedetti is still only twenty-five. By now the Scottish violinist has come so far. She has played with so many orchestras in so many concert halls – not least the Royal Albert Hall at this year’s Last Night of the Proms – that it feels like an age since she first rose to fame as 2004’s BBC Young Musician of the Year.
Unsurprisingly, performing no longer makes her feel too nervous. ‘From a distance, stepping on stage in front of thousands of people seems something extreme, unnatural and very nerve wracking,’ she says, ‘but when you do it all the time it becomes less all of those things and more a normal part of your day.’ In fact, she admits, ‘I find it more nerve-wracking watching my colleagues perform because you know what they’re going through but you’re not in control.’
Control is something of which she has plenty. Ever since she started playing the violin at the age of four, she and her sister (also a violinist) ‘had to practise every day. There was no question about that. My sister and I were always grateful to our mum for installing that sense of discipline and routine.’ The solitude that comes hand-in-hand with intense practice didn’t bother her: ‘I don’t mind the feeling of being alone. I never have really and I still don’t.’
At the moment, however, she has little time to herself. ‘There are so many channels of equal importance to me, such as the music education work I do, and then the regular performances: the juggling act seems never ending,’ Benedetti says. ‘I’m not unhappy about it. I’m just a little tired sometimes.’ She has, it transpires, been doing interviews since early this morning, and when I call, although she is warm, courteous and self-possessed, I can hear signs of fatigue in her voice. ‘I’m actually a little under the weather today,’ she admits. ‘After the interview with you, I’ll probably close my eyes for ten minutes, and then start practising. And I’ll be relieved to actually get to my violin.’
Nevertheless, the work has paid off, and today is she probably Britain’s most popular violinist. She also happens to be one of classical music’s most glamorous ambassadors. But when I bring this up, I can hear the blush in her response: ‘Oh God.’ Her image, she maintains, is not a priority: ‘I’m not purposefully going to try to look terrible in photos, but I don’t focus on it too much; don’t talk about it; don’t think about it at all.’ As she says, ‘Anything that is detrimental to how seriously you’re taken is terrible. But then,’ she admits, ‘there are worse things in life than someone saying you look ok.’