Music, connection, education: Nicola Benedetti
“Your sound is what you speak through. It should be like telling a story. Be as present as you can be -- and make it sound like you’re making things up as you go, like a painter painting a story.” That's classical violinist Nicola Benedetti speaking, during a master class she taught for students at Florida State University. As with any such class, quite a bit of the time was devoted to specific and detailed comment and explanation on technique. As a natural part of this part of things, though, Benedetti continued to remind students that techniques -- and understanding of techniques -- are tools, at the service of the spirit and ideas of music.
“It’s up to you,” she continued, “it’s up to your imagination to dig deep into the music and come up with a story the way you want to tell it. People can suggest things, but it is completely up to you.” That may involve as much reflection as it does time with instrument in hand, she added. “ If you were to listen outside my practice room, what you’d hear is a lot of silence. You have to slow your thought processes down...”
Benedetti is passionately convinced of the power of music, as a means of expression, a means of connection, and a way of centering, and a way of learning about one’s self in the world. She began finding all these thing early in her own life. At the age of four, growing up in Ayrshire in Scotland, she followed her older sister into studying the violin. A dozen or so years later, on winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award, she found many opportunities offered her. Some of them, it turned out, were not leading her in ways she felt honored the music she was called to make. She went more deeply into the music she was called to play to renew and refresh her perspective, to guide her focus as she made decisions going forward.
Benedetti speaks about this, and directions resulting from her choices
Part of her calling is going deep into the heart of music, and part of it is sharing her passion for the importance of music -- not classical music alone -- in life and education. On the education side, she is Big Sister with Sistema Scotland, which helps bring music to children, especially those who might not otherwise have a chance to encounter it, she gives master classes as her concert schedule takes her across the world, and she’s recently begun and another educational initiative called The Benedetti Sessions, which allows children to work together in a concentrated period of time of learning what it’s like to play music, about the value of practice and focus, and about working together and alone to make music.
Then there’s that concert and recording schedule. Benedetti has a clear-- and it’s apparent from her choices -- adventurous focus on what sort of music she’s called upon to create and share, and a clear view too of the fact that interpretation is as creative and demanding a music practice as is composition.
In addition to classical repertoire including Tchaikovsky, Tavener, and Vivaldi, she has recorded an album of film music, The Silver Violin (you may find the piece she plays in the video above included there) and, honoring her native land, an album called Homecoming - A Scottish Fantasy, in which Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy appears alongside music from contemporary Scottish composer Phil Cunningham, songs from the Gaelic tradition with Julie Fowlis as singer, melodies from Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns, and a fresh and graceful take on the well loved piece The Banks of Loch Lomond. A beautiful and creative joining of musical talents from the classical nd folk traditions, Homecoming is a project which is likely to open both to new audiences -- and indeed at present is in the top twenty and climbing in pop charts in the UK, an unusual feat for a classical album.
A gifted and creative musician, an artist with passion for sharing her own creativity and opening doors for others to experience their own gifts: that is Nicola Benedetti.
In an interview with The Spectator she said: “I’m absolutely convinced – and I want the world to know what I know – that there is something in the music itself that can bring you to a place of substance. And from that place, I truly believe that anything is possible.”
photograph of Nicola Benedetti and Phil Cunningham at Celtic Connections is by Kerry Dexter, and is copyrighted. It was made with permission of the artists, the festival, and the venue..