Why Nicola Benedetti is on a new mission to celebrate the violin: 'We will tell its story'

The star's Abu Dhabi Festival concert is part of a performance series she is planning to show the range of the instrument through diverse compositions

Nicola Benedetti is now calling her own tunes.

With the pandemic halting an extensive international touring schedule, the Scottish violinist has used time away from the stage to refine the next chapter of her career.

She describes it as a future focused on legacy-building projects, one of which will debut on Tuesday, as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival.

For The Story of the Violin, which will be streamed on the event's website from 8pm GST, Benedetti teamed up with esteemed musicians from various locations, including celebrated US jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, for a pre-recorded concert showcasing the depth and breadth of the 500-year-old instrument.

With a programme including works by composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Niccolo Paganini, Benedetti says the show is the opening chapter in an evolving performance series, spanning compositions ranging from classical to modern.

"This will hopefully be the beginning of a long journey in developing this story in lots of different forms," she tells The National. "While a concert programme is limited in its nature, we will, over time, tell the story of the instrument through diverse pieces."

Breaking free of routine

These prospects excite Benedetti, 33. With the relentless pressures of touring and presenting crowd-pleasing programmes, she realised how many accomplished violinists are not afforded the time to dig deeper into the instrument's rich canon of works.

"As musicians we are set, and perhaps even stuck, in routines and that means presenting works that people know and even expect," she says. "But I am very much interested now in exploring new music.

“The programme will eventually develop into something that is more contemporary and shows music’s ability to connect with cultures around the world.”

The Story of the Violin is one of a number of projects Benedetti is working on.

On Friday, July 16 she will release Baroque, an album dedicated to the 16th-century classical music form. The collection will take on the works of masters, including Italian composers Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli.

It will be followed up with live concerts performances at London's Battersea Arts Centre from Sunday to Wednesday, July 18 to 21, and Benedetti describes the luscious, string-laden music as the tonic needed for these uncertain times.

"This music is so deeply invigorating, energy-giving, freeing, grounding and moving," she says.

"As we hopefully emerge from this dark pandemic period, we want to bring hope and uplift, and baroque music, especially Italian Baroque, with all its song and dance, does this to the fullest."

Calling the shots

These kind of thoughtful initiatives, through the artist's Benedetti Foundation that focuses on music education, could only have sprung amid the absence of live music enforced by the pandemic.

Benedetti says the period has been deeply reflective.

She first established herself as a young and popular virtuoso with a string of high-profile performances. This included her debut appearance with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra as a 13-year-old, performing in front of UK royalty in 1999, as well as winning British television talent quest Brilliant Prodigy in 2002, aged 15.

That determination and immense talent made record labels scramble to secure her on their books.

The winning bid was a £1 million ($1.39m) recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 2004 – at the time, an unheard-of price tag for a teenage classical musician.

With nearly 15 years of constant touring under her belt, Benedetti says she is now content to initiate her own projects."Doing it this way makes you more decisive and forces out of you the answers to what it is you want to do and create," she says.

"The concert touring world, in a way, is much more passive because you are in a continuous circuit and, while it makes sense and it’s routine, it is not necessarily creative and proactive.

“This new approach is a little scarier but a lot more fun.”

A rocky recovery

As the UK gradually eases social restrictions to allow the safe return of concerts and festivals, Benedetti is unsure how the live-music sector will bounce back.

"It has been very tough with a lot of small concert halls in real danger and searching for ways to survive. These are the kinds of stories we haven't been hearing enough," she says.

"How the whole industry will proceed from now is unclear. There will be people and organisations who will just want everything to get back to normality and there will be others who may take risks and try something different.

“It is a messy and complicated picture at the moment.”

The Story of the Violin by Nicola Benedetti will be streamed on the Abu Dhabi Festival website from 8pm on Tuesday, June 29. More information is available at abudhabifestival.ae

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