Nicola Benedetti was born in Scotland in 1987 and started violin lessons at the age of 5. She joined the Yehudi Menuhin School 5 years later and was soon giving solo performances at major venues. When Yehudi Menuhin himself conducted the Bach Double Violin Concerto at the opening ceremony of the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights in Paris, she was one of the soloists. When Lord Menuhin died just 6 months later, Nicola played the slow movement of the same work at his memorial service. Since leaving the Menuhin School in 2002, Nicola has studied privately with Maciej Rakowski, played at a number of prestigious events, featured on television programmes including her strongly contested BBC Young Musician of the Year which she won in 2004 with her performance of Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No.1. This award has brought further recognition of her talents and her career has now accelerated. She played at the opening ceremony of the Scottish Parliament, and is now releasing her first album with this work as the centre piece. Nicola's older sister Stephanie is also an accomplished violinist who plays in a string quartet.
The Szymanowski is perhaps an unusual choice for a competition for young musicians, but the interpretation certainly convinced the judges. Karol Szymanowski was a Polish composer and this work, his first of 2 Violin Concertos, was composed in 1915 and 1916. Although Europe and many parts of the World were at war at this time, the mood of the music couldn't be further from these cataclismic events. The work was inspired by "May Nights" a poem by Polish philosopher-poet Tadeusz Micinski and the music takes its exotic, evocative and sensual mood from the words of this poem. Although it is in 3 movements played non-stop the work as a whole moves between episodes of varying colour and texture, with different tempi and instrumental combinations. It is quite demanding for the orchestra but the violin shines through with sections of dashing virtuosity and moments of breath-taking beauty.
Poème by French composer Ernest Chausson is a more familiar work from the repertoire for violin and orchestra. This was his last major orchestral work before he died tragically in a cycling accident. Its calm flowing lyricism is in contrast to the rhythmic Havanaise by Saint-Saëns. This is the 7th of 8 works he wrote for violin and orchestra. Havanaise is the French form of the Spanish word Habanera, a dance originating from Cuba. Probably the most familiar of all melodies on the album is the haunting Méditation. This was originally an orchestral interlude from Massenet's opera Thaïs. The opera is rarely performed these days but the popular Méditation frequently makes its appearance on concert programmes. Contemplation is the name given by legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz to his violin arrangement of Brahms' song "Wie melodien zieht es mir" the first of his 5 Lieder Op.105. Here the arrangement has been augmented with orchestration by Julian Reynolds specifically for Nicola's first album. Fragment for Virgin has also been arranged specifically for Nicola, in this case by Sir John Tavener from his original piano work.
The final track is the backing track to the Thaïs Méditation. Being technically the easiest piece on the album, the intention is that violin students can practice with their own orchestral accompaniment (though it may prove difficult to maintain synchronisation). Most other listeners may want to skip this track. With this exception this is an excellent debut album from a superb artist whose stature will undoubtedly grow in the years to come. The range of works is remarkably varied which demonstrates the breadth of Nicola's talents. On this recording the London Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Daniel Harding. This album is highly recommended and can be found at these links Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
There have been many opportunities to see Nicola playing live during 2005, as she followed a busy schedule of concerts in the UK. Now, in May 2006 her second album has been released called "Mendelssohn, MacMillan, Mozart" dedicated to the music of these composers (find out more about the album at this link: Amazon.co.uk), and we can expect to see another busy schedule in 2006 to promote her music. See your local and national press for details, or visit the diary section of her website at this location www.nicolabenedetti.com.
Competition is intense for places at the Yehudi Menuhin School but if you have or know a musically gifted child, more information on the admission process is available at the Yehudi Menuhin School website.