S5 E26 | CLIP

Nicola Benedetti: A Great Scot

Nicola Benedetti: A Great Scot
The internationally renowned Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti was cast into the spotlight at age 16, forced to grow up in the public eye, she often struggled. Now in her 30s, she looks back on those years with wry humor.

AIRED: April 03, 2020 | 0:08:37

(inspiring classical music)

Scotland has, for its size, had a disproportionate impact

on the world.

It was a Scot who invented television,

penicillin, and capitalism.

But the Scots also take humility, nay, self-deprecation

to new heights, or maybe new lows.

- I mean, it's like with my mum,

I'll tell her something about

I don't know, a class of kids that I taught

that was in Scotland, or anything like that,

and honestly, she goes through this thing

which is like, you see?

You see?

We are, you know, we should be proud of ourselves,

and I don't understand why we're not,

and I'm just like, but you're just doing exactly what

it's not necessary for us to do, which is this shock

horror that we're actually good at something,

and it's that kind of almost disbelief at the level

of achievement that is there in plain sight.

- [Jim] The internationally-acclaimed violinist

Nicola Benedetti is one of the more recent examples

of Scottish excellence.

She first came to public attention in 2004

when at age 16 she won the BBC Young Musician

of the Year competition.

Now in her early thirties, Benedetti is in demand

and thriving, but she says you'd be wrong to assume

that her journey followed a straight course.

- Felt like this.


- [Jim] Really?

- Like this.

I mean, just without any exaggeration,

that's what it felt like.

I mean, just constantly, constantly being put in a position

that I didn't quite feel ready for, and thinking

can I make it, should I try it, failing.

I mean, the reviews I got within those first three,

four years of performing were amazingly awful.

- Did you ever agree with them?

- Oh, many times I agreed with them, yeah.

- [Jim] The low point came in 2008 when a 20-year-old

Benedetti saw a review eviscerating her performance

of the notoriously difficult Sibelius violin concerto,

on night one of a six-date concert tour.

It didn't help her play it any better.

- I just couldn't.

- It's a beast, anyway.

- It is a beast, but now I now can see

that there were really clear reasons

for why I couldn't, and thought I couldn't play it.

Like, for example, I was continuing to do

bowings and fingerings that I would practice for hours

on end that just didn't suit me, and were not right for me.

That six months was a real breaking point for me,

and it was never that I can't do this,

it's I can't continue doing this like this.

I knew and believed my violent playing and my musicianship

is so much better than what everybody is hearing,

and that it's in there somewhere.

I'm not making the right decisions to unlock it right now,

but that it's there.

(lively violin music)

- [Jim] The violin has been Nicola Benedetti's near constant

companion throughout her life.

At age four, she followed her older sister into lessons.

Their mother, Francesca, had no musical education of her own

and was never aiming to cultivate a prodigy or a pro,

let alone two.

Older sister Stephanie is a member of the acclaimed

electronic group Clean Bandit.

Now the ever pragmatic Mrs. Benedetti just wanted

to teach her daughters about discipline.

(frantic violin music)

- Her whole motto in how she brought us up,

me and my sister, was like you can't do 50 things.

You're not allowed to do every after-school club.

That's not an option available to you.

You have to pick one, maybe two things,

and you're gonna make it through the difficult hurdles

and if you don't like it, you're sure you don't like it,

then you do something else.

One time I don't want to, I really was fighting with my mom

to practice, as in she was telling me to,

and I was saying I didn't want to,

and she said, well you don't have to play the violin

at all, like that's fine.

My life was over in that moment.

I mean, the fact that somebody could threaten that to me.

- But was it a threat?

Was it like, be great at it or stop?

- No, it wasn't.

It just--

- Just achieve your potential?

- All she meant was you really don't have to do this,

but if you're going to do it, practice is a part

of playing the violin.

I mean, I was maybe eight.

And I was so offended by the fact that she could consider

that I might not want to play the violin.

And I've never had a real crisis moment

of do I want to play or not.

Never, since then.

- [Jim] At age 10, Benedetti moved to England

to attend the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School

for young musicians in Surrey.

At 15, she found an impressive champion and mentor

in Maciej Rakowski, former leader

of the English chamber orchestra.

(slow melancholy violin music)

Throughout her classical violin studies,

Benedetti says there was a constant echo, a warning,

not to go messing around with anything folksy,

but Benedetti did eventually start fiddling around

with traditional music anyway in her 2014 collection

"Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy."

(lively violin music)

In 2019, Nicola Benedetti teamed up with the celebrated

American jazz composer and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis

who wrote a concerto and a five piece dance suite

for her at the Trace the Fiddles Migration

across the Atlantic.

- Learning about America through Wynton

is in equal measures deeply uplifting and hopeful

and deeply painful.

And it's filled to the brim with emotion

over the story of America,

and I don't come across that type

of consciousness in many other places.

I think he has a very unique perspective

on the story of this country.

(emotional violin music)

- [Jim] Today, Nicola Benedetti is at once

at the top of her game and just getting started.

She says that with each day, she gets a little closer

to figuring out who she is and what she needs.

- Without it being a motion against something,

I'm becoming more assured in clarifying what I'm for,

and I think I'm not under the pressure and in the rush

that I used to be, because I've seen the development

I've managed to make as a violinist alone,

purely technically, in the last six months.

I just played Sibelius' violin concerto a month ago

for the first time in about 10 years.

And I can play that piece now.

Just like, I can't wait to tour it next year,

and I can't wait to record it, and I can't wait,

you know, I'm so excited about playing it.

I'm 32.

Nobody would have told me that I was gonna be

making some of my biggest strides when I was 32.

I'm more excited and calm and positive

about my potential to develop than I've ever been.

(rousing violin music)

(audience cheering) (fireworks boom)

(inspiring classical music)

- [Announcer] Articulate with Jim Cotter is made possible

with generous funding from the Neubaur Family Foundation.


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