Cameras poised to snap her photograph, journalists at the ready to jot down her thoughts. From the moment Nicola Benedetti won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at the age of 16, the Scottish violinist has enjoyed, or suffered, the kind of front-page media attention usually reserved for pop stars or actors. What's become increasingly impressive in recent years is how Benedetti has chosen to use her celebrity status.
Rather than retreating in irritation or revelling in the limelight, Benedetti has become adept at handling the media's infatuation with her. She's currently touring Scotland with her latest album, The Silver Violin, which features the music of Hollywood. The album cover shows her gazing into the camera lens, doe-eyed and gorgeous, looking every bit the vintage movie starlet herself. The concept is quietly canny: Benedetti plays into her image with a shrewd "back-at-ya" to celebrity culture.
Moreover, Benedetti is fully aware that fame has the power to benefit more than her own ticket sales. Bluntly put, her photograph, like that of all good-looking, socially conscious celebrities, can promote the causes she cares about. And this weekend, between Silver Violin tour dates in Perth and Inverness, she launches the inaugural Benedetti Sessions: three days of masterclasses, group workshops, Q&As and performances with children and amateur string players at City Halls, Glasgow.
"This project has been a joint effort all the way," she says. "Yes, it has my name on it and my photo on the front page of the website, but it's very much a collaboration with organisations that are already doing a lot of fantastic work in Scotland." These organisations – the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music – have provided the backbone of the project, says Benedetti; what she is able to do is add her high-profile support. "The last thing I'm trying to do is set up a new scheme that will detract from existing organisations. But their work often goes on behind the scenes and doesn't attract as much public attention as it should. If my name and my photo can help draw in interest, so much the better."
Our interview is running late: Benedetti has been visiting a primary school in West Kilbride, where she grew up, and ended up staying longer than scheduled so she could chat with the kids. It's striking just how much of her time Benedetti devotes to music education and outreach projects – especially considering she's still only 25. For many artists teaching is something that comes later in life; some would argue artists in their mid-20s are still developing and have every right, even obligation, to focus on themselves.
Clearly Benedetti doesn't see it that way. "Giving masterclasses has been important to me for years now," she says. "The two basic dedications in life are fairly extreme. On the one hand, I'm working hard to develop my core. I practice a lot to make sure I have the technique to say what I want to say in concerts. I also work on exercises in harmony and theory" – after the interview she's off to fill in a page of Bach chorale harmonisations – "which is such a great way to develop my ear and my understanding of how music works."
On the other hand, she says she is "equally dedicated to sharing music and all the benefits it can bring. And the most natural way of doing that is through education work. The two go hand-in-hand: the better I understand what I do, the more determined I am to pass it on. The only thing I'd say is that doing both does make for a pretty crazy schedule".
Benedetti has taken on all manner of education projects all around the world: she says she likes the human connection they give her to the places where she performs. "Concert halls can be sterile environments," she says. "What better way to connect with a culture than to meet its teachers and kids in schools?" More and more, she's focusing her efforts within Scotland. She has been involved with Stirling's Big Noise project since 2010, and is currently a board member and the project's official big sister. And with the launch of the Benedetti Sessions she consolidates her relationship with NYOS and the RCS. "It makes a lot of sense for me to do this work in Scotland," she says. "I've got so much support here, and for that I'm forever grateful. It simply means I can get more done."
The weekend might be a collaboration, but the content of the Sessions strongly reflects Benedetti's own ethos. The majority of the workshops focus on preparing a performance of Bartok's Divertimento, a work Benedetti played as a student at the Yehudi Menuhin School and she says gave her "a great string orchestra experience". The music is gutsy, bustling and energetic: it should provide a decent challenge for the 40 string players, roughly half of whom are RCS Juniors and half NYOS members.
On Friday night the Sessions kick off with a scratch performance of the soaring Intermezzo from Mascagni's one-act opera Cavalleria rusticana. It's got to be one of the most instantly recognisable tunes in classical music, thanks mainly to the likes of Classic FM and many a smooth classics compilation. But Benedetti says she chose it because she wanted "something with strong emotions, something that lets people make a decent sound. This kind of music demands a really high level of application. Romances, meditations, little contemplative pieces – I've always spent a great deal of time working on these. Flashy technique is only useful as a way to sufficiently express yourself. The point I'm trying to make here is that being able to sing through your instrument, to make your own sound, is the most important thing".
Benedetti says a lot of teachers and institutions these days overlook the art of producing a big, full-bodied sound. "Sound is the first thing that connects with the audience, and as an instrumentalist feeling good about the sound you're making gives you confidence in everything else you do. So my plan is to focus on sound this weekend. With only a short space of time to play with it's a way in which I can effect change relatively quickly."
The Benedetti Sessions are at Glasgow's City Halls this weekend, with a public performance of Bartok's Divertimento at 3.30pm on Sunday. Visit www.benedettisessions.com.
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