NICOLA Benedetti and I are playing a word association game. If I say the word “success” I say to her, what comes to mind? In her home in London the Scottish-born violinist goes quiet. And stays quiet. For so long that I start to speak.

“I’m still here,” she interrupts. “I’m thinking.”

Another beat. And then she begins.

“Success, I think, is clearly defining for yourself what you think is a challenge and difficult to achieve that you then can achieve. Or what brings you a level of integrity and satisfaction, perhaps happiness. But not in an escapist way … I mean a fulfilment.

“And then being able to have the discipline and determination to execute that set of values.”

The achieve of, the mastery of the thing, in short. As one of the country’s most recognisable classical musicians, someone who has played the last night of the Proms, Carnegie Hall, and all points in between, Benedetti knows all about that, of course.

But she’s not finished her answer yet. “And that could literally be providing three healthy meals a day for your child. That could be your parameters and nobody in the world knows that you do that other than your child and nobody needs to know because that’s what you set for yourself as a means of success and fulfilment.”

She pauses one final time and then concludes, “So, that’s what I think.”

That answer – its comprehensiveness, its roundedness, its interest in other people and not just herself, its belief in goals and achieving them, its commitment to thinking an idea through, its willingness to take even the most flippant question seriously– may tell us a lot about Nicola Benedetti, who she is and how she sees the world.

When it comes to Benedetti, I don’t need to do any introductions anymore, do I? We all know her story. The second daughter of an Italian immigrant father and self-made millionaire, who had her first violin lesson at the age of four, who left her West Kilbride home at the age of nine to move to London to take up a place at the Yehudi Menuhin, who won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at the age of 16 and who now, at the age of 33 (she turns 34 on Tuesday), is one of the most recognisable classical musicians in the world.

It’s late June and late in the afternoon when we speak and Benedetti is at home, trying to catch up with herself. Almost the first thing she says to me is she feels a little overwhelmed at the moment. “Just a lot of different things going on and a lot of different balls in the air,” she explains. “But, you know, I can cope with it. It’s all good. I’m not complaining.”

You’re a master juggler then? “I don’t know about that.”

I think we should take it as read, though, whatever she says. This morning she’s talking to me about a new album recorded in December and her appearances at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival next month where she’s resident artist (good luck with getting a ticket now). Throughout the pandemic The Benedetti Foundation she set up to promote music education has continued and she has been as hands on as ever.

All of which suggests that not even a pandemic can slow Benedetti down. “I think it’s been perhaps not quite as different for me as for some people,” she concedes. “I was very busy with a lot of workshops with my foundation from May to the summer. And then last summer I did a bunch of concerts actually. And from September onwards. The odd thing planned last minute was then cancelled last minute around Christmas. Now it’s just all go.”

That doesn’t suggest she’s had much time to re-evaluate things over the last 18 months. Benedetti says otherwise. “Oh yeah. A lot of things. But I wouldn’t say I re-evaluated anything that is so different or revolutionary to other people.”

It’s more in the nature of her work-life balance, she says.

She has even had the chance to spend some time at home now and then.

“I think I had a very clear opportunity to be able to do that because my usual everyday life is so un-routined. It’s nice to be able to try something that had a little bit more routine to it.”

The question might be why Benedetti chooses to fill her diary so relentlessly in the first place?

“I think what tends to happen with me is that I come up with a lot of ideas and then share those ideas with the amazing, wonderful people that I work with, and they help make those ideas happen. And I’m then stuck with having to execute them.

“I’m joking,” she quickly adds. “I’m joking.”

It’s the opposite of a chore, she adds, in case I don’t believe her. “That’s an unbelievably lucky position; to be able to realise things you imagined. Because my experience of people is a lot come up with a lot of great ideas, but sometimes don’t either have the infrastructure or opportunity to realise them.”

More than that, though, she says, “I enjoy playing my instrument now more than I ever have done. I’m always excited to do things for people and to do things that bring people together. There’s a whole host of reasons as to why I have the energy and excitement over creating new things.”

HeraldScotland: © Andy Gotts© Andy Gotts

The newest thing is her album Baroque, a collection of concertos by Vivaldi as well as a performance of Francesco Geminiani’s arrangement of Corelli’s La Folia.

What does the word baroque mean to you, Nicola? “Drama, energy, excitement,” she says.

Vivaldi, let’s face it, is a little less intimidating than, say, Shostakovich, another of Benedetti’s favourite composers. Is the album an act of reclamation from his populist reputation, perhaps?

“Oh, he was trying to write music that people loved to hear and loved to play,” she says. “Good on him. You can’t be dismissed as something you aim to be in the first place. He wasn’t trying to not be popular.

“But that doesn’t diminish the quality of his inventiveness and creativity. And I think if you hear these concertos, each and every one is so drastically different.

“What we’re trying to do is highlight the light and shade, highlight the extremities and contrasts and prioritise the bass line, the engine, the core, the meat of the writing, and make sure that that stands out loud and clear. I worked really hard to get that exactly right.

“I think he would be thrilled with having a slightly populist reputation and I also think that it’s a kind of music that embraces being entertaining without it being low quality, because some stuff that is entertaining can also be really crap.

“But this is really great and very entertaining.”

As is Benedetti’s playing. It is also rich and resonant. It’s fair to say now that Benedetti has long outgrown the teenage prodigy she was. She has always resisted attempts to sell her prettiness. That seems irrelevant now, too. She is quite simply a world-class musician. But that’s been obvious for a long time.

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Music is a collaboration of course. The album saw her form the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra for the recording. The last time we spoke in 2015 we’d talked about how she made sure her voice is heard in the studio and the concert hall.

These days, Benedetti says, it’s maybe about speaking up less, actually. “Finding your voice is a calming moment as opposed to, ‘Here I am telling everyone what to do’,” she points out.” And, quite often, if you’ve found more peace and solidarity with your own voice you can hear other people a lot easier.”

So, basically, Nicola, you’re telling me that you have no diva tendencies these days?

“No, I think I do,” she says. She’s not good with people wasting time, she suggests. “I don’t think it’s a good quality.”

In life too? “If I’m going to be off and just having fun and being with people then I like to do that fully.

HeraldScotland: © Andy Gotts© Andy Gotts

“But then, equally, if I’m trying to get something done, I will be like, ‘OK, what’s the point in doing this halfway? Let’s really get it done’.

“I would say I’m not great at people doing a bad job.”

Again and again, it seems, we return to this drive she has, this need to achieve. It’s there in her playing and in her involvement in music education.

I do say to her at one point she could do less than she does if she wanted. She could just play and leave the education to someone else. But that doesn’t make sense to her. “It’s not unlike what pushed me into playing violin and dedicating so much time to it. It’s just something I never considered not doing. It’s exactly the same thing. The education is just the most natural progression and addition to performing in the formal concert environment.”

Maybe she’s one of life’s natural-born teachers. “Perhaps. I don’t know if I would actually have the consistent dedication. Let’s say I was responsible for a class in a school. I actually don’t know if I would have the consistency to do that job well. But what I think I would do, regardless of whether I was playing music or not, is have that galvanising, trying-to-create-change spirit. I think I have that, no matter the subject.”

The last time we met I was struck by the sweet earnestness of her convictions. She spoke like an idealistic teenager (not a bad thing to be) though she was in her late twenties.

But, even in the space of a few years, Benedetti has realised that sometimes things aren’t always straightforward.

“I think I’ve become a little bit more mellow in terms of how nuanced my beliefs are,” she says.

“But the desire to still create change and develop and improve things is still as strong as ever.”

Life changes for all of us. These days Benedetti is clearly smitten with her niece Sienna, the daughter of her sister Stephanie, who is also a violinist (and sometime member of pop group Clean Bandit). If I were to give her a day off, I say … “I would go and see Sienna.”

I throw another word at her. What does she think about when she thinks about fear?

“Fear is the strongest driving force that we all have, and we probably spend more energy trying to rationalise and disengage from irrational fear throughout our lives. And sometimes we do that with varying degrees of success.”

Fear is natural in a performance context. It’s something musicians have to come to terms with. Playing music in front of strangers can be difficult and scary, she says.

When was the last time she was scared then? “Oh, scared is not the right word. But nervous. Regularly.”

Nervousness can be helpful in a performance environment, I guess. “It doesn’t always feel great. There’s an absolute and definite element of risk and that is what gives you the nervousness and there’s some fear in there somewhere.

“But it’s very different to the nerves I felt when I was 20. I almost feel that I know what I’m about to do now. I’m at least accepting that what happens will happen and I can roll with it.

What is she scared of in real life? Spiders? Flying?

“Nothing silly really.”

Just so you know, Nicola Benedetti isn’t watching Love Island. What are her guilty pleasures? “Basically, just food. Pasta, pizza bread. Only carbs for a few days is not the most balanced healthy thing in the world.”

One final word, I say. Happiness.

“Yeah, I think I’m happy when relationships with all the people who are important to me in my life are settled and are healthy. I’m not happy when I’m arguing with people. I don’t like disharmony.”

So, life growing up in West Kilbride was all peace and harmony then?

“We’re Italian. What do you think? I do not need to answer that question.”

I remind her of the first time we met when she was just 15, living in Walton-on-Thames. That was nearly 20 years ago. Does that teenage girl seem far away to her now?

“I would say probably quite far. It seems like I was quite decisive and assured, but I think I just felt in the dark so much of the time. A strange mix of influences in my life at that age and navigating a life in performing music. Yeah, I was pulled in a bunch of different directions and wasn’t strong enough to really make up my own mind so … I mean that’s normal at that age.”

What if anything has she sacrificed for this life she now leads?

“The only thing I have sacrificed is having a sense of peace that comes with knowing what you’re doing all the time. I very rarely feel that. I feel like I’m getting to an age where I’m looking to feel that a bit more.

“And being nervous about what you’re about to do regularly, that’s a sacrifice. That’s not a state that everybody wants to live in all the time and it’s the thing that stops a lot of people who play amazingly, people who probably play better than me, it stops them from having the perseverance to go ahead with having this kind of life because it’s too uncomfortable.”

She, though, can live with that discomfort. Next up is her return to Edinburgh for the festival. She is giving three different performances this year. After last year’s cancellation this year could be special. As she does so often, she broadens the answer away from herself.

“Yes. I think a return for the audience members especially and for the city to be able to come alive in that way will be really exciting, so I’m just thrilled for all those people. That’s something they look forward to every year and to have that taken away is not great. I think for them to be able to return to that is going to be probably quite emotional for a lot of people.”

Time to go. Euro 2020 is still in full swing. Later this evening Scotland will play Croatia. Will Benedetti watch, I ask in passing? “If I miss it live, I will watch it on catch-up.”

What do you think, Nicola? Hope or fear?

“Always hope.”

There, if you want it, is a word to sum up Nicola Benedetti.

Baroque is out on Decca Classics now. Nicola Benedetti will perform with the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra at the Edinburgh International Festival on August 14. Nicola Benedetti: The Story of the Violin takes place on August 17. It will also be broadcast on Radio 3 on August 19. Benedetti will perform Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale on August 21, which will then be available online from August 27. For more details visit eif.co.uk/