Since 2000, the classical music world has witnessed an influx of talented young women into the international ranks of violin soloists, notably Nicola Benedetti, Julia Fischer, Janine Jansen, Leila Josefowicz and Jennifer Koh. In the nearly two decades since, all five have lived up to their early promise and have gone on to significant careers.
Benedetti, 31, who will make her subscription series debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 13-15, regularly performs with such major ensembles as the London Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mariinsky Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. (She performed with the CSO at Ravinia in 2012 and 2016.) But the transition from winner of the United Kingdom’s Brilliant Prodigy Competition in 2002 to a veteran touring artist has not always been easy.
“Predominantly, it has probably felt more on the bumpy side,” said Benedetti, who was born in Scotland to an Italian father and a Scottish mother, in an email interview. “I’ve experienced plenty of dissatisfaction with my playing and quite a lot of tumult, but my experiences have not been without considerable musical and violinistic breakthroughs, I think. I’ve definitely improved substantially over the years, and hope to have the humility to continue to do so in the coming decades.”
In Europe, particularly her native United Kingdom, Benedetti’s fame far outstrips that of the usual classical virtuoso. Her 2012 album, “The Silver Violin,” an ode to the silver screen, was the first solo instrumental album in that country in decades to break into the pop charts, rising to No. 32.
“It was a fortuitous moment in time — a lot of luck,” she said. “I had many large-scale appearances that summer that were fairly mainstream in terms of public exposure. I recorded, alongside the Korngold Violin Concerto and short works by Shostakovich and Mahler, ‘Schindler’s List’ and a Gardel tango. These two are naturally populist pieces, and helped give the album a lot of traction.”
Benedetti has long devoted a considerable amount of her time to music education. She serves as vice president of the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain and will perform as a soloist with the ensemble on Dec. 9 in London’s Southbank Centre. In addition, she has established what she calls the Benedetti Sessions, events at major concert halls that allow young string players to take part in master classes and rehearse and even perform with the famed violinist.
“I’ve not given a second thought as to why, really,” she said. “I love music, and I am physically pained by bad teaching and an apathy toward good musicianship. I’m the sort of person who wants to share something I think is good, and I have a lot of energy for doing that. It’s a natural part of my life, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple for me. I find it exhausting actually, and I feel a huge sense of responsibility toward carrying out education work well and with integrity.”
With the CSO, Benedetti will serve as soloist for Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63, a piece that she had performed very little before the last year or so. Of the work, which received its premiere in 1935 in Madrid, she said, “Prokofiev has a cynicism combined with a child-like fantasy that is extremely disturbing to me, and so, so beautiful.”
She described the first movement of this “dark” concerto as having a sort of split personality: “very angular and sharp, sort of unfriendly harmonically.” The exception is the second theme, which she describes as a “quintessential Prokofiev melody that spirals and spirals.”
“The second movement is pure,” she said. “Its melody is singable, and the accompaniment could be played by a single guitar. It’s interrupted with some pretty strange transitions, and a very unpredictable middle section, but what’s most memorable about it is the opening and closing theme.
“The last movement is a Spanish-inspired rustic rondo form dance in three, ending in the most raucous rough and weird ‘dance’ in five, featuring mainly the solo violin and the bass drum. It’s such an extraordinary texture, like straight out of the wild.
“I can’t quite describe to you how much I love this concerto.”