The radio interview with Vanessa-Mae |
from Denis Millar ( South Africa )
Date: 12/02/98 2pm
Venue: The radio program, ‘Classical Hit Parade' - (Johannesburg - South
Interviewer: Rodney Trudgeon
R.T: Plays 'Entry of the guests' from Tännhauser - by Richard Wagner and
then says "That is the perfect cue for my glamorous guest this
Plays part of ‘Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto'...................
R.T: "We are welcoming Vanessa-Mae, the Singapore-born, British prodigy,
who is in South Africa to promote a concert towards the end of March,
displaying her musical genius from her Pop album "Storm" which has just
been released by EMI. Vanessa-Mae, as you probably know, has massive
appeal & presence as a "Live" concert artist in both classical and
pop-rock arenas, from New York's Madison Square Gardens to St. Moritz,
in every kind of venue - playing every kind of music. She has shown
unparalleled abilities to cross boundaries, break down cultural and
musical barriers and unite audiences across the world. And Vanessa it's
really great to have you here in the "Classical Hit Parade" studio at
SaFM and I hope you're enjoying being here in South Africa."
V-M: "It's great to be here in South Africa. It's my first time here, so
it was wonderful to know that people had heard the album - seen it on
TV, but I wanted to come here in person, before my tour, my live-tour in
R.T: "Are you aware of the fact that you are hugely popular here in this
country, right here at the tip of Africa?"
V-M: "Yes, I must thank everybody - everybody, all the fans out there
and people who have embraced my music, because y'know "The Violin Payer"
was a number one album and I deeply regretted not being able to come to
South Africa on my first live, sort of ‘Red Hot - Violin Player World
Tour', but on the second - "Storm" world-wide tour, I'm taking in Africa
as well, in fact pretty much kicking-off the concert tour in Africa -
South Africa ."
R.T: "Well, a lot of people I think envy me sitting here, chatting to
you. What I want to do is to take advantage of it and
ask you - where did it all begin - the famous question? How did you
first get in first of all to like music and the violin?"
V-M: "Well there was always music around me in the house. My parents
love music. Both of my parents, when I first started playing, were
full-time lawyers, so I was just basically left to my own devices. I
went to a very normal academic girls school, but all the kids there were
expected to - not ‘play', but ‘try-out' an instrument, so at the age of
five I started playing the violin, but before that, at three, I had
started minor piano lessons at nursery-school in Singapore, but when I
moved to London at the age of four, I picked up the violin for the first
time at five. It was just a hobby - it was just for fun - it was
nothing serious at all, at the very beginning, but teachers started
getting more excited, which was nice and they started telephoning my
parents and badgering them to ask them ‘Should she take more lessons and
take it more seriously, because we think she's got some potential?' So
it all rolled on from there really and when I was eight, that's when I
decided that I really wanted to make the violin a big part of my life."
R.T: "So in those days were you studying classical music, or did you
have this love of both sides of the musical spectrum from that early
V-M: All through my life I have been trained as a classical violinist,
but at the same time, as I was a five-year-old growing up in a very
cosmopolitan world, I naturally had a lot of access to, not only being
taken to operas and ballets and things like that with my parents, but
musicals, going out to Michael Jackson and people like that - even my
tapes were old for pop-stations in some ways, because I love Elvis
Presley from the age of eight or nine, whereas at the same time I love
Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson - all these different kinds of artists,
so because I grew up with so much freedom in my musical life, I think
that's why at the moment I have so much freedom in my musical career."
R.T: "And then when did the techno career start? I mean, or should I say
- when did the image begin, ‘cos I mean your image is phenomenal and
it's done a huge amount for both sides. When did that start
V-M: "I don't really see myself as having an image. I think if you look
at me when I was twelve, when I was playing with orchestras -
Tchaikovsky violin concerto and Beethoven, I was clearly a different
kind of child from the teenager at fifteen and the late-teenager at
nineteen, because all the time, y'know, from eleven to nineteen, it
doesn't seem that much of a gap, but for somebody who is growing, I
think it's a big chunk of one's life and you're changing all the time.
So, I think that I had no idea when I wanted to become a violinist at
the age of eight, that I didn't have any idea what my taste in clothes
would be, or how I'd look. I just had a love for the instrument and I
don't really see myself as having an image that I project to an
audience. I just dress my age - I am my age - a teenager."
R.T: "It's you in other words, that's Vanessa-Mae."
R.T: "And when did you first play the electric violin?"
V-M: "The electric - the first time I picked up an electric, I was
fourteen years old. I had done three classical albums and I thought it
would be fun - y'know, I had heard a bit about an electric violin and I
thought ‘I want to... maybe be more creative and more adventurous in my
musical tastes and take in other areas, other styles and music and fuse
it into one new concept. And so when I was fourteen I took up first
electric and, fourteen - fifteen, was the age when I made ‘The Violin
R.T: "And how different is it from the violin that we know, the - shall
we call it the ‘acoustic' violin."
V-M: "I think actually the ‘acoustic classical'. Well, I think that for
me technically to play, the electric is just a lot heavier.
Realistically it is just a lot heavier to play. It is made of solid
wood. It's not hollow like our known acoustic violin, but at the same
time, because it is so solid, it doesn't have any inner reverberation -
so that you can't play in a room and hear the sound echo off a wall in
that way. With my acoustic violin which was made in 1761 by Guadagnini,
I have a real personal relationship with it. I can imagine its had so
many owners, or rather - musical partners - before me, that I have to
get to know its soul. But with the electric, it's almost as if, like
playing a guitar an electric guitar - you take control of the instrument
and you form its own sound and inject your own personality into it. So
it's a different kind of relationship I have with both, but apart from
the fact that the electric is heavy, also in a way you have to be more
accurate when playing it live, because its like playing always on a
recording live - because everything goes through amplified sound, and
very often I don't disguise the sound with distortion and a lot of
effects. Sometimes I do that for ‘fun numbers', but most of the time I
play with a quite pure sound, so you can hear every scratch, every
bombder, every agatino! So you have to be extra accurate."
R.T: "Okay..... we have just played - here on this programme and over
the weekend ‘The Butterfly Lovers Concerto' which has just been released
- your latest EMI classical release ‘China Girl'. Just tell me a little
bit about that, because it's created a tremendous amount of interest -
people absolutely love it."
V-M: "That makes me so happy because I think the music on the album is
very powerful. It's very romantic and very epic and film-like at times.
The ‘Butterfly Lovers' is based on an old Chinese traditional love story
- a sort of Chinese ‘Romeo and Juliet', and a lot of the drama in the
story is echoed and reflected in the music. But I think people always
assume that Chinese emotions and Chinese music will be very staid and
maybe stilted and shy and timid, but in fact it's a very powerful
country, very romantic, and to tell you the truth, I hadn't really
discovered enough about Chinese music until I recorded this album. All
the time I'm discovering and learning more about music, but until the
age of fifteen I've always felt a slight nagging-guilt that I didn't
know enough about my Chinese roots, because at the end of the day I'm
half Chinese. An when my grandfather died, my only grandfather who was
my one link to mainland China died, I felt as if that link had been
severed forever, and my only way to retrieve it was through music and be
inspired by music which he loved. So I started investigating the
‘Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto', which I had played when I was
eleven. I always wanted to record it and of course there is ‘Happy
Valley' - The Re-unification Overture, which I played on the same
record, which I played actually at midnight on the night of handover
when China re-united with Hongkong."
R.T: "What an experience that must have been!"
V-M: "It was amazing! It was an historic event and it was great to be
able to use such an historic event in my music. Of course on the album
is ‘Turandot' - by Puccini, for which I did an arrangement for violin
R.T: "Which we have also played right here - on this programme."
V-M: "Y'have? That's fantastic - excellent! So I think this whole album
is like working - or walking into a Bertolucci movie like ‘The Last
Emperor of China'."
R.T: "But now Vanessa, just as a last thought, because I know your
schedule is very tough and you've got all sorts of people to talk and
interviews to do. This sounds like a typical question - what about the
future, is your career going to continue in this duel-career of techno
music as well as classical music - what's going to happen next?"
V-M: "I think I've had so much fun and liberty, and I think I really
stretch myself in both worlds when I've returned from one, having been
in the other and vice versa, that I can't really envisage giving up on
for the other, because the two worlds are not mutually exclusive. It's
true though that the first time an artist, a violinist had done
basically Paganini one day and switched over to rock ‘n roll and pop the
next and vice versa, but that's what I really enjoy. Variety is the
spice of life. As long as I feel genuinely that I want to do both, I'll
be doing both forever. I mean the last three years it's been fantastic
to see how many people out there enjoy my pop concerts and my classical
concerts and vice versa the same with recording."
R.T: "So you've done a lot for classical music and I think that's what
is most important. And like Nigel Kennedy, do you have a favourite
V-M: "Ah-ha football. Well, yes - I mean, I always look
forward to football, but mainly once a year - I mean not once a year,
but every four years - when it's a World Cup and it's a World Cup this
year, and it's coming up soon. So I'm going to be watching, glued to my
TV set, wherever I am, and whatever I'm doing, but my main sport that I
love is snow-skiing and water-skiing — maybe I'll go on my tour of South
R.T: "Well, yes - you're here during a heatwave, so I hope you're not
wilting too much?"
VM: No, It's fine, it's fantastic weather and the people are gorgeous.
R.T: "Thanks - Vanessa-Mae, thank you so much for your time - and the
very best of luck - and we hope to see you again in South Africa, after
your March visit. Apart from all those
concerts it's going to be wonderful to see you, but do come back and see
VM: "Thank you very much."
Fade in to VM's‘Turandot' Fantasy...........................
R.T: "Vanessa-Mae - playing there, with the Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra, the violin fantasy on Puccini's ‘Turandot', the last little
section. Vanessa-Mae herself arranged that and it's on her CD called
‘Vanessa-Mae - The Classical Album 2 - China Girl' the same CD as the
‘The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto'. Before that, Vanessa was my
guest here in the studio, with quite an entourage I must say - her
managers, representatives of EMI and Vodacom and also two bodyguards, so
it was a bit like a railway station in here. However, they've now
vanished in to the thunderstorm outside and Vanessa was certainly saying
that the heat was exhilarating rather than wilting. So there you are!
Nineteen years old! I actually thought of playing you a cut from her
album ‘Storm', but we'll leave that to the pop stations - but what a