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Vanessa-Mae Interview from
The Dutch Lifestyle Magazine Nr 4 (Winter 1997)

 

The interview is taken by head editor Hans Bake
Translated by: Ching and Boyke
Translation corrected by: Annie

 
Vanessa-Mae about the Mona Lisa, the violin, the audience.
 
Even today the "American" hotel in Amsterdam is a stage of off and on walking journalists and photographers. "Vanessa-who???," the receptionist asks. To him the renowned names that occupy the rooms upstairs have no meaning. "O youíre a journalist. Yes, they are expecting you upstairs." In a sterile hotel room I wait for Vanessa-Mae. Even from an early age she hit like a bombshell. As a virtuous violinist she plays one top concert hall after another. World renown and prices are daily bread to her. She has an almost ethereal charisma. As dynamic as serene, fierce power in a fragile body, sexy though innocent, earthy and at the same time mystical. The door between the lounge and the private quarters opens. In front of me stands a lovely young lady: Vanessa-Mae.
 
She has a history that justifies the term wonder child. At the age of four she started with the violin and the piano. Already at the age of ten she made her concert debut in London. At the age of twelve she already finished an international tour as a soloist and player of her own recitals, and she had recorded two albums and a third was under way. With this third she broke a honorable record as the youngest violinist to ever record a violin concert by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. In her fourteenth and fifteenth year she worked on "The Violin Player" on witch she combines acoustic and electrical violin hereby creating new music. Comparisons with Paganini, on whose birthday almost two centuries later she saw the light of live, Mendelssohn and Mozart are being made. Especially with Mozart. The young Mozart as a teenager delivered the necessary own compositions. Vanessa Mae does the same with her own arrangements. Mozart started a new trend and was innovative. Vanessa depicts the same qualities by experimenting with her electric violin to find something new.
 
There the comparisons end for now. In front of me sits a happier person than Mozart presumable must have been. In the half-hour we have conformed to the usual tight schedule, I would rather hear and see her play up close. But this is not possible, so we talk.
 
Hans:
What is the most annoying question journalist always asking you?
 
Vanessa-Mae: How long do I practice. The expectation of me practicing daily for six hours makes me feel like I'm five years old again. It is as if that's the standard for measuring the seriousness of being a musician. Crap, of course! My life is very hectic. One minute I'm giving interviews, the next minute I'm shooting for a video. At times, I'm in the studio recording a song for days or playing in concert halls or at pop festivals. As for practicing, I only do it in my spare time.
 
Hans:
Don't you have a day off?
 
Vanessa-Mae:
Last summer I spent a three-week vacation without my violin. Lovely!
 
Hans:
What about hobbies? Do they ever get a chance?
 
Vanessa-Mae:
I have my own animal zoo at home. Not only dogs but also a hedgehog, an ant farm, goldfish, crickets, chicks and sweet water turtles. I also breed fish. Besides that I also enjoy swimming and a game of tennis with my father. I also like snow, water skiing, jet skiing and roller-skating. Computer games and caricature sketching are also favorites.
 
Editor's comment:
History tells us that Vanessa-Mae took part of that "zoo" with her to the hotel while studying at the Central Conservatory of China. The room where we are in now does not reflect anything of her personal liking or characteristics. On our way to the photo session we pass through parts of the suite in which she actually lives, we see a nice untidy mess that would fit in any eighteen-year-olds room. During our conversation, we learn that she didn't grow up as a wonder child. Normal is a word, which depicts her upbringing and her attitude towards life.
 
Hans:
At age four, you started playing the piano and the violin. Why did you eventually choose for the violin?
 
Vanessa-Mae:
At first my father very much wanted me to learn how to play the violin. My mother is a piano player thus, logically THAT instrument would be a first choice. My father however saw it correctly, for a four-year old child the violin becomes a friend more easily than a grand piano. You can take it in your hands and take it anywhere with you. It's your own personal instrument. Like dolls, you speak to it. Its sound will comfort you when you are feeling down, like your cuddly teddy bear does with its fluffy fur placed against your cheeks. I don't think the piano can hold my interest for forty years. It's a fantastic instrument, especially when you are composing but you can't create a personal bond with it. At least, not me. The violin, with its human silhouette and personal voice, has its own personality to me. It sings its own song.
 
Hans:
You do that, singing yourself on your most recent album 'Storm' and 'Classical Album I'. Will it be something to look forward to in the future?
 
 
Vanessa-Mae:
The suggestion came from Andy Hill a year ago. And singing is fun. It's close to a violin. I'm an untrained singer, of course, so the pieces must be kept as simple as possible so it can be sung easily. It's a wonderful thing to do!
 
Hans:
You'll take singing lessons then?
 

 
Vanessa-Mae:
Maybe. I took two singing lessons for the last album, primarily silly exercises to clear your voice. You really notice the foul air you inhale in London.
 
Editor's comment:
Singer to be or not, Vanessa-Mae is inspired by the art of singing. She grew up with opera and loves it. It has given her a material for the already-recorded but not-yet-released album 'China Girl'. In this album, she plays an aria from Giacomo Puccini's 'Turandot'. Itís a story about a Chinese princess who is obligated to get married. To prolong that moment she demands that her husband to be can solve three riddles. The underlying tought is that she never has to get married. 'China Girl' creates a fantasy world says Vanessa-Mae. The story of 'Turandot' fits in this world.
 
Hans:
What are your sources of inspiration?
 
Vanessa-Mae
In the non-classical style? Actually I've got something with every style. Music from Santana, singers like Donna Summer and Whitney Houston. And than you have Michael Jackson, a fantastic voice. Elvis Presley... my favorite!
 
Hans:
Apparently you didn't grow up in a classical ivory tower?
 
Vanessa-Mae:
Absolutely not. I was a normal child, attended normal schools and came in contact with all kinds of music. All styles have an appeal to me. As an eight-year-old child I could listen to reggae or dance to disco music and after that study Bach for two hours. No problem at all. To grow up without having to miss anything is the foundation of my creativity.
 
Editor:
The classical Mae as well as the popmusician gives a spectacular view of that creativity. Labels as supernatural, amazing and phenomenal are found through all the praising reviews. Her first popsingle "Toccata & Fugue" effortlessly stayed in the English pop charts for two months. Her platinum album "The Violin Player" has been released in twenty countries. In the USA this album is still in the US Top 20. Actually one must not make a distinction. Vanessa Mae is Ďoneíperson who makes fabulous music of everything she gets her grip on. This is the great recognition she gets from her record deal with EMI. She can release any style of music under this label. This is a unique agreement worthy of such an unique artist.
 
Hans:
What are your future plans?
 
Vanessa-Mae:
Most of the time I can hardly foresee what will happen in two days. Let alone over two years or even twenty years. In first place I want to continue to make music in a way that keeps me happy. Last year Iíve visited thirty-three countries. After the summer of 1998 I will start my world tour. It will be a cascade of fantastic moments for the audience as well as for myself. Besides all that I will keep on creating new music. Being creative and innovative. That will keep the music interesting for all of us.
 
A fantastic technique, musicality and originality will stand sure for the redemption of this promise.
 
Hans:
Will you one day make a conclusive choice between classical or modern?
 
Vanessa-Mae:
Thatís not likely. Iím going to develop myself in the broadest sense. All styles have its own challenge, which I except with pleasure.
 
Remarkable is the enormous power radiating from the delicate figure facing me. She knows what she wants, how she wants it and when she wants it. Still you want to protect her against the great wide world that has fallen over her and maybe will burn her up prematurely. She can laugh about it, but says in earnest: "If that was possible, it would have happened a couple of years ago, when I was giving the same concert evening after evening in concert hall after concert hall. Thatís typical for classical music. At that time you run the risk to burn up. Pop music gives me the opportunity to stroll into other dimensions. This is how cross-fertilization takes place. The technique needed for playing classical music is sharpened more so by my experience with the electric violin, which gives away any imperfection mercilessly. The creative freedom I can take with pop music can be found back in my classical repertoire, which hereby gains in personality. Pop music that I make in its turn is being influenced by the interaction and bond with the classical pieces."
 
Hans:
A girl who knows what she wants. Never any doubt or insecurity?
 
Vanessa-Mae:
"Iím a little superstitious." She laughs shyly. "I shall never bathe before a concert. I believe in extra "good luck" by walking, from my dressing room, while spilling water and walking over it on the way to the stage."
 
Hans:
Do you have any classical idols?
 
Vanessa-Mae: "Concerning the violin, Jascha Heifetz and Frits Kreisler are my greatest examples. As child I often visited concerts by Heifetz. Once I approached him after a concert and told him I liked the sound his violin was making. He held the violin against his ear and said: "Really, I donít hear a thing." But still I believe my violin has its own voice. It was made in 1761 and has a respectable age. But it certainly isnít a barren museum piece. Itís alive and Iím very fond of it.
 
Hans:
But still you are looking for it in an electric violin. Unfaithful?
 
Vanessa-Mae:
Not at all. An acoustic violin is only suitable for an audience of a few thousands people. If you play popmusic for an audience of seventy thousand peoples it must be amplified without deforming the sound. At that point an electric violin is the way to go. But it is definitely not a compromise. Every type of music has its own typical characteristics, some played best with an electric violin and some played best with an acoustic violin. While I do not have the need for an other acoustic violin Iím still searching for an electric violin that suits my personality perfectly."
 
Editors comment:
And that fits the character of Vanessa-Mae. She finds her own way and wants her audience to leave her to it. Witness to this are the enthusiastic response she gets, she has earned the trust of the public. She knows how to captivate, to intrigue. The way she is posing for the covers of her recent CDís underline that in which mystique and fantasy intertwine. Earlier she spoke about the China Girl album about creating a fantasy world, the atmosphere extends like a red line through the albums Storm and the Classical album I.
 
Hans:
Donít you have to make an enormous adjustment to the differences between the pop audience and the classical audience?
 
 
Vanessa-Mae:
Yes and no. People that go to pop concerts seek a personal bond with you and your music. They come to a Vanessae-Mae concert and entrust me to make it something fantastic. They donít expect me to play that and that piece. A classical audience on the other hand only come for that specific music. They donít create a personal bond with you that fast. Usually the name of the composer is more important. The musician is subservient. He or she plays an interpretation. Still there is room for a personal touch. You can compare it to a museum visit. People come to see the Mona Lisa or work from a specific artist or from a specific style or period. People donít care how the building, that holds the object, looks. Even the arrangement of the artworks is of subservient importance. Thatís why they come, because they love the romance of the music of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Thatís why they like one interpretation better than another. But they depend on the trusted recognizability. Iíd like to see some more exuberance and less inhibition in the members of the audience and more attention to what the musician is going to play next. Let ears and hearts be surprised. I would rather not tell them what I am going to play. "Vanessa-Mae is going to perform." That should be enough. Next to that it really is great that music composed a hundred or two hundred years ago is really exciting and up to date.
 
 
The decisive declarations of an eighteen-year-old could be perceived as arrogant. But people who look her straight in the eyes see a promising musician who precedes her age when it concerns musical performance. "Listen to my music and you will know I am." She knows what she wants and there is nothing wrong with that.

 

Thanks to Ching (Netherlands) for this article!

 

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