Gannett News Service, by HOLLIS L. ENGLEY |
Vanessa-Mae, 18-year-old rocking superstar of the violin
There is perhaps only one time when the names Jascha Heifetz and Elvis Presley come up in the same sentence.
That would be in a rapid-fire rundown of the favorite musicians of 18-year-old international techno-pop and
classical star violinist Vanessa-Mae.
Who does she listen to?
``I mean ... people like ... old great violinists like Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler ... Michael Jackson, Whitney
Houston,'' she says. ``Santana I really like a lot, Elvis Presley ... ''
Vanessa-Mae Nicholson -- with the 5-foot-3, 106-pound body of a 15- year-old cheerleader -- strides across the
stage in sparkling gold calf-high Doc Martens and flowered minidress, whipping the bow to her white electronic
violin and putting out music.
Music and attitude.
Lots of attitude.
With her stage presence, flickering glances at the crowd and pelvis thrusting to the music of her violin and
six-man band, she might be an in-command dancer at an expensive club.
But Vanessa-Mae (her stage name) is just barely old enough to serve liquor at the U.S. venues she's played on
her recent ``Red Hot'' tour. And between songs, she's at the microphone explaining the next number in a sweet
British-accented voice, as comfortable with Dolly Parton as Niccolo Paganini.
And she travels with her mother.
``Before I was 18, by English law, (her recording company) EMI had to apply for a license for me to travel abroad,''
Vanessa-Mae says from Houston. ``One rule was that at least one of my parents had to travel with me.''
Her father is a practicing lawyer in London. Her mother is also a lawyer but gave up her profession when it
became clear that her little girl had more talent than the average screeching pre-teen violinist.
Now, when Vanessa-Mae puts away the rock 'n' roll fiddle and gets out her 250-year-old Guadagnini violin for
some mid-concert Brahms, her mother is her piano accompanist.
The gentle, measured sound of a classical piano-violin duet is not what most rock fans expect. But it is part of this
paradoxical musician, who says her mission is ``to take them through an event with the violin, to show them what
a useful and versatile instrument the violin really is.''
Vanessa-Mae Nicholson was born in Singapore and moved to England with her parents when she was four. She
picked up a violin for the first time a year later, taking half-hour lessons once a week.
``At the beginning it was nothing serious to my teachers or my parents, '' she says. ``It was just what I and all my
friends did after school.' '
``After a few months, my teacher got gradually more excited about my progress. I took to the violin quite
naturally, but at that age you don't take anything seriously.''
But her teacher did take her playing seriously, and told her parents they had a prodigy. She practiced and
``It never was a chore,'' she says.
By the time she was 10, her father had bought the Guadagnini and she was performing with adult professional
``People have asked if I missed out on my childhood,'' she says. ``But I think I had the best of both worlds. That
was the start of the professional life and I was dealing with adults all the time. But I think you still retain your
``I was very conscious of what I was doing. Maybe I said goodbye to my childhood a few year earlier than my
friends, but in terms of outside interests, I have lots of those.''
When she's at home she works with a tutor toward the British equivalent of her high school diploma. In time off,
she likes to water- and snow- ski. On her U.S. tour, she's reading Chekhov short stories.
But mostly she plays the violin.
``Sure, it's something I treat very seriously, but it's something I love, too,'' she says.
And that love glows in sweat and energy on stage, particularly during the pop portion of her concerts. Taking
long steps from one side of the stage to the other, she leans into her guitarist, stands rocking back to back with
her saxophonist or plays in the midst of the audience.
She plays a techno-pop Paganini ``Caprice No. 24'' and then a keyboard sounds the wall-rattling opening chord of
Johann Sebastian Bach's ``Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor,'' and she's off on the piece that put her on the pop
charts here and around the world.
Her version is what Bach would have written if The Who was playing his music in the 1740s. It's all climbing
arpeggios that sound like they're echoing from the cold stones of some medieval electronic pop cathedral.
Last year she played Bach and Brahms, Parton and Scottish folksongs in 33 countries. Her pop album ``The Violin
Player'' -- which includes the Bach piece -- was No. 1 in South Africa. Her new CD, ``The Classical Album,'' is just
out. She played to 200,000 in the streets of Lyon, France, at the end of the G7 economic conference.
``I've been all over the world and in about 60 different cities,'' she says.
``The most important thing about music is it's an emotion. I want (fans) to cry at times, to make them sad or get up
and dance and scream.
``It's my job,'' she says. ``At the same time, it's my love in life.' '
Copyright 1996, Gannett News Service, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.
Vanessa-Mae, 18-year-old rocking superstar of the ...., Gannett News Service, 12-13-1996, pp arc.