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'The Violin Player'

For most violinists, selling 10 thousand records is quite an accomplishment. For 17-year-old Vanessa Mae, it's but a stepping stone. The teenager has already sold nearly 1 million copies of an album that fuses the classical and pop genres.

Seventeen-year-old Vanessa-Mae believes her violin possesses a life of its own.
The million album-selling teenager doesn't lose sleep worrying if her violin will suddenly become jealous of her success and use the bow for something other than evoking music from the strings. The viewpoint toward her instrument stems not from a teenager's fanciful imagination but from a seasoned professional's understanding and appreciation of her music.
"My acoustic violin was made in 1761 and the great thing about that is that it had so many years of different people playing it, it's got its own personality, character and sound," Vanessa-Mae says. "As an artist, you learn to grow with your instrument and you learn to get on well with each other and find out more about each other."
Vanessa-Mae, born in Singapore and raised in London, found out about American institutions and pastimes last year. Her visit to America included National Anthem performances at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park and an appearance on the "Tonight Show." She has also performed in Times Square and with London's Philharmonic Orchestra. This year, she plans to tour America with her 14-piece band.
The musician began performing professionally when she was 11 years old. Her early work focused on traditional interpretations of pieces by composers such as Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Her latest album, "The Violin Player," turns toward a fusion of classical and pop music. Sales of the record have climbed near the 1 million mark, a remarkable accomplishment for an artist performing classical music.
"For me, there's a lot more scope and potential for exploring and improvement, and really having fun exploring your musical boundaries, if you did new things with your instrument rather than sticking to the standard classical repertoire, which I'm doing," Vanessa-Mae says. "At the moment, I'm having fun delving back into the past, into classical works in history."
Vanessa-Mae's violin sound mixes with synthesized sound to produce new takes of classical works. "Toccata and Fugue," the first single off her latest album, adapts Bach's composition from the organ to the violin. According to the artist, many people have asked her why she has stepped away from serious classical music.
"What classifies a piece of music as serious or not serious all depends on the emotions and ideas behind the composition of that work," Vanessa-Mae says. "I don't put things in categories really. When I perform or record I chose things according to the mood I'm in."
The album features acoustic and electric violin playing, a mixture that Vanessa-Mae prefers. "The electric violin has all the potential of an electric guitar," she says. "You can use distortion with it and it can come out sounding like a whole host of instruments. When playing in front of thousands of people, it's really built for that type of amplification."
During the performance she says she wants to be totally uninhibited and entertain the audience. She prepares for her concerts with a glass of water. However, she doesn't drink it nor does she offer it to her violin.
"I pour water in front of me and walk straight over the water and straight to the concert platform," Vanessa-Mae says. "That's supposed to bring me good luck."
Her performances have inspired good luck for her audiences, also. One man whose wife just died "had no will to live anymore," Vanessa-Mae says. "He said after this concert he realized what life was really about and there was something worth living for again."
Another man had spent a great deal of time in the hospital and his young son had dragged him to Vanessa-Mae's concert. "He was very tired, but after the concert he was with everyone else clapping, and cheering and dancing."
Vanessa-Mae's exploration of new styles led to her greatest success to date: the album. "I was doing something that was new and fresh," Vanessa-Mae says. "I knew I wanted to do it for myself, but when people out there followed me and embraced my new style of violin music, then that to me is a great success.
"There's just so much to explore," she continues. "I think that now people perceive the violin very much as a versatile instrument. My aim is to promote the idea of the violin as an instrument that is trendy and capable of anything."

By Rodney Tanaka - Daily Bruin Staff


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