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from Denis Millar ( South Africa )


Pint-sized violinist Vanessa-Mae, whose acoustic-techno and classical albums have sold millions of copies around the world, will tour South Africa in March.
The award-winning artist was recently in Johannesburg, to get "a feel for the country" before she returns to perform next month. And she's looking forward to visiting the Mother City for the first time when she comes back.
"I'm really keen to see Cape Town. My tour will consist of six concerts, and, while I know that the major one will in Johannesburg on March 24, I'm pretty sure that Cape Town will be included in the itinerary. It's a place I really want to go to anyway," she said in a telephonic interview yesterday.
"When I return I'll be bringing a rock band with me, as well as a classical ensemble. My shows will be a blend of styles, some techno, some classical, some pop.
"I hope I'll also get a chance to hear some indigenous African music as well. I was in Soweto a few days ago and a group of young instrumentalists performed a concert for me, but it was mainly classical music. It was lovely, but next time I'd like to hear some local music," she said enthusiastically.
Vanessa-Mae is as well-known for her ground-breaking approach to performance as she is for her attractive publicity shots, having established herself as a classical child prodigy before the age of 10 and then going on to explore new alternative violin music using both acoustic and modern electric instruments and a series of sultry photographs from the age of 13. Now in her 18th year, she has the distinction of selling millions of both her classical and pop albums internationally, being EMI's best-selling new artist in 1995 and 1996. She won numerous awards including the World Music Award for Best-selling Classical Recording Artist and the Klassik Best-seller of the Year award. In addition, her multi-platinum pop album is still on the Billboard Top 20 Chart a year-and-a-half since its release.
She has performed in front of rock crowds of more than 50 000 people (upstaging such veterans as Status Quo and Rod Stewart), and regularly attracts standing ovations of 20 minutes or more. Vanessa-Mae is the only artist to have headlined a classical concert in the Royal Festival Hall in London in the same week as selling out a techno-fusion concert at the Royal Albert Hall. She was the featured star at the Hong Kong hand-over celebrations in Happy Valley and has also had the honour of opening a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden.
Her latest pop release is Storm, which incorporates many different genres within a sophisticated electric-acoustic package.
"I worked with a lot of musicians on Storm including a Welsh choir, a full orchestra and percussionists. But we also put together a lot of samples and synthesised sounds, creating an integrated mix," explained Vanessa-Mae. "My South African tour will feature 90% Storm material."
After South Africa she will move on to perform in Canada as touring has been a major part of her career outside recording. During 1995-7 she spent two years on a world tour playing more than 200 concerts.
So is this teenager something of a workaholic?
"No, I don't think so," Vanessa-Mae responded with a grin in her voice. "I have deadlines and I have many engagements, but essentially I do it for enjoyment. I've been doing it for a long time." Born in Singapore, Vanessa-Mae moved to London when she was four, and that was when she started lessons on violin and piano.
"I suppose I haven't really stopped working for over a decade," she quipped.
Do people tend to lump her in the same category as enfant terrible Nigel Kennedy, yet another maverick string player?
"Well, apart from the fact that we're both British and we both love playing the violin and we both don't wear conservative clothes, I don't really think we have too much in common. Nigel is essentially a classical performer, whereas I experiment with totally new forms of sound," she said with a laugh.
In terms of making a unique impact, she's dead right there. Vanessa-Mae and her violin have opened up a whole world of music to audiences who may never have made the cross-over from pop to classical, or vice-versa, without her. South African audiences can look forward to an aural treat next month



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