Music News & Reviews

Concert tour brings Nicola Benedetti from darkness to light

Nicola Benedetti with her violin, a 1717 Stradivarius.
Nicola Benedetti with her violin, a 1717 Stradivarius.

Nicola Benedetti’s current album is a pairing of dramatic concertos by 20th-century Russian icon Dmitri Shostakovich and his teacher Alexander Glazunov.

But the tour that brings her to the Bluegrass on Monday night is much lighter stuff: a baroque affair featuring the works of Antonio Vivaldi and others with the Venice Baroque Orchestra, led by harpsichordist Andrea Marcon.

“It’s like stepping into a contrasting world,” Benedetti said earlier this month from her New York hotel room. “It kind of releases something in my style of playing — a general freedom. We’re relying on a huge element of trust and freedom.”

It is not the first time she has worked with Marcon and the orchestra, and she says every time is a learning experience for her as she transitions to the lighter, dance-oriented world of the baroque era, a period in Western European music roughly from 1600 to 1750.

It is one of the great privileges of being a classical musician; putting all of your effort into stepping into someone else’s shoes is so important and such a duty.

Nicola Benedetti

It also requires a transition of Benedetti’s gear.

Her instrument stays the same: the 1717 Gariel Stradavari. But to play baroque music, she sets it up differently, with gut strings instead of metal and with shorter bows.

“I’m diligent about leaving a gap between projects to change the setup,” she said.

So it makes sense that she ended last year with a series of concerts playing great classical concertos from Johannes Brahms and other composers, then starts this year hitting the road with a group that takes its period-specific instruments seriously.

Benedetti, 29, who recorded her first album at age 16 and began playing major concerts much earlier, relishes both experiences.

The 2016 Shostakovich and Glazunov recording saw Benedetti and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra presenting a 20th-century masterpiece and a work by the teacher who brought Shostakovich to this pinnacle. But ask Benedetti about pairing the works, and she sees “a study in contrasts.”

Teacher and student were separated by only by a generation, but they composed in very different eras in Russia, she said. Shostakovich became a major voice in opposition to Joseph Stalin. The first violin concerto was written immediately after World War II, but it remained unpublished until after Stalin’s death in 1953, for fear of running afoul of Soviet censors.

“The world Shostakovich was writing into, you wouldn’t wish on anyone,” Benedetti said. “But at that point, he was so socially significant. It’s harrowing.

“The duty for us is to force ourselves into a world that is not ours. It is one of the great privileges of being a classical musician; putting all of your effort into stepping into someone else’s shoes is so important and such a duty.”

And after spending a significant amount of time in that world, it’s something of a welcome change of pace to come out and dance like it’s 1699.

Rich Copley: 859-231-3217, @LexGoKY

If you go

Venice Baroque Orchestra with Nicola Benedetti

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20

Where: Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St., Danville

Tickets: $39-$75

Phone: 1-877-448-7469

Online: Nortoncenter.com, Nicolabenedetti.co.uk

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