Charlie Siem shakes up the world of classical music.
NOMINATED BY ANNE-SOPHIE BERBILLE
INTERVIEW BY ALEXANDRA KRUSE
Charlie Siem gets as much attention for being super handsome as he does for his virtuoso violin playing skills – his talent seems to be from another planet and he travels easily between the worlds of fashion and the realm of classical music.
Steadily building a reputation as one of the world’s greatest violinists, both technically and in terms of his popularity, his sweet serenades make even the hardest critic melt and move his audiences around the world nearly to tears (incl. the British Royals, Lady Gaga and Stephen Hawking). Bruce Weber took his picture in underwear, he appeared in Lagerfeld and Roitfeld’s book "The Little Black Jacket: Chanel’s Classic Revisited" and was featured on Vanity Fair's legendary annual best-dressed list in a dapper cream Ralph Lauren suit.
The 29 year old, born in London to a Norwegian father and a south African mother, played the Karma Chameleon with Boy George (inspired by him, Charlie painted his pinky finger for a few years....) and performed with Grace Jones and Cliff Richard while calling Bryan Adams “a real supporter of mine”. The former Eton College Alumni is on a busy schedule of appearances all over the world and currently calls the UK his home.
We spoke to him on an early but sunny Sunday morning, after he played a concert with pianist Itamar Golan in Copenhagen. Despite some deep and hearty yawning, he's unsurprisingly a nice conversationalist with a lovely British accent and a very gentle and charming voice, which easily becomes animated.
Charlie, will you visit The Little Mermaid, while in Copenhagen?
Well, it is just a little statue, not really that interesting. But I am a true fairy tale believer and I really like the work of Hans Christian Andersen.
...Who once wrote a story about the imposing figure of Ole Bull, a nineteenth-century Norwegian flamboyant violinist and composer, who is an ancestor of yours. Gifted with youth, wealth, beauty, and talent, how much music is in your genes?
Actually, I don't have a particularly musical family - My parents were not very musical. But they always supported me - something I am very grateful for. I think I was really lucky to have heard the violin and to have had the opportunity to play.
"Actually, I don't have a particularly musical family - My parents were not very musical."
Edie Campbell and Charlie Siem,
by Alasdair McLellan (British Vogue).
To what extent are you born with a gift and to what extent do you work for it?
Obviously it’s both. And I think in every person there’s a balance of how much is necessary to get somewhere. Some people have more gift and less work and some people have more gift and don’t work their hardest and don’t get anywhere. So it’s different for everyone. Anyway, It's no good if you just got the genes to do something - you definitely need to have the will as well.
"Some people have more gift and less work and some people have more gift and don’t work their hardest and don’t get anywhere."
Do you remember the first time you discovered your passion?
I remember listening to a Beethoven Violin Concerto by the late Yehudi Menuhin on a cassette player in the car with my mum - and being transported to another world. I wanted to be closer to it and so decided to play the violin – I was three years old and started with a little toy violin - I always felt that the violin was something very natural for me to play.
"I remember listening to a Beethoven Violin Concerto by the late Yehudi Menuhin on a cassette player in the car with my mum - and being transported to another world."
Is there a deep Soul Connection between you and your instrument?
My violin was crafted in 1735 by Guarneri del Gesu (editors note: one of history’s finest violin makers) - it was played by Yehudi Menuhin and once owned by the Prince of Prussia. Of course, it is a nice thought that the spirit of the violinist somehow is still slumbering in the violin. When you manipulate wood and form it into a violin you are really imprinting it with a certain energy. But then, after time, the energy of the world becomes reflected in the wood and the instrument takes on a life of its own. Although the texture stays the same, the violin will play differently. It is my instrument. And it's nice that it carries around so much history with it. It's flawless to look at and it's a challenge to play, but when it responds, it is a dream. I'm very lucky to be able to play this particular instrument – I communicate with my violin whenever I play it and feel so connected to it, I really can’t imagine my life without it.
What about discipline? Is it something that comes naturally to you?
The Violin has always been a central pillar of my life where every day revolves around practising. I never doubted it. It was never a question of ‘Who am I going to be when I grow up?’ or ‘What job will I have?’. I guess, discipline is crucial in order to succeed but more importantly for me is to enjoy the journey - I really need to structure my life so I can get as much out of everything as possible. I'll never experience this moment again, so I have to get the best out of it. The key to the magical door is that I know, I won't be able to do this forever.
"The Violin has always been a central pillar of my life where every day revolves around practising."
Anna Wintour is among your fans and Jason Wu has chosen you to be the new face of Hugo Boss....what are your thoughts on working in fashion?
I started working with the fashion world about 6 years ago and enjoy the completely different sphere filled with such colourful and interesting characters – Bryan Adams photographed me for Vogue Hommes for a story featuring musicians. That was the first fashion-y thing I ever did - I would never say I was a natural in front of the camera, but by now I’m more natural than I’ve ever been. I'm lucky enough to have been chosen to do some campaign and editorial work - and again. I'm enjoying every minute of it.
Your last thought before you go on stage?
I try to have no thoughts. This is my way of meditation before the concert. I'm just trying to be one with what I do. When I am able to connect to something beyond myself through my music while being on stage, I leave my needs behind and can be unconditionally generous, without expectation or limits. Before I perform, I have to go through a process of reminding myself that I am not going on stage for my personal gain, but rather because I am performing music that means so much to me, to, in turn, share it with the audience. I like the idea of transforming on stage to become a better person.
"I like the idea of transforming on stage to become a better person."
Whenever you have the chance to see one of his concerts, just GO – even if you can't spell Tchaikovsky or never been to a classical concert at all.