Grammy-award winning violinist Nicola Benedetti will perform the world premiere of Mark Simpson’s five-movement Violin Concerto – written especially for her – with the London Symphony Orchestra, and Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda. It will be broadcast on Marquee TV on Thursday 22 April at 7.00pm, is free to view for seven days and subsequently available on demand via subscription.
The piece was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra (with the support of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation), WDR Sinfonieorchester, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Benedetti will perform the work with each of the commissioning partners.
Mark Simpson writes, ‘I started my Violin Concerto just before the UK’s first COVID lockdown in March 2020 and my initial musical ideas were hopeful, singing, full of life. As the pandemic worsened, I quickly realised that it was impossible to ‘carry on as normal’ and the work would need to explore a different set of responses. The concerto begins, quietly, calmly, as if from nowhere, with a statement of B-flat minor in the strings over which the violin laments, drawing us into a world of stillness and reflection. A moment of transition launches directly into the next movement. Movement two is a fast, energetic dance that is, in essence, a response to having a huge amount of pent-up energy that I was unable to release during the period of lockdown restrictions. It hurtles us through various balletic tableaux. Movement three is an impassioned love song tinged with moments of darkness. The cadenza fourth movement provides us with another moment of stillness and revisits material from the second movement. The fifth movement begins with a devilish A minor tarantella that leads directly to the Finale. This opens with a simple melody in the violin which is passed through the winds, strings and brass, guiding us to a wild, raucous, energy-filled climax that leads to the work’s close.’
Simpson relished the prospect of writing a major new work for Nicola Benedetti, recalling a moving and revelatory performance she gave of Brahms’s Violin Concerto when ‘in the slow movement there is a passage where the violin rises up and reaches for the heavens. At this moment I was unexpectedly moved to tears. It was a reminder of the purifying and intense power that music has: to heal the soul. I felt as though I was in communion with Brahms’s spirit and he was speaking to me directly. I also had a strong sense of the purpose of music’s existence, with a voice saying to me: ‘This is it. This is why you do it. This is what music is about.’ For a performer to have the ability to transcend the physical realm of music-making in this way shows a deep and profound understanding of music’s power on the spiritual level. For me, it is the mark of a truly great artist. This experience of Nicola’s playing stayed with me throughout the writing process of this concerto and forced me to look deeper inside my own soul more than in any other piece I’ve written.’
Nicola Benedetti commented, ‘I have known and loved Mark since I first met him at the BBC Young Musician all those years ago. He is a unique musician and person, and I’m deeply honoured he chose to write a concerto for me to play. This experience is very personal to me, and rests on a genuine human connection. So it’s been no surprise to me that the process of working on this piece has been all consuming and overwhelming. The scale, intensity, difficulty and emotional weight of the concerto has had me up at night and has taken over my life. But that’s how Mark is. He brings all he has to all he does. He feels and expresses so deeply, thinks so carefully about his own experiences and that of others, and pours this into his compositions. I’ve been already moved by this experience, and will continue to be. I only hope I can do some justice to this magnificent work.’
Nicola is sharing the process of learning a new work on her Instagram in which she charts the highs and lows of trying to get to grips with a new piece in an honest, open and insightful way. Catch up here to see how she is getting on.
Further dates from Nicola Benedetti
Nicola performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and its Music Director Designate Vasily Petrenko, at the Royal Albert Hall, in a streamed broadcast on 15 April, 7.30pm. Tickets are £10 and available here and the performance can be streamed for 14 days.
Nicola joins the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for two performances in its digital season focusing on the music of Szymanowski, as part of the Orchestra’s Polska Scotland music series which celebrates Polish music in Scotland. RSNO Music Director Thomas Søndergård conducts the composer’s first Violin Concerto streamed on 16 April, 7.30pm and Nicola is joined by conductor Elim Chan for the Second Violin Concerto streamed on 11 June, 7.30pm. Tickets from £10 and available here.
Nicola performs Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Aurora Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Collon at the Royal Festival Hall with live audience on 4 July, 7.30pm. Tickets available here from 14 April.