Nicola Benedetti - ‘I struggled with success’

SCOTTISH violinist Nicola Benedetti has described the “tough time” she went through after winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year award at the age of 16.

Nicola Benedetti. Picture: Contributed
Nicola Benedetti. Picture: Contributed

She told Desert Island Discs host Kirsty Young she struggled with the amount of gigs she had to play and described feeling that there was a “sort of machine counting on me to keep going”.

Appearing on today’s episode of the BBC Radio 4 show, the 26-year-old from West Kilbride said her life changed after she won the prestigious classical competition.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

She said: “The Young Musician of the Year final happened, and I think the next day my picture was on the front of the Times and a practically full concert diary materialised within a very, very short space of time, so by the age of 17, 18, I was going through a very tough time.”

Benedetti estimated that one year she performed 110 times, which she said was “far too much” and that it led to her going on stage “underprepared” and “nervous”.

She said she was “disappointed” she had not been helped by people around her, saying: “I think I did feel that some of that support wasn’t necessarily there within the profession. It’s extremely cut-throat.

“It was a very difficult moment because I had released my second or maybe third album. I had a sort of machine counting on me to keep going in order for this whole thing to keep working.”

Benedetti, who was made an MBE last year, said she had not been “overly troubled” by pressure to assume a more glamorous image like some of her fellow musicians.

She said: “There are definitely requests for photo shoots that come in that they don’t even make their way to me any more because they know there’s no discussion, there’s not even a point in asking me because I won’t be interested.”

One of the brightest young stars in the classical world, Benedetti has released a series of acclaimed recordings since landing a record deal at the age of 17, as well as thrilling audiences with her work as a soloist and as part of a chamber trio.

Though her family were not especially musical, Benedetti had her first violin lesson at the age of four, and by the age of eight was leading the National Children’s Orchestra of Scotland. By the time she had turned ten she was boarding at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey and receiving lessons from the aficionado himself. A year later she performed as a soloist at London’s Wigmore Hall, going on to win the Brilliant Prodigy Competition organised by Carlton Television.

Benedetti was the first Scot to win the BBC Young Musician of the Year award. Lucrative recording contracts followed, together with a hectic programme of concerts.

Despite still being under 30, she is now world-renowned as a soloist and chamber musician. She plays the Gariel, a 1717 Stradivarius violin worth £1 million, which is loaned to her by the banker Jonathan Moulds.

The London-based musician’s upbringing in West Kilbride was far removed from her life today. Her father Giovanni moved to the town from a small village in Tuscany at the age of ten, speaking no English. After leaving school he invested in a dry-cleaning shop that became a chain, invented a clingfilm dispenser and then a first-aid kit, building a business empire along the way. He married Francesca, another Italian migrant, and they had two daughters.

Benedetti is passionate about the importance of classical music in education and committed to developing musical talent through charity work and masterclasses.

Through her work with such organisations as Sistema Scotland, she has helped to demonstrate the power that music can have in transforming the lives of young people. Benedetti received an MBE from Her Majesty the Queen for these services last year.