Nicola Benedetti exploded onto the British classical music scene in 2004 after she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, aged 16, with a blistering performance of Karol Szymanowski’s fiendish first violin concerto. Since then she’s been Female Artist of the Year at the classical BRIT awards, twice; has headlined classical spectaculars such as the BBC Proms, as well as the Apple Music Festival and the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games; and has sold millions of records. With “Homecoming” (2014), she became the first solo British violinist to enter the UK Top 20 since the 1990s. The year before that, she was awarded an MBE, aged 26.
Benedetti will turn 30 this summer, but she isn’t kicking back. Meeting over a cup of tea near her west London flat recently, she struck me as supercharged: a woman luminous with purpose, whose unfolding musical intelligence and technical artistry surge from every note of her latest album, a bold and unpredictable reading of the Glazunov and Shostakovich violin concertos. It sounds as though she has entered a new phase in her playing. For the past year, she admits, she has forgone any formal teaching and has been working alone for the first time since she picked up a violin, aged four. If we are seeing and hearing a new Benedetti, this maturity, this mastery, is quintessentially her own.
And now, having captivated audiences in most corners of the globe, she is off on a coast-to-coast tour of America, joining forces with ensembles including the San Francisco Symphony for a musical adventure that encompasses everyone from Vivaldi to Wynton Marsalis, Brahms to Bruch – and her old friend Szymanowski. ~ CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL
Benedetti tours the US Feb 11th-27th, Mar 13th-Apr 6th
New blue eyes
Taking on Frank Sinatra’s daunting songbook before a live audience can make even the best vocalists long for a lesser musical mountain to climb. Curtis Stigers (below), an American singer, songwriter and saxophonist, finds the challenge thrilling. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sinatra’s first live album, “Sinatra at the Sands”, he decided to recreate those magical winter nights in Las Vegas when Ol’ Blue Eyes seduced audiences at the Sands Hotel and Casino with his magnetic voice and signature cool. Stigers chose Copenhagen as his Vegas and enlisted the Danish Radio Big Band to channel the dynamism of the Count Basie Orchestra. He insisted on using band arrangements similar to the original ones written by a team that included the legendary Nelson Riddle and Billy May.
The result, “One More for the Road’’, is a deft tribute. Though Stigers sings in the same key as Sinatra, he wisely avoids mimicking him on standards such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin’’ and “You Make Me Feel So Young’’. Instead, he makes these songs his own, with quiet confidence and a voice that’s as smooth as cream. And his chemistry with the audience in Copenhagen’s DR Koncerthuset, with its marvellous accoustics, can be felt as well as heard. If Sinatra were in the room, he might say, with his Hoboken accent, “You know what? This kid is a star.” ~ PATRICK EDWARD COLE
One More for the Road out now. Stigers performs in Florida Mar 28th-Apr 1st
Turkey’s wedding band
In the late 1960s, psychedelic rockers in the West started to flirt with the music of the East: George Harrison took up the sitar, the Byrds began playing “raga rock”. The affair wouldn’t last; long-distance relationships often don’t. For a true marriage of East and West, enthusiasts would have to turn to a country where the two meet: Turkey. Turkish musicians had been weaving Western pop and rock into Anatolian folk for years. When the first wave of psychedelia crashed onto Turkish shores, bands like Mogollar put their own spin on those far-out sounds by plugging in the saz, a long-necked lute used everywhere from the Balkans to Afghanistan. Electric guitar, move aside.
So began a tradition of Turkish pyschedelia that carries on to this day, thanks in large part to Baba Zula, a band from Istanbul. Their efforts are captured on “XX”, a new two-disc compilation encompassing their 20-year career, from the ensnaring “Biz Size Asik Olduk”, the song that catapulted them to fame in 2002, to a live recording of “Abdülcanbaz” (2013), a sweaty stomp running to almost 20 minutes in which electric oud and goblet drum combine to hypnotic effect, while the saz, yielding to the power of Osman Murat Ertel and his impressive moustache, whines, whahs and drones. Thanks to Baba Zula, Turkish psychedelia is here to stay. ~ CHARLIE McCANN
XX out now. Baba Zula tours Germany and Switzerland Feb 2nd-12th