Nicola Benedetti on Brahms and Bruch

What is your relationship to the Brahms Violin Concerto? 

I started learning Brahms’s Violin Concerto relatively late, it was one of the last mainstream romantic concertos that I learned. Brahms is a composer that likes to take a small amount of material and develop it to the Nth degree. The orchestra and I are kind of wringing out that material to its conclusion.

It’s a technically demanding piece, but a lot of the reason for that is because it’s so full of heart and requires such a consistent warmth from the soloist. One of the main challenges is to balance that virtuosity and intensity with something that is always warm and generous.


This piece is a staple of the violin repertoire – how do you make it yours? 

I think for me, the worst thing that I can do is try to be original. The most original things in you are the things that you can’t control. What I want for audience members to get the most out of an experience is for them to be as sort of relaxed and open as possible. The same thing goes for my own relationship to playing. If I’m open, then I can hear Brahms’s language as powerfully as possible and just let the music happen.


What’s exciting about playing Brahms with an orchestra like the Philharmonia?

Playing Brahms with the Philharmonia is really a dream because of their sound – it’s active but patient. There’s a trust in sound production, and the space and warmth that’s necessary for this concerto is allowed to unfold. For me the piece and the orchestra are a match made in heaven. And of course, Cristian Măcelaru, I mean talk about warm – he’s a close friend of mine so I can’t wait to play with him.


How would you describe the Scottish Fantasy to someone and what can we listen out for?

Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, written by a man who never made it to Scotland but had a deep love for Scotland, highlights both the brooding beauty of the landscape and country, and a raucous party that comes alive in the faster movements.

It’s also a technically challenging piece, which is part of the fun. The piece is romanticising the Scottish sound and spirit through little themes and traditional tunes. There are a lot of double stops and open strings, things that feel earthbound, a little more fiddle-like, with a snappy rhythm and a healthy dose of fun.


Do you think Bruch succeeds at making the piece feel Scottish?

I think Bruch succeeded in making it feel like a romantic version of Scotland, which is impactful and effective. Most of the world feels some kind of romanticism towards Scotland. They think of it as a land of mythology, mystery, and beauty, and Bruch wonderfully shows that darker sense of beauty from the very opening texture he creates.


What is your relationship to the piece and your experience performing it?

I recorded Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy many years ago and performed quite a bit around that time, but I haven’t played the piece for a long time, so this will be a bit of a homecoming for me. On the recording I had my first public collaboration with traditional Scots musicians, with Phil Cunningham, Aly Bain, and Julie Fowlis. I have a lot of great memories around that time, and it will be exciting to get my teeth stuck back into it.


Tell us about next year’s Edinburgh festival and your involvement with the Philharmonia there.

I’m enormously excited about the Philharmonia coming to do a residency next year at Edinburgh International Festival. I know there going to be spectacular and large-scale works performed within the residency and will allow the audiences in Edinburgh to get a real sense of the identity of the orchestra, both musically and historically. For the Philharmonia to be closing our festival is an absolutely deserved honour.


Nicola Benedetti joins us to play Bruch’s ‘Scottish Fantasy’ and Brahms’s Violin Concerto in Bedford, Saffron Walden and London on Tuesday 12, Wednesday 13 and Thursday 14 March.