Wynton Marsalis and Nicola Benedetti on creation of a new concerto

On Friday 6 November, the LSO and Nicola Benedetti perform the world premiere of a new Violin Concerto by Wynton Marsalis, the result of a collaboration between the violinist and composer that has spanned over eleven years. We spoke to Nicola and Wynton to find out how they ended up working together, the inspirations behind this new piece, and what to expect from the concert in November.

Working together on a new piece

‘Wynton and I have known each other for over eleven years. We first met at the Academy of Achievements Summit in New York. I attended some of his performances and we struck up a friendship. Ever since, he has offered me lots of advice and become a bit of a mentor. We have discussed Wynton writing a piece for me on and off for the last five years. It was, for a long time, going to be just for solo violin, but then he decided he wanted to write for orchestra again.

‘The process has been much more involved than I ever imagined. Wynton is based in New York and I am based in London, although of course we are both travelling a lot of the time. We spent many hours discussing the minutiae of violin technique, the structure of the work, the meaning behind each theme, over phone calls and audio clips. A very collaborative and incredible process.’

Finding inspiration

‘There are many different aspects of [the piece], but the main thing, what it’s mainly concerned with is dialogue – and first dialogue with yourself – different forms of peace and gratitude, and of love, and of sensuality and of spirituality.

‘There are a lot of things that it deals with that, through the many years that I’ve known Nicola, are things that I’ve seen her go through and things that we all go through. She’s had a certain journey in her life, and a lot of the form comes from things that she’s said. I write pieces for reasons, you know … it costs so much to write something, it takes so much time, that I have to really want to write it … and most of the time it’s for people.

‘It’s been rewarding for me to work with Nicola, and she’s taught me a lot. It’s interesting when you work with somebody who is a lot younger, and you are teaching them and telling them things, and then you get older and they tell you things! The social consciousness she has as a young person to follow her education – I know how much it takes out of you to be that type of public servant. I’ve watched her mature into her adulthood, and to maintain integrity and control through all the trials and tribulations that come with having a certain type of fame at a young age. It’s a very difficult journey. So, for me, a lot went into the piece.’

Tackling a world premiere

‘I always feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility towards any work, but the responsibility towards this concerto is very personal. I want Wynton to be happy with how I’m playing it, and so for that reason perhaps the pressure I’m putting on myself is heightened slightly.

‘I think I’m always hypersensitive to who I’m playing for –when you know lots of people are listening to that piece for the first time, that’s going to make me more eager to make sure that I’m going through that journey with everyone, and that I’m delivering it to them as fully as I possibly can.’

Collaborating with the London Symphony Orchestra

‘The London Symphony Orchestra is, without question, one of the greatest orchestras in the world, full of communicative, warm, alive and risk-taking musicians. I know many of the musicians very well, I love the violinists … Some of the first classical concerts I ever went to were with the London Symphony Orchestra, so it feels very much like a home. I have had the huge privilege of playing with them quite a few times over the last couple of years, and I never take that opportunity for granted.’

‘I love them. They’re very flexible. There are great orchestras in the world, but there are also great orchestras that are extremely flexible and easy to work with. Very collegial, soulful … it’s great.’

by Fiona Dinsdale
Source: London Symphony Orchestra

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