Café Concert: Charlie Siem

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

VIDEO: Charlie Siem Plays Shostakovich

While chatting with Charlie Siem, one gets the feeling the English violinist is yearning to quote that old shampoo commercial: Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

But the part-time model is probably too polite to say so – and besides, he’s not really concerned about what people in the classical music field think about his sideline career, which includes being the face of the British luxury goods maker Alfred Dunhill and appearing in magazines like Italian GQ and Vogue.

“They’d be as superficial as they think I’m being if they did judge me for it,” he said of the potential skeptics. “The whole fashion element was not something I was seeking out. It happened quite organically. These opportunities were presented in front of me and I wasn’t going to say no.

“As far as I was concerned it was a Charlie Siem violin campaign, because it was using me as a violinist and promoting me as a violinist,” he added of the modeling work. "It made complete sense to me to raise my profile to do it."

Last year, Siem signed a recording contract with Warner Classics and in September, he released his second album, featuring challenging concertos by Bruch and Wieniawski as well as Ole Bull’s rarely-performed Cantabile doloros e Rondo giocoso (Bull is also a distant relative). Joined by the London Symphony, the album has earned favorable reviews from the traditional classical music press.

Siem began playing violin at age four after hearing Yehudi Menuhin on the radio. He studied with Ithzak Rashkovsky and Shlomo Mintz at the The Guildhall School of Music and The Royal College of Music in London (he also has a degree from Cambridge). His debut recording, featuring violin sonatas by Grieg and Elgar, put him on the map at BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM. Concerto appearances with the Royal Philharmonic and Moscow Philharmonic followed.

Yet it’s also clear that Siem, 25, will have to make some choices in the years ahead: the fashion world continues to come calling, and he’s recently performed at events for Lady Gaga and the designer Vivienne Westwood. Siem has worked beside pop artists like Bryan Adams, and is considering a jazz project.

“I’ve had the idea of exploring the concept of improvisation,” he explained. "I like the gypsy nature of the violin and expressing yourself in the most pure sense."

He continues: “I think classical music, of all kinds of music, has had the most flamboyant history of all. It’s had characters far beyond any pop characters. When you think of Franz Liszt, when you think of Paganini, and all these weird characters. Or Mozart for Christ sakes! It’s really the ultimate in theatricality and drama. So if nothing else I’m just incorporating in our modern times an element of that sort of thing.”

Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Interview: Jeff Spurgeon; Text: Brian Wise


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Comments [8]

Alicia Bliffeld

The most beautiful music from INSIDE!

Jan. 05 2012 06:39 PM
Michael Meltzer from New York, NY


Dec. 26 2011 04:01 PM
michael p

beautiful.............but is that all there is?

Dec. 15 2011 05:34 PM

Mr. Goldman,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. We tape the cafe concerts generally once every week here in our station's cafe. Charlie Siem was here on Monday, at which time he performed and taped an interview which resulted in the article above. We're also playing some of his music on-air today. That said, the video above is the "main event." Hope that helps.
Thank you for listening!

Dec. 15 2011 12:26 PM
Sidney Goldman from Baldwin, New York 11510

The artcle which featured the short story of Charlie Siem, our violinist, by Jeff Spurgeon is an excellent introduction to our guest.

Having missed that day's program, may I ask when was it?

I have the conversation, in part, thanks to the Cafe concert which you inserted in today's WQXR website.

Dec. 15 2011 11:27 AM
Sidney Goldman from Baldwin, New York 11510

Your Cafe concert featuring violinist Charlie Siem, with its article introducing the guest, was outstanding. The composition, The Gadfly by Dimitri Shostakovich, happens to be my wife's and my favorite work by the great Soviet composer.

Shostakovich very much lives on with his contributions to the world of classical music.

Thank you WQXR.

Dec. 15 2011 11:00 AM
Sidney Goldman from Baldwin, New York 11510

Whoever is bringing all these live performances at the Cafe and elsewhere should be identified to your listeners.

I want to personally thank the individual or group of staff employees for creating the way we are introduced to the soloist or groups for their peformances.

Dec. 15 2011 10:49 AM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

I liked the beauty of tone and the intonation highlighted in the double stops, but it was the tight vibrato that made me smile...a quality I always look for not only in string players but in flutists and singers. This is my first hearing, and based upon it, I'd certainly like to hear more from this gentleman. Change "more" to "anything."

Dec. 15 2011 09:32 AM

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