Elliott Forrest with Nicola Benedetti and Wynton Marsalis
Elliott: I'm Elliott Forrest and this is WQXR, welcome to a very special hour with two forces of nature in the music world, she's a world-class violinist from Scotland with Italian roots, he's from America's first family of New Orleans Jazz, Trumpeter, teacher and artistic director of jazz at Lincoln Center. Joining me now, Nicola Benedetti and Wynton Marsalis. Great to see you both. Wynton you wrote music for Nicola to play. How would you describe her playing?
Wynton: Great characteristic of her playing I think when she plays with ensembles there’s an understanding of internal parts. There's a lot of wisdom in her sound and a thoroughness of it, to try to express many different sides of her personality. So she doesn't just have one thing that she does or is trying to do, like playing fast or playing sweet, but she's trying to fulfill the requirements of everything that various pieces require. and she's very rigorous about that.
Elliott: We're going to start with a part of your Max Bruch recording from the Scottish Fantasy. What do you want us to know about this?
Nicola: Oh, we recorded it in Scotland. It's a great piece. I absolutely love that piece it’s not often played anymore, sadly.
Elliott: Well, let's take a listen. This is the finale to the Scottish Fantasy of Max Bruch, Nicola Benedetti the violinist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra here on WQXR
MUSIC [Finale from the Scottish Fantasy of Max Bruch]
Elliott: Nicola Benedetti the violinist, and the finale from the Scottish Fantasy of Max Bruch. Elliott Forrest here on WQXR, my guests are Wynton Marsalis and Nicola Benedetti and we’ll continue with them in a moment.
Elliott: We're back now with Wynton Marsalis and Nicola Benedetti. on the surface you seem like a maybe an unlikely pair, Scottish classical violinist, Jazz guy from New Orleans. Is there a similar musical sensibility between the two of you?
Nicola: I would say yes, many similarities in many different levels, but I think the first thing that takes a lot of people by surprise is Wynton’s long-term love affair with the violin, and he has such a depth of understanding and knowledge about the instrument itself in its many guises so... Within the classical tradition, but all its various fiddling traditions and how that had travelled around the world, so my history with playing the violin but also my… My heritage in Scotland, there are lots of points of, you know, mutual interests with regards to that instrument. And from the flipside my, my fascination with Wynton’s music and his playing since I was a teenager, been to many concerts, followed his music, have lots of his, his... like the CDs I have left in my home, there's like a whole a whole rack. That's that's Wynton's recordings so...
Wynton: We’re both left handed.
Nicola: Most importantly.
Wynton: Both... We both write cursive letters that are not connected. We both near prodigies, like not really prodigies, and then had to fight against all the pressure to not be serious. I'm a lot older than her but is the kind of earnestness about wanting to be better than your publicity said you were when you're young when you weren't that good, but still feel the responsibility to not alienate an audience that you have of people who you try to bring into the feeling of music you like and... Like I had lost track of what she was doing and a friend of mine said man there's a girl in classical music who she's like you just younger and much cuter and playing violin, and I said who, he said, her, I said man I've been knowing her. So he made this…
Nicola: He has seen it from a distance
Wynton: He made, he made the connection. So we have, we actually have a lot in common
Elliott: You a new album together, Wynton you wrote the music and Nicola you played. We're going to hear something from the new album. You've got a violin concerto, which we're going to hear a little bit later on. We're going to start with the Fiddle Dance Suite. I've noticed over the years that folk music seems to be folk music folk music. You can play music from Appalachia and Celtic traditions and Hungarian traditions and there seems to be something that's quite similar here in this Fiddle Dance Suite. Am I onto something?
Nicola: Yeah. absolutely. There's, there's a lot of connection and I mean, I think the violin actually is such a prominent instrument in so many of those Traditions, but Wynton was really specific with each movement in how to combine his historic understanding in his music with that of the Celtic traditions and to do that for a solo violin suite’s like a perfect vehicle, but I have to say, like, I wasn't sure how that was going to work out, how you put a Blues with a Strathspey, or how you have a Reel that is going to have such unusual rhythmic and harmonic changes and it was like a like a birthday surprise to me to like to see how it was all unfolding. I mean, it's just incredible to see how putting those styles together can, can manifest
Elliott: Well, let's hear it from the new album. This is Sidestep Reel from the Fiddle Dance Suite by Wynton Marsalis played by Nicola Benedetti here on WQXR.
MUSIC [Sidestep Reel from the Fiddle Dance Suite]
Elliott: The Sidestep Reel from the Fiddle Dance Suite of Wynton Marsalis, Nicola Benedetti the violinist.They are my guests for this hour. How did you guys meet?Nicola: I played at the Academy of Achievement’s summit. It was the most incredible weekend of my life. I was 17 and this particular year was in New York. And many of the performances and presentations were hosted at jazz at Lincoln Center. And so that evening I had to play twice, Itzhak Perlman was sitting right in front of me and…
Elliott: No pressure.
Nicola: Wynton's quintet and Kathleen Battle performed immediately after me and Elie Wiesel spoke just before me and it was just like, what is going on here. I mean, it's just one of those ex... and the entire weekend was like that. And Wynton heard me play and I think said, your sound is good or something. I think he liked, he liked what I played. So…
Elliott: It's hard to believe Wynton, Jazz at Lincoln Center opened at 2004. Remember you and I did a hardhat tour before it opened, and we walked around with a TV crew that's 15 years later. How has your vision of Jazz at Lincoln Center changed over that time?
Wynton: We just have expanded our mission, the overall vision, what we started with, no segregation. No generation gap. All of our music is modern. We still stand by that, that was 1987 when we started with those principles. Now we're in many more places with our education programs. We have 12 education programs, our orchestra has toured. We continue to be dedicated to advocating for the art of jazz. Bringing the Jazz Community together, the world of jazz together in something we have called the Jazz Congress, and it's just it's just been expanding. It's just been an expansion of the mission.
Elliott: I hope you don't mind but I've been giving you some grief over the years on the radio. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I'll be on the radio right before I play the Hummel trumpet concerto and I'll say, he used to play classical music.
Wynton: That's right. I don't play... I don’t play it in years. I mean seriously played. The technique is very different and it's... it's hard to play jazz all the time and then go play concerts where people have paid money for tickets, and not be the best you could possibly be. Then I had an operation on my lips in 2005 or something and I had to reform my embouchure and start from the beginning, and there's no way I could develop on both, it took me maybe five years just to get my playing back to a certain level of accuracy. And it's just, It was too serious that thing for me to do like a hobby. Just seeing nicola how she prepares for stuff in the seriousness that she deals with, there’s no way I could do that, and also do everything else. I still love the music though.
Elliott: Well fair enough, good thing we have the recordings. We're going to listen to you play both parts in the Vivaldi double trumpet concerto. We’ll continue with Nicola Benedetti and Wynton Marsalis after this. This is Wynton Marsalis and the English chamber orchestra with Vivaldi on WQXR.
MUSIC [Vivaldi Concerto for Two Trumpets in C]
Elliott: Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis playing both parts of the Concerto for Two Trumpets in C of Antonio Vivaldi here on WQXR. We'll continue with Nicola Benedetti and Wynton Marsalis after this.
Elliott: I'm Elliott Forrest. You're listening to WQXR, my special guests this hour, Nicola Benedetti and Wynton Marsalis. Nicola, you recently received the CBE, the commander of the order of the British Empire for those of us in America. What exactly is that? And what did it mean to?
Nicola: It's what it says it is. It's an honor
Elliott: Sounds like an honor.
Nicola: Secret committees get together to nominate people that they feel have excelled in...
In any service. The service of music, of education, and the vast majority are silent heroes. People in communities that have impacted lots and lots of people's lives and obviously their community has felt strongly enough about them, and about what they've given back. So, for me, the most interesting thing is to meet all of those people and to speak to them and hear the things that they've done and have that be highlighted.
Elliott: And it was given to you by the Prince of Wales. Queen busy that day? Why wasn't she there?
Nicola: She does some of them, he does some of them. my previous one was with her. So…
Elliott: Oh you have more than one?
Nicola: Yeah. Yeah a few yeah, things like that.
Elliott: You have your own Foundation. What's the purpose? what do you support?
Nicola: It's actually not registered charity yet. It will have various different strands the most sort of practical of which will be to put on workshops that will be shining a light on what I believe to be the best of music education in the UK, and I think people feed off of each other's energy and we're trying to create those activities where those teachers can get together and Inspire each other and hopefully maintain a better sense of communication and community after... After the experience.
Elliott: We're gonna hear you play the Romance from the Gadfly by Shostakovich. What do you want us to know about it?
Nicola: That Shostakovich I don't think liked it very much, that’s what I heard, that’s what I heard. His wife said that. But, it's a beautiful piece. He couldn't write anything bad. So even if he didn't like it, it's still stunning.
Elliott: We're gonna continue with Wynton Marsalis and Nicola Benedetti in just a moment. But first, here is Nicola Benedetti and the music of Shostakovich on WQXR.
MUSIC [Romance from the Gadfly by Shostakovich]
Elliott: Elliott Forrest here on WQXR. My guests Nicola Benedetti and Wynton Marsalis. We just heard Nicola play music of Shostakovich, who have a new album out together. We heard some from the Fiddle Suite a little bit earlier, and Wynton, you wrote a violin concerto for Nicola. Was this the first time you wrote a violin concerto ?
Elliott: And what were your challenges?
Wynton: Well, making a difficult enough, first thing I sent her she said was too easy, she sent me something else, pictures of some concerti. The surprising education that I got really working on the concerti after it was written after I worked on it. Is the note she would write back after performances. I kept all of them just so I can look back on the thousand observations she would make, that just the intelligence of her commentary. There's a hacks manship with so-called critics. So when you actually get commentary, it's so impractical and of absolutely no use and many times inaccurate. So when you can get a long list of criticism, that's very practical, the piece is easy to rehearse and play, that's an education
Elliott: Were there parts Nicola that you looked at it and went, a violin can't even play this?
Nicola: There were a few things in the concerto... We all violinist have things that we can do well and things that we cannot do well, a few violinists can do everything well. I'm not one of them, so there were some places that I, I really took that liberty and because our communication was so plentiful and Wynton's easy to talk to and communicate about those things.
It wasn't a case of... You know leave me alone until the piece is done, and here it is. But mostly it's just a fascinating process for me to watch it happen.
Elliott: There’s something so American about these titles too, Blues, Hootenanny…
Wynton: Yeah, I always try to get my, my thing, my American, my Afro American, my identity in there. I don't really label to write music, I don't sit up looking at the page. I can just come up with something. I don't... like she was saying we all have different skills. So one of my skills is that I can just... I would say, what is that? Can you play me example of it? And then I'll be on the phone talking, then I'll be trying to rewrite it and say, well I sent you this, tell me what you think about that. I enjoy that process, because it for me it's education. That's why I wanted to do it. I always to to learn something and. And to participate more fully in music.
Elliott: Let's take a listen to it. It's on the Decca label brand new recording of the Violin Concerto by Wynton Marsalis. It's played by Nicola Benedetti the violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
This is a final movement. It's called Hootenanny on WQXR.
MUSIC [Hootenanny from the Violin Concerto by Wynton Marsalis]
Elliott: The final movement from the Concerto in D by Wynton Marsalis called hootenanny. Cristian Macelaru conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra with violinist Nicola Benedetti who have both been my guests here for the last hour or so. Just quickly Wynton, I saw the trailer for the new Buddy Bolden film the other day. It went by really quickly and I went, oh, I gotta play that back, I rewound it ‘cause I went Wynton is got to be involved, you and I talked about him, and his influence. Just briefly for those who don't know, who was he? And your involvement in the film?
Wynton: Buddy Bolden was the inventor of jazz, the first person to really put the mechanics of the music in place. Unbelievable Trumpeter, in the American cornet solo tradition, and he inspired everyone who came after him to improvise and play... play improvised music with blues and church music in it.
Elliott: And I've seen both your schedules. You guys are massively touring, you're all around the world for a long time, right?
Elliott: It just keeps going, right.
Nicola: Yeah, exactly exactly.
Wynton: It's a blessing.
Elliott: Brand new recording featuring the Fiddle Dance Suite and the Violin Concerto of Wynton Marsalis played by Nicola Benedetti. Thank you both for being here this hour.
Nicola: Thank you.
Wynton: Thank you so much.
Elliott: Thank you to our producers Sapir Rosenblatt and Curtis Macdonald. I’m Elliott Forrest, and to close, here’s Wynton Marsalis performing the first movement of the Hummel Trumpet concerto.
MUSIC [Marsalis - Hummel Trumpet Concerto Mov. 1 [9:42]
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