The violin. A Guarnieri del Gesù known as Egville from 1735, previously belonging to Yehudi Menuhin
“Music for me is the highest form of art. It is both time and sound. Abstraction. It was and still is my privileged channel, my very essence. The quality of sound of a violin is like that of the human voice. In other words, it is perfect, ideal for expressing feelings, the state of mind and different emotions.” Charlie Siem is a golden boy, born thirty-one years ago in London and now based in the Principality of Monaco. In the last decade he has become one of the most well-known classic violinists in the world. He has played confidently with the Who and Miley Cyrus. A superstar since 2001 with oodles of charisma.
He conceals any suffering, pain and catharsis – which are obvious – with a smile and a very British approach. Charlie is direct and friendly but it is clear that he has an interior complexity and perhaps a streak of sadness, like all Capricorns. He is now more and more under the spotlight, dispelling totally the cliché of musicians who are doomed, tormented and consumed by their art and the genius inside them. His whole life revolves around music, and in particular the violin – his is a “Guarnieri del Gesù”, or d’Egville from 1735, previously owned by the great Yehudi Menuhin. They are also his greatest enjoyment. “Then there is the ambition that at times exceeds even talent and discipline, which you either have or you don’t. It is an innate, essential element. As is a healthy amount of severe self-criticism. Without exaggeration, of course”. This type of enjoyment is a concept that Charlie Siem, who was educated at renowned schools, such as Eton, Girton College and Cambridge University, repeats constantly. “If it were any different, if I had no pleasure in playing this instrument and no longer belonged to me, I would end my career immediately and without any regrets. I could not keep on speaking to myself or to the others, to the public that follows me, without giving them truth and emotion, without striving to give my utmost performance, at least in an experimental and metamorphic manner. It is vital to pursue that necessary twist that makes all the difference and goes beyond and crushes normality. You never stop striving to improve yourself. Since I was a child, music has never meant a profession but being able to play Beethoven’s violin concert.
Good looking and charming. Talented, young and sporty. Charlie is also much sought after by the fashion world. His face has appeared in certain publicity campaigns, notably Burberry, Dunhill and Hugo Boss. For the men’s fragrance Armani Eau de Nuit in 2013, with photos taken by Inez and Vinhood. And for Dior, photographed by his friend, Karl Lagerfeld. “KL is a refined connoisseur, especially when it comes to the German repertoire”, says Charlie, “his mother was a skilled amateur violinist”. He appeared in the Bruce Weber film for Dior Homme, Can I Make the Music Fly. And evidently, Charlie Siem likes fashion. A gentleman with an impeccable look, at times with a slightly dandyish tone. It is not rare to see him, as during the latest haute couture sessions in Paris in July, where he arrived with his sister and sculptor, Loulou, in the front row of the fashion shows of Chanel, Giambattista Valli or Armani Privé, and was assailed by photographers almost as much as the iconic movie star Sophia Loren, who sat next to him at the Palais de Chaillot.
Charlie Siem has an easygoing yet at the same time contrite aura. His face has aristocratic, regular, finely designed features, and inquisitive eyes of a bright, undefinable colour. He is friendly, nice and calm but with a great sense of humour. He is not one to waste words and the concepts he expresses are meaningful, precise and sharp like the blade of an ancient Toledo knife. He drives a roaring orange, or rather bright red Porsche, which he bought to satisfy an irresistible quim about one year ago. This vice brings him close to the sulphurous charm of Herbert von Karajan, the unforgettable Austrian conductor with a mania for speed, in cars, boats and planes. Siem whizzes around the world to deal with his growing popularity, particularly in faraway countries with a different culture, such as China, where he often performs in concerts and tournées. His physical preparation requires regular trips to the gym. “Playing the violin unbalances you because you use only one part of the body, which is strained on the left, and this leads to the need to recover harmony and balance and work on your posture”. Charlie talks about his upcoming projects and aspirations, the venues, and above all the music he would like to play. “At the end of the day, to be truly satisfied, I must have reached a new result. Something, perhaps a detail I didn’t expect to find. The challenge I face is that of giving an unexpected twist to a piece of music that many before me have studied, loved, toiled with, analysed and played. A chiaroscuro or unprecedented point of view, full of further meaning. You have to succeed in finding your very own personal path, to manipulate the violin and control the bow with staccato, vibrato and interrupted notes. Playing the violin goes well beyond technical perfection, it is an individual matter in which you can’t but go any further and beyond certain articulations or established references. No-one else can explain to you how your body or hands will react, and you are forced to take thousands of risks and make mistakes, if necessary.
With regard to his private life, the ineffable Charlie, who is adored by the feminine public, with fans including Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, for his concentrated yet romantic aura, without forgetting the appeal of the light, heartfelt, spiritual and poignant sound of a violin, keeps his mouth tightly shut. He smiles about it and doesn’t reveal a single comment on the many flirts also with famous people that have been attributed to him. Charlie Siem was born to a cosmopolitan, very wealthy family in London, on 14 January 1986. His father is a Norwegian businessman, Kristian Siem, and his mother is of South African origin, Karen Ann Moross. Like a sort of small Mozart, he already showed his natural vocation for music when he was just three. Between the age of eight and nine, he began to train seriously, and practised hard for at least four hours each day under the guidance of virtuous maestri such as Isaac Rashkovsky at the Royal College of Music, or the famous Schlomo Mintz, and at top schools and seminars around the globe. At the age of just fifteen, he left on his own to Rio de Janeiro to perform with an orchestra, while three years later he debuted in London with the Royal Philarmonic. His teachers Rashkovsky and Mintz, have become his mentors and friends. “As a child, I had something inside my soul that I had to express. It was an aptitude, something urgent that comes from the inside, a natural gift. Of course, there is a whole ritual of learning and fine-tuning of the technique, which you must master to perfection, as well as the necessary physical training. It may seem strange but there are no forerunners throughout my family history, apart from the distant ancestry of the Norwegian violinist and composer, Ole Bull. Nor can it be said that I had any particular predisposition for musical culture, although I must admit that my mother listened to a lot of classical music. Our family was made up of lawyers and businessmen, but evidently the creative streak had to prevail. I’m a musician and my three sisters with all of whom I have a very deep, unique and personal relationship, are all linked to the world of art or music in different ways”. On the day of our meeting – in Florence, where he has chosen to live, perhaps the hottest day of the year, he has just returned from Cap Ferrat, where he went to visit his family, which mainly lives on the French Riviera. It is plain that his thoughts, mental tension and concentration often take him elsewhere. “I’m getting ready for the Concerto Number 1 for violin and orchestra in G minor, Opera 26 by the German Max Bruch. I will be performing in public in Harbin (Manchuria, North East China), for the first time on 10 August, with the Israel Philarmonic orchestra conducted by Zubin Metha. I had dreamt of collaborating with them for a long time.
It involves a lot of excavation and interpretation of the music, which harbours infinite nuances and secrets and has a lyric romanticism throughout that ends on a reckless note of accelerando. It has a controversial history. It was first played in 1866 but was revised and drawn up in the form universally known today for the violinist Joseph Joachim, who played it for the first time in Bremen, on 5 January 1868. In the city of Harbin, with a population of almost ten million, great attention is placed on music culture. The audience may not be as sophisticated as others in Europe and America, but the level of knowledge and the enthusiasm of such a wide and varied public are growing constantly. The summer tournée in China will furthermore start in Nanjing, three days earlier. At the University of the Arts of Nanjing and Leeds College of Music, where I am visiting professor».
Charlie has decided to make his old dream come true and spend long periods of time in Italy, more notably in Florence. “Like many young people who have been educated in England, Italy is a much desired destination, a place and a sort of dream, perhaps more envisioned than real. It is the Country of the Renaissance, of the divine Claudio Monteverdi” – Siem’s performance at the London Science Museum of London of the piece by Monteverdi “Pur ti miro, Pur ti Godo” from the “Incoronazione di Poppea” for an event entitled Beyond the Stars to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of the composer from Cremona was quite memorable -. “It’s the homeland of Paganini and Rossini, of the “bel canto”, of the “Camerata de’Bardi” which invented opera singing in the Baroque age in the Medicean city. It is also a sublime culture of food and wine and symbolises the ever-present, sensual and fascinating lifestyle known as “Dolce vita”. As a child, I spent a long part of my summer holidays in Spoleto, where I was a guest at the home of the photographer Derry Moore. I wanted to get back that joie de vivre, that nonchalance and slightly subversive bohemian liberty of which I have very fond memories. I believe Italy will help me to discover myself, to break the mould, to free myself and make myself independent of so many contrived circumstances and superstructures that are now perhaps useless or no longer necessary for my life and my career as a musician”.
PHOTOGRAPHY MICHAEL AVEDON STYLING SABRINA BOLZONI
CREARIVE DIRECTION ALEXANDER BECKOVEN, HAIR ALESSANDRO SQUARZA @FACETOFACE, HAIR AND MAKE-UP ASSISTANR GIOVANNA ANGAROLA, POST-PRODUCTION LAURA BAIARDINI