Acclaimed violinist Nicola Benedetti, sold out the Royal Albert Hall in September and at just 28, is probably the performer young classical musicians would most like to meet.
A few days after the concert more than 30 teenage string players got that opportunity through the Albert Hall’s Education and Outreach Programme.
The focus of the session was Ms Benedetti’s approach to Autumn from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a key piece in her current Italy-inspired tour programme.
The difficulty of the piece meant the invited students, aged 13 to 17, had to be grade eight or equivalent, and possibly considering careers as professional musicians.
“The music is a vehicle through which you begin a dialogue on an array of personal, musical and violinistical issues,” explained Nicola
Known as a risk-taking musician, she got the students to stand up and stamp their feet in time to the opening bars of the piece, which depicts a hunt.
It was loud.
“These are gunshots… like an explosion, sudden rather than nice, nice.”
She took on the solo of the frightened animal running away from the bangs.
“I am an animal that’s running away and this should be like a chase. You kill me at the end. At the moment it’s really far too polite.
“Be less polite, almost break your strings – but don’t break your strings.”
These are talented and committed young musicians. Hugo, 13, got grade eight violin two years ago.
“But for me the grades are less important than the musicality,” he said.
In the question-and-answer session he asked about the technique of vibrato.
“I have this weird thing with my hand and she called me up.”
Nicola gave him an exercise to relax the muscles in his hand which she promised would work over time.
“Learning how to do vibrato is kind of mystical. People try to teach it to you. Just do the exercise and be chilled,” she advised.
“It’s really inspirational to see someone who is so amazing, who will take time out of their practice to spend with people who look up to her,” said Isabelle, 16.
She was among those brave enough to perform a solo.
“You are obviously an excellent violinist,” Nicola told her.
“But don’t smile if you think you have made a mistake because your playing is absolutely excellent. Don’t give anything away in your face.”
She admitted being guilty of that mistake herself: “I do it all the time, my boyfriend says.”
She took time to make minute adjustments to the position of Isabelle’s bow hand.
“Sometimes I lift my wrist too high. I am trying to fix it,” the teenager explained afterwards.
Elodie, 16, started learning the violin at five. She also performed solo and is set on a career in music.
“Wow, really lovely. You have such a natural feel for where the melody goes,” was the feedback – plus some tips.
“Just when you are playing loud, if you put a large amount of pressure on the strings you should tilt the bow so that you have as much hair as possible – otherwise noise rather than the note can take over.”
The students attend a wide range of schools, from Hackney’s Mossbourne Academy to elite fee-paying schools like Westminster and Haberdashers’ Aske’s.
Most are Londoners but others travelled from as far away as Lincolnshire.
“It made me play my violin differently,” said Esme, 17.
“I think I was too tense. Now I am feeling the music more, trying to stop being so polite in the way I play.”
She said meeting Nicola was “amazing” as was meeting other students with “different experiences and backgrounds and learning to interact musically with them”.
A performance to a small audience of teachers and Albert Hall staff ended the session.
Nicola was pleased: “They just remembered the most unremembrable list of instructions. Well done!
“Not sure there was as much foot-stomping as I would have liked.”
Afterwards came a chance for photographs and autographs, including on violin cases and GCSE music files.
The main message from Nicola for the young musicians was: “Just be as expressive and natural as you can be.
“In classical music you really so much rely on what the music says and what your teacher tells you – but don’t let the teaching you receive squash your intuition.”