The long journey of Thailand’s wunderkind

PB Air San Sabai - Wednesday, June 01, 2005

As she strolls into our private interviewing room, world-renowned star violinist Vanessa-Mae, who is of half-Thai descent, brandishes an enchanting smile and her famous dimples.

In Bangkok for a concert to wrap up the “Bridges-Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” series of events and co-hosted by the International Peace Foundation and Bangkok Opera Foundation, she duly apologizes for being an hour late.

”Everyone’s just so tired, because we’ve only arrived from Taiwan very late last night,” she chirps before setting down.

Some media, music industry insiders and music critics have called her a “wunderkind” and a “child prodigy”, something which has stopped bothering her.

”I’m 26 now, so old! Sure, I was probably more mature at age 12 than many of my peers, but I never saw myself as some genius violinist.”

It was only at about age 14, when she started to develop her own style, that people came up with the ‘child prodigy’ notion.

”It was purely a hobby. In fact, I first played the piano and only cut to the violin at about age four when my mother re-married to a British guy and we moved to London,” she asserts, adding that she abandoned the piano in favor of the violin for a very tangible reason.

”My piano teacher was very strict and constantly was breathing down my neck. I wanted to capture the attention of my more lenient violin tutor instead, because it attracted me in a ‘perverse’ kind of way.”

A marvelous decision, because since then Vanessa-Mae has left a mighty imprint on the world of music.

Not only has she successfully covered a lot of classical pieces, but even endeavored to marrying classical music with pop and rock elements like in her first best-selling album, “The Violin Player”.

With this bold move, Vanesssa-Mae created on entirely new genre of “fusion music” which has practically became synonymous with her and helped her sell millions of album worldwide.

”But for me there’s also a good deal of showmanship of it”, she says hinting at her energy-laden concerts during which she tends to twirl across the stage and let her enthusiastic nature spill over into the audience.

”Classical music often adheres to hard and fast rules. Still, I find music is there for the taking. It should inspire and entertain at the same time. In order to achieve that I sometimes break or amend these rules.”

Readers of FHM voted her onto the magazine’s annual “100 Sexiest Women in the World” list in 2001, which she dismisses with a wink.

”Some more beautiful people with larger boobs (giggles) were positioned behind me. More ‘undesirable’ people were ahead of me. I found that poll a bit of a joke.”

Asked about some of her positive and negative character traits Vanessa-Mae hesitates briefly then answers that she was “faithful” and a “perfectionist”, but also “impatient” and “extremely anally retentive”.

”Is that the right word (chuckles) I mean, it sometimes bothers me if things don’t go as planned. I loathe that there sometimes has to be a not-so-ideal compromise.”

Vanessa-Mae has always enjoyed the support of her family. While mother is managing her only child’s career, she’s also successfully kept Vanessa-Mae away from vices.

”She shoved a cigarette into my mouth when I was four. I guess that has put me off for life,” Vanessa-Mae smirks and adds off for life.” Vanessa-Mae smirks and adds that she drinks only very little alcohol. Even grandmother takes an active supporting role in her grandchild’s career.

”She’s a real ‘rock ’n roll grandma’, you know. For example, she always spends her nights in bunk beds when we go on bus tours.” Her Thai father separated from her Singaporean-Chinese mother when Vanessa-Mae was still a toddler, a fact that still saddens her.

”I met him frequently until I was about ten, then he suddenly moved away from Singapore without telling anyone. I think he’s just not very interested in being a father. To be truthful, a daughter needs her father.”

Has she ever jammed with another musician?

”Yes,” she replies, “Prince called me once to come and jam with him, and it was the most frightening experience of my life! I had never done that before, but I took on the challenge and enjoyed it greatly.”

Her latest album, “Choreography”, presents yet another ingenious approach to music, featuring “some really experimental pop, chill-out and dance tunes incorporating different music styles. Besides a couple of classical renditions, another eight tracks are original compositions, some of them either written or co-written by Vanessa-Mae, proving her extraordinary versatility.

”Choreography is like a journey. I wanted to show that the violin really can be the leading instrument in such a wide range of different music styles,” she concludes the interview. A long and interesting journey, indeed, and you have mastered it beautifully so far with an astonishing career and an unshakable zest for life, Vanessa-Mae!