By MAX BERLINGER
Photo: Uwe Arens
DETAILS: I sure hope you're taking some time to relax while you're down there.
Charlie Siem: Well, I always have to practice to stay in shape. I have a concert down here so I've been rehearsing with a pianist. But I will go down to the sea and I go Go-karting on a racetrack down here.
DETAILS: Oh, do you go Go-karting often?
Charlie Siem: Yeah, I met this guy who is an ex-Formula One driver and he's been coaching me. I hadn't done that much before, but I have driven normal cars on tracks. It's just some fun while I'm down here, to let off steam.
DETAILS: Let's talk a little bit about your EP Midnight Garden. It's really beautiful. Fill us in on the background.
Charlie Siem: Well it's a bit of a continuation of my last album, Under the Stars, and it really focuses on three encore-style pieces. Under the Stars was a bigger collection of those types of pieces, so I thought a shorter EP of a few extras that I wasn't able record would be nice. Midnight Garden has a smaller feeling, more like chamber music because it's just me and a piano as opposed to a full orchestra. The three songs really work well together because they're all from the early-20th Century, the golden era of violin playing, when these great heroes like Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, David Oistrakh, defined what it meant to be a great solo violinist.
This kind of music isn't too academic and is something you can really enjoy; it has such character. It gives the violinist—which in this case is me—a real opportunity to explore a unique and personal way of playing, to find a real character of sound. It's really just an intimate, salon-style follow-up collection of three miniatures.
DETAILS: So it's just you and the piano player together in the studio? How does that affect the way you play?
Charlie Siem: Yeah we were in London, actually, and we had a concert that evening and recorded it in the afternoon before the performance. Playing with an orchestra is a beast, you have to play on a scale that competes with that sound, but also you can't be too, let's say, fluid. You have to be easy to follow. It's not like when its just you and a pianist and he's with you, listening along, with every note. They're just two totally different things and they're both rewarding and fun in different ways.
DETAILS: How do you feel out those nuances within a performance?
Charlie Siem: Experience is the most valuable asset a musician can have. I think each performance is unique in its way, thats why people call it battle conditions. You sometimes just have to respond to what's happening in the moment onstage. But experience of being in that state carries you through. You learn over time your way of dealing with it, your way of being grounded, of being a big enough personality to stand out in front of an orchestra. With a pianist it can be easier, I practice with my pianist every week. With the intimate chamber music, like what's onMidnight Garden, you can refine what you're doing and finesse these little details to an extant that's really satisfying.
DETAILS: You look great and so fit. What's your diet and workout routine like?
Charlie Siem: Exercise is important to me. I was going to say because of my posture because playing the violin is an awkward thing to do and you need to strengthen your back in the opposite way, but I think exercise and staying fit is crucial to living a healthy, happy life. Every other day I have a routine that I do that's based around these physiotherapy exercises I was given last year to help counteract this hunched position I'm in when I play the violin. And then the other part, well, you are what you eat. To be honest, I'm not the best person about that because I love sugary things and I indulge quite a lot, but I try to watch what I'm eating because you just feel better for it.
DETAILS: You are in France after all, you can't say no to all that cheese and bread.
Charlie Siem: Exactly, you can't be too disciplined or else you won't have any fun. It's a balance. I'm all about finding a healthy balance, which is a challenge.
DETAILS: You also are incredibly stylish and look terrific in clothes. What's your relationship to fashion?
Charlie Siem: I never expected to be in the fashion world, it was never something I had aimed for. But when I was a kid, part of what I loved about music and classical music was how smartly dressed everyone was. When I was a child, I used to think it would be cool to dress up like that. I've always loved clothes, maybe not "fashion" per se. About six years ago Bryan Adams the musician and photographer shot me for L'Uomo Vogue and it was the first fashion-y photo shoot I had done. After that, things started coming up: I met Mario Testino and played at a few events where he was and after that I was offered the campaign for Dunhill because the casting agent was at one of these performances. One thing after another happened after that and I've been able to do a fashion project here and there and I really enjoy it. I've met some amazing folks and worked with amazingly creative people like Bruce Weber and Karl Lagerfeld. These are people who are at the top of their game and that's always inspiring, regardless of the field that they're in. I feel privileged to work with those people and in a world that's so foreign to my world.
DETAILS: What's one misconception you'd like to clear up about the world of classical music?
Charlie Siem: There are lots, but the title classical music kind of makes people think it’s this thing from the past and what they're hearing is a reinterpretation of the past as opposed to something that's alive and relevant. I want people to know that music is music. I don't like the genre definitions. As soon as someone hears "Oh, this is a piece of classical music," people have preconceptions. I think all music needs to be listened to with a completely open mind, a positive and embracing mind. That's how to get the best out of what you're listening to.