Fiddler on the Roof
Vanessa Mae is violin's Queen of Cool
With all the trappings of a rock-n-roll star, Vanessa Mae has a sexy, seductive stage presence. Twice she has brought New York traffic to a standstill during scintillating outdoor performances with her electric-fusion band. Her latest pop album, Storm, has already charted in Europe and is expected to be a hit in the U.S. when EMI/Angel releases it this month.
This 19-year-old fusion-pop string diva has already performed throughout the world and recorded hit albums in both classical and pop genres. Her first album, The Violin Player (1995) rocked purist ideas of what a performer could do with classically-trained virtuosity. "It was the first time that anybody had really used the violin that way, a fusion of different styles all on one album," explains Vanessa Mae. "Storm takes it one step further because on this album I find that it's more dynamic, it's more explosive—like "Hocus Pocus," one of the cover versions of the ’70s, where I really get a chance to use the violin with a little distortion, almost like the electric guitar. I sing for the first time on this album too."
Although Juilliard honed her to deliver recitals of classical standards, Vanessa Mae has found she gets a bigger rise out of performing for pop audiences. However, she is quick to add, "At the end of the day, I don't differentiate between pop music and classical music. For me, there's only one division—really good music that you like and bad music that you don't like."
This year, Hong Kong honored the Chinese-English violinist by inviting her to perform at the handover ceremony (making her the only non-native to do so). That occasion resulted in the release of her second album, China Girl, a musical reflection on her personal relationship with China as well as a historical commentary on a place which, like her, embodies the infusion of different cultures. "I think that [China Girl] has taken me to a part of my past that I haven't really discovered so much until now," she reveals. "I have always felt sort of guilty that I don't know enough about Chinese culture. When my grandfather died when I was fifteen, that was sort of my one direct link to China that was gone forever. So my only way to retrieve that was through music."
With China Girl, Vanessa Mae hopes to convey the spirit of creative expression has thrived in China, despite its image (and history) of artistic suppression. "People have thought that [people in] China contained very reserved emotions," she says. "I wanted to bring across that it's a very powerful place and that the people are very expressive too. I wanted to create a work that was inspired by the whole unification period, and show the mixed feelings of east and west. It was a marriage of both—very optimistic."