Charlie Siem: Tiny Desk Concert

Jun 15, 2011

Charlie Siem is, literally, the very model of a modern major violin star. At just 25, he's already appeared on the world's great concert stages, as well as the pages of Italian Men's Vogue magazine. He's also the 2011 spokesman for Dunhill, the men's fashion house. For his Tiny Desk Concert appearance, you could say Siem dressed "casual, but with an understated elegance," right down to his left-hand pinky, with its pink-painted fingernail.

When he was 3, Siem heard the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin play Beethoven's Violin Concerto. That was all it took to inspire him to pursue the violin. Siem studied at Eton and the Royal College of Music, and now he plays one of Menuhin's old violins — a stunning 1735 Guarneri del Gesu.

As it turns out, fiddling runs in the family. Siem recently discovered that he's related to the 19th-century Norwegian violin virtuoso and composer Ole Bull. Fittingly, Siem started off his Tiny Desk show with Bull's bucolic Cantabile. But then the fireworks began. Paganini's Variations on "Nel Cor Piu" (an aria from a now-forgotten Paisiello opera), contains a grab bag full of violin special effects. Watch Siem as he tosses off the left-hand pizzicato, double-stop harmonics and spiccato bowing as if he were buttering bread. I'm confident that many of my colleagues gathered to hear Siem had never witnessed playing on that level. I saw a few jaws tilted toward the floor.

Siem ended with another nod to past violin virtuosos — a charming little waltz, "Old Vienna," by Leopold Godowski, in an arrangement by the incomparable Jascha Heifetz. With playing this vigorous, technically strong and thoughtful, the young Charlie Siem should be guaranteed a considerable career. Along the way, his sense of style and good looks won't hurt.

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