Shortly before her 30th birthday this summer, Nicola Benedetti, the hottest classical violinist on the planet, separated from her long-term boyfriend Leonard Elschenbroich.
During their ten-year relationship, Benedetti, who is Scottish, and the charismatic German cellist had become the golden couple of the classical world: young, passionate and absurdly talented, the wunderkinds had been a serious item since their early 20s.
Nicola Benedetti will grieve too when the £10 million Stradivarius she plays – on loan to her from philanthropist banker Jonathan Moulds – is eventually returned to him
Then they went solo. Benedetti remained in London, where they had lived together, while Elschenbroich, 33, returned to Germany. ‘He’s lived in Berlin for a while now,’ she confirms in a soft West Kilbride brogue. ‘I can’t speak for Leonard but for me it’s just a case of love morphing into a different type of thing. It’s not like that warmth is not still there.’
Extraordinarily, their dissolved romance has become, if you will, ‘a friendship with strings’. For, despite the split, they continue to make music together, performing as part of a string quartet, Nicola Benedetti And Friends. ‘We’re both such serious people about music,’ she insists. ‘There’s very little that would interfere with that’.
She later concedes that a new partner for either party may, at some point, prove problematic.
It’s been an emotional 2017 for the newly single star but there have been tears of happiness too. Benedetti was awarded The Queen’s Medal For Music at Buckingham Palace in May. Not only was she the youngest musician to receive the rare accolade, but also had a right royal hoot with Her Majesty.
‘The Queen is absolutely hysterical,’ beams Benedetti who was also honoured with an MBE in 2013. ‘I’ve met her several times and she’s made me laugh so much.’
But such lavish rewards come at a cost. It may be lunchtime at her local member’s club but Benedetti has already put in six hours violin practice today. She proudly shows off the contusions on her neck and collarbone – known as ‘fiddler’s hickeys’ – bestowed by her punishing practising schedule. ‘They’re badges of honour,’ she says. ‘At photo-shoots, they often say, “We have to cover that up.” I’m like, “No we don’t. I’ve earned these!”’
Having played the violin since the age of four, Benedetti joined the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey aged ten. She was asked to perform at the maestro’s Westminster Abbey memorial service in 1999. ‘We played Bach’s Concerto For Two Violins, the slow movement,’ she remembers. ‘It was absolutely overwhelming.’
The sombre event was made sadder still, she notes, as princes William and Harry sat behind Benedetti throughout Menuhin’s memorial, just two years after their mother’s funeral ceremony in the same building.
She will grieve too when the £10 million Stradivarius she plays – on loan to her from philanthropist banker Jonathan Moulds – is eventually returned to him. ‘I will cry a lot when that day comes,’ she admits. ‘It’s a pretty frightening thought, that it will be gone.’
After winning Young Musician of the Year at 16 and signing a £1 million recording contract, Benedetti was routinely referred to as ‘the complete package’: brains, beauty, temperament and talent. Did she ever feel as if her looks were used to market the music?
‘There is an intense problem of over-sexualisation of women in many walks of life but it is at its most mild in my field,’ she says. ‘We’re incredibly fortunate in classical music.’
Later this month, Benedetti will perform Brahms Double Concerto for violin and cello with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Once again, her indefatigable ex-boyfriend will undertake cello duties, giving the composer’s final orchestral work – with its ‘free but lonely’ motif – an intriguing twist.
While in Poland, the violinist intends to look up self-styled ‘enfant horrible’ Nigel Kennedy, who has a home in Krakow.
The two British virtuosi studied under Lord Menuhin as children, but have never met. ‘I would love to talk to him,’ she confides.
During their ten-year relationship, Benedetti, who is Scottish, and the charismatic German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich had become the golden couple of the classical world
Benedetti may be a keen Kennedy fan (‘his recordings of Elgar are inspiring’) but she won’t be appearing onstage in a ripped Ramones T-shirt. ‘I don’t have any problem with wearing a nice dress for concerts,’ she smiles. ‘I like a bit of ceremony.’
But the soulful artiste, famed for her musical intensity, claims that she is still a long way from diva-dom. ‘A lot of people with solid diva reputations are often just so terrified to screw up,’ she muses, adding that she doesn’t demand her dressing room be fitted with a fresh lavatory seat, like a certain Welsh singer.
‘I’ve still got that ahead of me,’ she predicts with a chuckle. ‘Give me a few years.’
Nicola Benedetti opens the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s season in Dundee on Thursday, nicolabenedetti.co.uk