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David Garrett, the child-star violinist who became a model, talks to Classic FM's Myleene Klass.
In the music business, it takes self-belief, determination and grit to make it to the top – qualities that David Garrett has in abundance. The 26-year-old German-American violinist is forging his own distinctive path in the classical music world, no matter what other people think. His individual brand of musicianship is displayed in his album Virtuoso!, an eclectic mix of rocked-up classics and soulful tunes, such as Flight Of The Bumblebee and Somewhere from West Side Story.
But David is a bona fide classical violinist, and one who had an international career and his own management team by the time he was eight.
David was born in Germany to an American dancer mother and a German lawyer father, and picked up his brother’s violin at four, playing it by ear. Within a year he was performing in public.
“My parents always believed my talent would take me places,” he tells me, in an accent that’s equal parts German and American.
“For that reason they thought I should use my mother’s surname, because it was better for my career. It just stuck.”
And his father’s name?
“Bongartz. I’ll spell it for you...”
As a child prodigy, was he aware of the weight of expectations of him?
“I always try to explain to people that the word prodigy is just a marketing tool,” he says. “No one wants to go to a concert by an 11 or 12 year old if they don’t hear the word prodigy involved. They have no idea of how much pressure and responsibility is put on your shoulders, plus six or seven hours of practice a day. They like to think you just get up and do it. They don’t want to think about all the sacrifice the poor kid is having to make.”
By the age of 12, David had a record deal and was playing all the cornerstones of the violin repertoire by composers such as Mendelssohn, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.
“I was very lucky I never had to do competitions,” he says. “I managed to get established without them.” He had a busy career travelling and giving concerts, and studied with some true violin greats – Itzhak Perlman and Ida Haendel – but in his teens he felt he’d hit an obstacle.
“At some point I realised I didn’t feel altogether comfortable with what I was doing. That’s why I decided to go to America and take some time out of my performing career to study at the Juilliard in New York.”
Going to one of the world’s most prestigious music colleges is hardly dropping out in the traditional sense, but his parents weren’t too pleased – they thought he should be getting on with his career. But he went anyway, and picked up vital skills such as conducting, composing and record producing. He also took advantage of his good looks and went into modelling – if only to pay the bills.
“I really stumbled into it out of financial difficulty, because my parents weren’t supporting my studies. I ended up doing many shoots for fashion magazines. I’m very proud of the work I did.”
David has always been attracted to non-classical styles; it was in New York that he discovered his particular talent for arranging the classics with a twist and the idea for his album was born. What does he want to achieve with it?
“I’ve always felt I can connect with young people very well,” he says. “I believe I can make classical music interesting to them. That’s my goal.”