With a foray into the world of fashion and modelling, world famous violinist Charlie Siem – the Mick Jagger of classical music – is clearly a man of many talents
Lead image: Tim Roney
He’s been described as the Mick Jagger of classical music and if it’s his passion for the cause that has anything to do with it, then it’s easy to see why. Charlie Siem is fiercely dedicated to his craft, but he’s been hitting the high notes in modelling too of late, in high profile collaborations with brands such as Dunhill, Vogue and Dior.
I can’t help but pass comment on the photogenicity of Siem’s violin, too, it’s a beauty. ‘It’s a nice story actually,’ he says, ‘as it was owned by the man who inspired me to pick up a violin, Yehudi Menuhin,’ smiles Siem. ‘It’s special for me to have that connection.’
Siem has been playing violin since the age of four, after hearing the iconic Menuhin on the radio because his mother played classical music to him.
‘The violin in a way is an extension of the human voice, it’s very close in register and there’s something heart wrenching about the sound when it’s played well,’ he says. ‘It is very direct and it communicates to the soul. It has a human quality that is slightly disembodied – as a wooden box that’s attached to your neck, it’s sort of growing out of your vocal chords, so it physically feels like an extension to the voice. There’s an eerie naturalism that I love.’
Recently, Siem has become somewhat of a star in the world of modelling as well. Having been invited to play at a book launch for Mario Testino, the next day the casting director for Dunhill contacted him and asked if he would be featured in a campaign. The fashion exposure meant Siem later met Anna Wintour, who gave him exposure in Vogue.
But that doesn’t mean he has forgotten his roots; in fact, one of Siem’s favourite venues to play is still the Royal Albert Hall – a short walk from his family home. He’s refreshingly grounded and exudes a loyalty to his upbringing and home in Kensington.
I grew up in Kensington and even though I spend a lot of my time in Monaco, it is still home. ‘I love having coffee on Thackeray Street in Ottoemezzo
‘I grew up here and even though I spend a lot of my time in Monaco, it is still home,’ says Siem. ‘I love having coffee on Thackeray Street in Ottoemezzo and Iddu on Harrington Road. I love coffee culture; it’s important to me.’
He is outwardly grateful for the opportunities he’s been given and continues to learn about his art: ‘I think every space is a collaboration with an instrument, because it is dependent on the surroundings,’ he says. ‘Every audience and the energy they give off is different, so it’s a dynamic process that changes.’
He goes on to tell me how there are some wonderful venues around the world, such as the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow or the Carnegie Hall in New York. But sometimes it’s a sense of intimacy that Siem yearns for.
‘The Albert Hall is so huge but on stage it doesn’t feel very big,’ he says. ‘Perhaps because it’s in the Round, it feels very connected and very intimate and I love playing there.’
As much as Siem isn’t a fan of the narrative that classical music has to reinvent itself and become more current, he does like the idea that, in recent years, it has been advertised in a way that might have encouraged more young people to get involved. Similarly, his forays into modelling have meant that he has opened the door of the musical genre to people who may not even be musical at all.
[Fashion and modelling] have given me exposure to a new audience. If there are just a couple of people that find a new and profound impact in the violin then that is enough for me
‘I have a little group of followers who aren’t musicians and have come to me through magazines and they’ve then become fascinated by classical music so that’s wonderful,’ he says. ‘It’s opened it up to new people and given me exposure to a new audience. There is even a group called the Charlie’s Angels. If there are just a couple of people that find a new and profound impact in the violin then that is enough for me.’
With so much passion for classical music, it’s unsurprising that Siem is the Artistic Director of a new music festival concept that will engage with so many different demographics – The New Generation Festival in Florence. ‘It’s the first installment in August and it’s a way of giving younger musicians a chance,’ he says.
‘The spirit of the festival is that it starts off classical, goes into jazz, before it ends with a DJ and a rave on the balcony of an old Corsini Palace. It’s a great concept.’
The New Generation Festival takes place from 31 August-3 September in Florence