Ro/En. Charlie Siem is a symbol of the new generation of violinists, his talent and charisma contributing to the success and appreciation he enjoys internationally. He had his fashionable moments that made a whole new audience aware of his talent and also brought him close relationships with the greatest men in the industry. During the days he spent in Bucharest he gave us the opportunity to experience his performance at the Romanian Athenaeum, but also to have a lovely conversation about the universe that he creates every time he steps on stage.
The artist, who came to Romania for the first time to accompany the finalists of the International Contest of Conducting „Jeunesses Musicales” on September 28th, also held a wonderful Recital with pianist Marina Kan Selvik on September 30th at the Romanian Athenaeum. The two wonderful events that brought the talented violinist in Romania were organised by Elite Art Club for UNESCO and Ioana Adina Oancea, co-founder of Careless Beauty Romania. At the age of three, while in the car with his mother, Charlie Siem heard on the radio Beethoven’s violin concerto in Yehudi Menuhin’s performance. The instrument he played on at the Athenaeum is the legendary “D’Egville”, the violin that also belonged to Yehudi Menuhin.
While we’ve had the chance to experience a night of music and beautiful emotions at the Athenaeum, how has your experience in Romania been so far?
I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve never been to Bucharest before, never been to Romania before. It’s got a real character, it’s a bit of Europe. It somehow feels like it’s left in the past. There’s something like walking into a time machine. I think that in a good way, it’s got a character that’s not like Western Europe where, in a way, everything is the same now. You come here and it’s a different place, it’s got a soul, a little bit crumbling, the buildings are a bit shabby, which to me adds character because not everything is so smooth and plastic, perfectly finished and the same everywhere. Here, you get the sense of a separate individual personality. Romanian people are very warm, they seem to be very enthusiastic to have foreigners coming here and experiencing Romania.
What is home to you? Where do you feel safe and content?
My place is in Monaco, Monte Carlo and I’ve got an apartment in Florence, which is about a 3 and half hour drive from Monte Carlo. My home base is between those two cities, and I spend time back and forth when I am not playing. But home is a feeling. I like to feel at home, I bring my violin with me and I’m at home. If I’m making music, I’m at home. For me that’s the point.
Most artists say their art is their life. Is music your life? And what does this mean?
Yes, it is, although I would like to say no because I get fed up sometimes. I like to have a separate life from my art. But on the other hand, I do feel it means a lot to me, I work very hard and so it is as if my life depends a little bit on it. What does life mean to anyone? You are alive and you can experience food, and drinks, and people, and that’s great. But we all look for a central focus in our lives that gives us a sense of purpose and meaning, and that for me is music. On one hand, it’s scary to think that if I don’t have that my life would be meaningless but then I’m glad to have something that centres, focuses my life, and that gives every day a meaning, an objective and a sense of what I need to do to fulfil myself. I feel satisfied that I am making the best of what I’ve been given, of my potential, making the best of the possibilities that I have been given, of many privileges that I have grown up with. I guess music and the ability to express myself on the violin through music is to a certain extent a big dimension of meaning in my life.
What is about music that makes it a universal language?
I think a lot of people crave the abstract nature of music. It’s a form of communication and expression that doesn’t necessarily need to be totally specific. It’s a feeling, you respond in an emotional, completely intangible way. And I think we all need that. Music is like a prime force that people have createdsince we’ve become civilised, like any form of art, because we all have a deep need to connect both with ourselves and the outside world. It’s easier almost to do that with music than it is with more specific modes of communication because music is an open space, it’s time and sound waves that define a piece of music. Those are the materials of something completely abstract, totally ambiguous and you can use your imagination to go on a journey through music, and that’s what everybody loves. If you listen to Beethoven’s Symphony, you can relate to it on a personal level because you can use your own imagination and collaborate with Beethoven. I think music is very important to everyone in one way or another, whether it’s a David Bowie song, or a Beethoven Symphony. If you are a human being with feelings, with any kind of sensitivity, music is going to be an important aspect of your life, whether you are in Africa, South America or Europe. I also think of music from the communal aspect, bringing people together at a concert or around the fire when someone sings a song. We need to be with people and that’s a very easy way to connect with people. We are individuals, we all respond differently, but what is universal is that we want to respond, we want to have feelings, and we want to experience life in a kind of visceral expressive sensual level.
How do you handle the challenges of a live performance? Are there any left for you?
I am doing it because it’s a challenge, otherwise I would get bored, I would say „just listen to my CD”. I like performance because it’s something very immediate, in that moment I can connect with the audience and create something, an architecture of sound in that precise moment. You are walking in an unknown sphere, you don’t know how you are going to respond to the audience, how they are going to respond to you. All the aspects, the space that you are playing in, your instrument and how it responds to the environment, it’s all the unknown, so you are creating something from nothing in that situation. In many ways it’s a reflection of our universe, we were created from nothing. Music is like the Big Bang to me because you go out there with nothing, silence, everything stops and then you got to create a whole universe, a sound. So, it’s a huge challenge because you’ve got to bring that thing to life. And you never have a set routine, or a pattern, the way you do it, it’s always different. Connecting with the moment, the space around you, nothing specific. You need the collective, the energy to create that basis, that vibration that you can then ride off to build this architecture of sound.
Maybe we can talk about your appeal beyond the traditional fan base of classical music. What is about you that attracts such loving and devoted fans?
I’m so glad, I love it. I feel very lucky. The group is called Charley’s Angels. 11 Angels came to Bucharest from Philippines, from Japan, from Los Angeles, all around the world. I meet them after the performances, some of them I know well because they come to a lot of my concerts. It’s a fantastic group. I see some of them more than I see members of my own family.
You seem to have a lot of friends in the fashion industry. Who inspires you and who do you feel you have created meaningful connections with?
Yes, I’ve had my fashion moments, my fashionable moments.
Bruce Weber became a friend of mine. I stayed with him many times and I played for his birthdays over the years. And I was also kind of friends with Karl Lagerfeld as well, I used to spend a lot of time with him the last ten years before he died. I knew Karl through another friend, called Stephen Gan, editor-in-chief of V Magazine, and Stephen got in touch with me to do a feature in VMan, an article and a photoshoot. Then we became friends and he introduced me to Karl afterwards when we were in Paris one time.
When I was in Paris, I would always see Karl and had supper with him, I stayed with him in Saint Tropez. When he had his Chanel shows in New York or other places, I would be invited, and I would see him afterwards. He was very kind to me. He took many photos of me that I could use, and he put me in the Dior Campaign and in the Chanel Book (The Little Black Jacket). He gave me a lot of exposure, he was very generous to me. He loved music. His mom was a violinist and he had a close relationship with music.
Giambatista Valli is a great friend of mine. I love Giamba! I’ve known Giamba also for about ten years now. I played at the opening of one of his shows a few years ago and I see him whenever I am in Paris and in Italy as well. He is a fantastic guy, super chilled, lowkey, sweet, charming guy. And a very talented guy.
You were invited to perform at Karl For Ever, a tribute to the late designer.
I was at the tribute as a result of the relationship I’ve had with him. I went to Paris in November and I had supper with him, and he shot me for some magazine. He didn’t look that well but I had no idea that he was ill, so it was kind of a shock when I was told that he died. It was definitely sad. Each year I would see him a few times and that was for the last 10 years. It was always something I really looked forward to. It was really glamorous when you would see him, he was a wonderful person to spend time with because he was so erudite, so engaged, and for a guy in his eighties he was so interested and curious about other people. It was a great pleasure to spend time with him.
Are you interested in fashion or was your involvement over the years just something that happened?
I love clothes, I am not necessarily at fashion. The suit is made by my tailor, exactly to my specifications, the shirt is made by the shirt maker, exactly to my specifications, I don’t like to look like anyone else, so I don’t like designer clothes. I want it to be unique and I want it to be practical. I think style comes from functionality, wearing things that are designed to do something. That’s why I have clothes to wear on the stage because I am doing something specific and they are designed to be functional. I have suits that are made to be comfortable. So I can travel in them, move around all day, be comfortable and feel like at home, so that I can be relaxed as a human being whatever I am doing. I have them made so I can put a cigar inside the jacket, so whenever I feel like I need to sit down and smoke a cigar I can do it. Little things like that.
How important is the way you present yourself to the world?
I think that’s a question for everyone, whether you are on the stage or not on the stage. How you present yourself is an expression, is an art form in a way. How you feel during the day is sometimes a reflection of how you decided to present yourself, so it’s important, it’s not just a superficial thing. It’s like Karl used to say, people who wear tracksuits have given up on life. They can’t be bothered to make the effort to dress up for the moment. That’s why I have 70 suits. Every night I go out for dinner I put on a suit, I put on a silk shirt and a tie, and I go wherever I am going. It’s like a ceremony, it’s the end of the night and I feel great. I practise at home and I usually have on just a dressing gown. So, at the end of the day, I want to get dressed up.