*published on CBS Watch magazine
IF MUSIC IS THE FOOD OF LOVE, may Charlie Siem play on. A one-man argument that there is an instrument sexier than the saxophone, Siem has managed to bridge the classical world with the cutting edge. He has played with the London Symphony Orchestra—with whom he recently released his third recording—and he’s performed with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and Boy George. He’s privately serenaded the likes of Lady Gaga, Patti LaBelle and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, and he’s the face (and body) of the British fashion house Dunhill.
Not bad for a 25-year-old whose instrument of seduction is a circa 1735 Guarneri del Gesu d’Eguille violin.
Siem, who was educated at Eton and Oxford, remembers being 3 years old and hearing his first Beethoven violin concerto on the radio. The London native begged his parents to learn to play, and he has never looked back. He rakishly describes the relationship with his violin as one with a lover: “She is an intense mistress. My life is consumed by playing the violin. It requires unending attention from me, and I so happily give it. Day in and day out, for now it is the most rewarding relationship in my life.”
Which isn’t to say Siem doesn’t dabble here and there. After meeting the fashion photographer Mario Testino, he was asked to play at a book party for supermodel Kate Moss. “I went and played Paganini’s Caprice, and as luck would have it the casting agent from Dunhill was at the party. He asked me to do the campaign and that’s it. Really, it’s random.”
Perhaps random if you look like that. Yet Siem seems unfazed by the notoriety in his native England, thanks to what he calls a “watertight mind.” Siem explains, “It’s basically the idea that you don’t let anything creep in to corrupt. The slightest little drop of water will creep in and ruin the entire temple. All it takes is the glimmer of a doubt to creep in and ruin the entire project. You seal up your mind so that you don’t let insecurities or personal issues ruin the overall well-being.”
Siem has faced criticism for his theatrical playing style, which he calls “the virtuosic side of the violin,” but it is wrought from endless practice. “I am at the beginning of my career where you develop your technique and add tools,” he says humbly. But his modesty masks a determination that would make the most ambitious pop star proud: Inside his violin case is a photograph of the eyes of a tiger, which remind him to stay the course.
“They are a metaphor for me as a performer dealing with pressure. Just see the eyes of the tiger,” he says. “Go to the edge of risk. When you feel at your most challenged is when you will do your very best. It is the challenge to overcome your biggest fears, which are also your biggest desires.”