Tiny Desk

Charlie Siem

Charlie Siem: Tiny Desk Concert

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137180824/137186996" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Charlie Siem is, literally, the very model of a modern major violin star. At just 25, he's already appeared on the world's great concert stages, as well as the pages of Italian Men's Vogue magazine. He's also the 2011 spokesman for Dunhill, the men's fashion house. For his Tiny Desk Concert appearance, you could say Siem dressed "casual, but with an understated elegance," right down to his left-hand pinky, with its pink-painted fingernail.

When he was 3, Siem heard the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin play Beethoven's Violin Concerto. That was all it took to inspire him to pursue the violin. Siem studied at Eton and the Royal College of Music, and now he plays one of Menuhin's old violins — a stunning 1735 Guarneri del Gesu.

As it turns out, fiddling runs in the family. Siem recently discovered that he's related to the 19th-century Norwegian violin virtuoso and composer Ole Bull. Fittingly, Siem started off his Tiny Desk show with Bull's bucolic Cantabile. But then the fireworks began. Paganini's Variations on "Nel Cor Piu" (an aria from a now-forgotten Paisiello opera), contains a grab bag full of violin special effects. Watch Siem as he tosses off the left-hand pizzicato, double-stop harmonics and spiccato bowing as if he were buttering bread. I'm confident that many of my colleagues gathered to hear Siem had never witnessed playing on that level. I saw a few jaws tilted toward the floor.

Siem ended with another nod to past violin virtuosos — a charming little waltz, "Old Vienna," by Leopold Godowski, in an arrangement by the incomparable Jascha Heifetz. With playing this vigorous, technically strong and thoughtful, the young Charlie Siem should be guaranteed a considerable career. Along the way, his sense of style and good looks won't hurt.

Set List

  • Ole Bull: Cantabile
  • Paganini: Introduction and Variations on Paisiello's "Nel Cor Piu"
  • Godowsky: Alt Wien (arr. Heifetz)


Filmed and edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Mito Habe-Evans

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Agnes Obel performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 9, 2016. (Raquel Zaldivar/NPR) Raquel Zaldivar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Raquel Zaldivar/NPR

Tiny Desk

Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel brings the Tiny Desk three alluring and powerful songs.

Esme Patterson performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 1, 2017. (NPR) NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Esmé Patterson

Esmé Patterson has dropped the banjos and folk from her previous project Paper Bird, and in their place are electric guitars and a backing band worth getting behind.

Run the Jewels perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 12, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Run The Jewels

Killer Mike and El-P continue to out-muse each other in a supergroup that somehow seems to get better, louder, and more pertinent since their start in 2013.

Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Ben Folds

Performing solo, Folds performs three songs from his new album and two old favorites.

Tiny Desk Concert with Chelsea Wolfe. Ariel Zambelich/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ariel Zambelich/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chelsea Wolfe

Wolfe takes three songs from the metallic Abyss and makes them howl by their lonesome.

Tiny Desk Concert with Car Seat Headrest. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo is a wordsmith with a vision, as well as a DIY sound that's still finely crafted.

Tiny Desk Concert with EL VY. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tiny Desk


The National's Matt Berninger and Menomena's Brent Knopf team up in an intimate setting.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Arcs. Jessica Mowery/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jessica Mowery/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Arcs

It's our 500th show at the Tiny Desk, featuring The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and his new band.

Tiny Desk Concert with Wolf Alice. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tiny Desk

Wolf Alice

The band's music can be noisy and primal, but at the Tiny Desk it showed a different side.

Tiny Desk Concert with River Whyless. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

River Whyless

The North Carolina band fills its rootsy music with unexpected instruments and clever ideas.

Back To Top