Violinist David Garrett Rocks A New Audience

On his new CD, classical violinist David Garrett performs works from some of the great composers like Vivaldi and Bach. But he also draws from some more contemporary composers: Metallica, Michael Jackson and Bill Withers. Garrett talks about how he started on the violin and how he hopes to bring new audiences to core classical performances with a little help from rock bands like AC/DC.

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David Garrett, a 27-year-old violinist and crossover artist, brought his violin into our New York studio the other day and enthusiastically unpacked it.

Mr. DAVID GARRETT (Violinist): Do you have any, like - do you listen to classical music a bit?

SIEGEL: Yes, yes, of course, yes.

Mr. GARRETT: Any favorite violin concerto, sonata you want to listen?

SIEGEL: And within seconds, he was fiddling away at the Bruch violin concerto.

(Soundbite of music)

On his new CD, Garrett plays music by Vivaldi, Bizet and Bach but also by Michael Jackson and Metallica. He and the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra managed to really get into Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."

(Soundbite of song, "Ain't No Sunshine")

David Garrett is a likely classical pop star. While he was at Julliard, he made some money modeling. He's got long, blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. He's the son of a German father and an American mother. He was born and raised in Germany and began playing when he was about 5 years old. He was inspired by that all-purpose childhood motivator: sibling rivalry.

Mr. GARRETT: Obviously when my brother got, I don't know, a new pair of sneakers or a new bike, or a new Gameboy, I always was, you know, needed to have the same. So it's the same with instruments, always kind of took it from him, and to be quite honest, he later told me it was the most happy moments because he hated to practice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And he kind of, you know, gave me the violin at some point and said, you know, you do it. You sound better than me. I'm out of this.

SIEGEL: And obviously, you've been a classical musician all this time, but you've clearly been listening to all the popular music that's around you.

Mr. GARRETT: Definitely. I mean, popular music has been quite a huge influence, and, you know, I always try to, of course, work very hard on the classical material, but, you know, it is a big influence in everybody's life. So I just try to mix it up here and there with what I also do classically.

(Soundbite of song, "Thunderstruck")

SIEGEL: One of the pieces that you recorded for the new CD, David Garrett, is "Thunderstruck." Tell me a little bit about that tune.

Mr. GARRETT: Well, huge fan of AC/DC, definitely one of the great rock bands. And "Thunderstruck" has something very particular, that riff in the beginning, which is just made for the violin as well as the guitar.

(Soundbite of song, "Thunderstruck")

SIEGEL: Now, you say it's just made for the violin…

Mr. GARRETT: Yeah.

SIEGEL: …as much as for the guitar, but one thing you don't get with the violin is you don't get that shrieking, huge volume of an electric guitar.

Mr. GARRETT: That was the only track we actually used a little bit of an electric violin in the middle section, as you can actually hear in the background, but we kind of mix it up. The middle section again is with, you know, my Stradivarius, which is an acoustic violin, but I did want to have that kind of power, that kind of, like, roughness in the sound. So, you know, I have to kind of switch it up.

(Soundbite of song, "Thunderstruck")

SIEGEL: Lead track on your new CD is from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"…

Mr. GARRETT: Right.

SIEGEL: …the concerto "Summer."

(Soundbite of song, "Summer")

It's interesting. This is Vivaldi. On the other hand, this is also David Garrett that we hear.

Mr. GARRETT: Well, I think it's always important, if you do something for a record like this, to really be creative with the pieces, maybe take a popular rock tune and do a little bit more of an orchestration around it, or do the opposite, take something, which is a baroque piece like the last movement out of the "Summer" from Vivaldi, and just, you know, twist it around a little bit and make sure it has a more contemporary sound, and I hope I succeeded.

(Soundbite of song, "Summer")

SIEGEL: Do you get a lot of this from middle-aged classical music lovers, a lot of expectation that you could be the great young hope of classical music - that you might draw young audiences in to hear at least a version of Vivaldi and a version of Bizet?

Mr. GARRETT: You know, funnily enough, actually, it does happen in Europe and Asia. You know, all my audiences are, like, really, really young, and if I may say so, not only with the crossover material, but I think through the crossover. You totally build a bridge to connect with an audience, which, you know, might have a little bit of a hesitation with that kind of music. And if everything goes well and they fall in love with it, I think they are definitely open to take the next step and just, you know, maybe core classical music because that's basically the plan, sort of.

SIEGEL: That's the plan here.

Mr. GARRETT: That is the game plan.

SIEGEL: This is the Trojan horse, your crossover album as well.

Mr. GARRETT: Well, you know, if you want to say it like that, but I think it's - in a good way.

SIEGEL: It opens up when the Bulgarian Symphony comes out.

Mr. GARRETT: In a good way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, David Garrett, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. GARRETT: Absolutely. My pleasure.

SIEGEL: David Garrett's new CD is called "David Garrett."

(Soundbite of music)


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