The Insider: Charlie Siem
"i wore a suit and tie, gaga wore a thong with spikes."
Ok, Charlie, I'm going to be totally honest and tell you I don't know much about classical music and it intimidates me a little - I can't be the only one! Of course not! I think it's the concept of classical that can alienate people but not the actual product. There's this preconceived idea that it's this boring guy who is going to play a song at you, but there's so much more to it than that. It's all in the way you decide to approach it. My suggestion is: with an open mind.
Did your parent expose you to a lot of classical fair as a kid? Or did you discover it yourself? Actually, my mom listened to a lot of Bruce Springsteen and my dad was into Elvis Presley! I don't have particularly musical family outside of my sister who is a cellist and singer-songwriter. When I was 8 or 9, I really got into some classical I head on the radio, especially violin and orchestral opera. So I kept listening and learning and it took me to a different place.
So did you end up broadening your parent's musical taste? Are you having orchestral jam sessions with your sister now? They learned it through me, but they love it now. And my sister and I haven't really played much together, but we definitely should! When I'm not listening to classical, I love a bit of Bowie, Pink Floyd, Gaga. It all has its place.
Now, you've performed for and alongside a pretty impressive list including Gaga, The Who, Stephen Hawking... which was the most memorable? Well, I loved playing with Bryan Adams. It was my first big show outside of my training. It was just me and Bryan and I had a long violin solo that was a welcome challenge. Playing with the Who was another great moment. They're so iconic. I love that era of the 60s and 70s.
What was it like performing with Gaga? Did she make you wear a crazy getup? Gaga is an amazing person with a great voice. She's so down to earth! I was very impressed. For the show, I was actually dressed quite normally. Basically, a suit shirt and tie.
And Gaga? [laughs] Well she was in a body stocking and a thong with spikes.
Naturally. And how was it shooting in a Little Black Jacket for Chanel with Karl Lagerfeld? You and Kanye are some the only guys featured in in the exhibit! Karl is an amazing guy! He is incredibly well informed and interesting to talk to. That was really a pleasure.
Any other exciting fashion moment for you? People really seem to like dressing you up! Well, Vivienne Westwood put me in her runway ballet and made me quite an outfit. It was very strange. I was performing in sequins breeches with a hole in the crotch and satin boxers with flames on them. She did my makeup herself! That was interesting.
Did you keep the look? Maybe you can bust it out at your Poisson Rouge show in NYC? I've still got it! Maybe we can start a rumor that I'll perform in that?
Now that's the ticket. How do you feel about being labeled the "world's hottest violin virtuoso"? Does the title ever distract from your actual music? I'm very flattered and I won't have the title forever. It doesn't distract me! I train every day and truly like to challenge myself to get better. Whatever may get someone to the show, there's no getting around that. It's about the music. I'm recording a new album in Germany soon and I'm excited for people to hear that.
Random question: are you good at math? They say classical musicians are. I'm actually not! I see why one might think that though. In order to deconstruct the music, you'd need a very mathematical brain. However, violin is pure melody and emotion, much like the voice. Someone like Bach must have had some kind of mathematical genius going on though.
And where should your average pop-listener start if they want to broaden their classical horizons? There's so much out there! Start anywhere. Maybe start with the romantic. But the key is how you decide to start. Get in the zone, listen over and over, really engage. I think it help to make up a story to go along with the music. We can all relate on a purely emotional level, so you'll just have to work on yourself to get the most out of it, and it's so worth it. Which really applies to life in general, doesn't it? I don't want to criticize pop music at all, but again like life, it can get so fast-paced that if you're not careful you won't get the most out of it. Go on a journey.
If you're in NYC, go see Charlie perform live at le Poisson Rouge 6/25 at 7pm. And follow Charlie's around the world at www.charliesiem.com. And if you're ready for a classical-tinged binge, be sure to check out Caitlin Moe + Mia Moretti or Ghosts & Flowers
Charlie Siem performing with Lady Gaga
Charlie shot by Karl Lagerfeld for Little Black Jacket
Charlie for Dunhill