Interview with David Garrett: Classical, rock crossover violinist

A world-class violinist, David Garrett has created a name for himself by performing and composing crossovers of classical, rock and popular music. Fusing the mellow violin with fast-beat modern tunes, he has created a harmony of sounds with his 300-year-old Stradivarius.

Garrett’s qualities involve his confidence, skill and ease. Born in Aachen, Germany, Garrett grew up playing the violin since he was 4 years old. At age 10, he performed in his first concert with the Hamburg Philharmonics, and at age 13, he was awarded an exclusive contract with the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.

Since then, he has created 14 albums such as “Rock Symphonies,” performing with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in 1995 and with the Swiss Festival Strings Lucerne in recent years. In 2008, he broke the Guinness World Record of becoming the world’s fastest violinist by performing “Flight of the Bumble Bee” in 1 min. 6.56 sec., saying that the achievement took all his life to perform to the utmost perfection.

Garrett currently performs worldwide on tours, playing anything from Beethoven’s symphonies to Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida.” In 2013, he created a film The Devil’s Violinist based on the life of Niccolò Paganini, an Italian virtuoso. His violin is an “A. Busch” Stradivarius (1716).

Here, has interviewed Garrett on his performances, achievements and philosophy on music: How did you get inspired to combine rock music with classical violin?

David Garrett: It’s something which happened gradually, something like ten or twelve years ago when I was still studying in college. I just looked at the important thing, and I figured, you always get influenced by the things that are happening around you. And I was able to do something which worked and matched.

TCC: When you moved from Germany to America, did you notice whether the culture of music was different?

DG: I really had no idea what Germany was about when I left. It was its own world. So I’m like, the general idea of what’s happening in Europe was very much for me the ordinary. And I really couldn’t compare it. I was homeschooled until I was 19 in high school, and then I came straight over to America from college.

TCC: With all the German music legends such as Bach and Brahms, did you ever feel pressured to follow them?

DG: Obviously when you play, there’s a responsibility to deliver. I think that every classical artist shows that. But I never compared myself to the past. You know, I have to be my own person.

TCC: What was your goal growing up?

DG: To be quite honest, I still haven’t figured out what my goal is. That’s probably why I still keep going.

TCC: How did you prepare for breaking the world record of playing the fastest violin song?

DG: I prepared probably all my life. I think, you know, I’ve been playing, and I start to practice slowly.

TCC: Did your parents inspire you to be a violinist?

DG: They certainly were there and were an inspiration to some degree. But in the end, it’s not that you’re like ten or twelve years old and you’re like, “Oh, I want to be a violinist.” It was never something I intentionally wanted to do. It just happened. It was something I’m good at. It was never saw it as a profession. For me, what I enjoy doing is making music. And everything else is something a little more complicated.

TCC: How did people recognize you from when you played your first concert?

DG: I obviously I started playing concerts, and I was very honored. People would spend more time and give [me] more attention. And then at some point, things started happening. I did work very, very hard as a kid. I think that really helped. Put me on the map at a young age. I think recognizing that in the end, it’s always a little bit of luck, but also a lot of work.

TCC: How did you get the piece of Niccolò Paganini in The Devil’s Violinist?

DG: I actually started this whole process, maybe three years ago. And then I wrote to three friends and said, “I pretty much talked to a couple hundred people.” And these stars, you know, they’re so big. At the end, you never know if they actually boil down until it’s actually done. So basically, my baby, which happened to turn out quite well, [was finally done]. I’m very happy, although it was a long, long process and very complicated.

TCC: How often do you practice every day?

DG: I practice two to three times every day, maybe 45 minutes to an hour. I really believe that it’s better to have a fresh brain and practice right than practice a long time.

TCC: What music do you listen to in your spare time?

DG: Oh, it’s probably the same stuff that people my age are listening to. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. I like classical once in a while.

TCC: At this point in your career, do you spend most of your time touring?

DG: Basically, touring is the life I have to go through with, and I still have fun. But mainly it’s like 160 degrees a week.

TCC: Do you write a lot of your own songs or mainly practice classical songs?

DG: Well, it’s a mixture. I mean, I love like writing, and I always love to put my own stuff on record. It’s a mixture between me arranging classical tunes and taking some of the popular, folk tunes and making them sound a little bit more classic.

TCC: When you were growing up, who inspired you?

DG: My brother. He started to play along—actually the two of us started out on piano—but he was more of a role model in our personal lives. He actually ended up becoming a lawyer.

TCC: What advice would you give to musicians who are just starting out?

DG: Don’t feel pressured by people. Have a good time. If it happens, it happens.

TCC: Do you ever feel nervous on stage anymore?

DG: Sometimes, it’s a little bit of nerve that keeps your mind awake. And often, when you’re on stage, you want to feel a little comfortable. Too much comfortable is actually counter-productive.

TCC: Do you have any final words?

DG: I just hope that people would enjoy my life, and hopefully, I can make somebody a little bit happier.

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