Photograph by Wendy Bevan
Photograph by Wendy Bevan

Wendy Bevan, musician, artist and photographer, on her violin

GB Tell me why you chose your violin.

WB I fell in love with the violin when I was seven and I started having lessons then. It’s such a timeless, fragile, unique piece of mastery, the way that it’s hand crafted and structured. The tiniest difference can make the tone sound different, the wood that’s chosen, the body, where it’s made in the world. It’s an incredible object.

GB This isn’t the same one you had at seven?

WB No but I have kept all my childhood violins. I have about four. The one I play now, I’ve had for seven or eight years. It was the first violin that was a really beautiful object to me that I wanted to buy. My violin was made in 1890 and has a name mark inside the body; it’s called Compagnon – indeed it has travelled with me all over the world, and will continue to do so.

GB At what point were you aware that there can be this huge difference in quality between violins?

WB You learn that quite early on. You need to learn on a fair violin.

GB What made you want to learn?

WB Classical music really inspired me as a kid. I must have seen Nigel Kennedy when I was about five years old, or somebody playing one. I’ve always loved the performance side of music and I love the beautiful etiquette of the violin as well as the flow when you’re playing. There’s a real discipline to playing the violin, but once you know the rules, you can break them. I love violinists like Warren Ellis who really use the sound of the violin in an experimental way.

GB So it’s more beautiful to you when you’re playing it than when you’re looking at it?

WB I love to see it being played and I love playing. I don’t let anyone else play my violin but I love to watch other people play, even a busker. I think the sound of it is so close to the voice that it really feels as though it comes from the soul or from the heart.

GB You work with lots of different art forms. Does classical music hold more beauty for you than others?

WB I don’t like to segregate the disciplines. I try to find a platform for all of them and in any form I use there’s an echo of my voice that makes it intrinsically mine. I guess my idea of the woman in my photography is very particular so there’s an ideal of beauty there but I don’t know if anyone else would agree with that. Beauty as a word implies so many things, like grace and elegance but also strength.

GB Do you think your violin is universally beautiful?

WB I think anything so finely crafted by hand, a process so considered and mastered over generations upon generations must surely be beautiful to anyone. There are all these secrets, like trying to work out how the Stradivarius violins were made. There’s a museum in Cremona in Italy where many Stradivari are kept and they have to play them every day to keep the body alive. Once a day, you can go there and listen to them being played. I think that would be a beautiful pilgrimage to make, to hear those incredible violins echoing through the streets of a small Italian town. I want to go one day.

GB How did you find your violin?

WB I searched for a long time and I played several and actually this one was a gift from someone I was in love with. It takes a long time to find the right one for you and of course the price range is so huge so you have to know what your budget is! Then you have the bow, which you buy separately too, which can be as expensive as the violin, depending on the weight of the bow.

GB Tell me about your music.

WB I’ve recently been working with the Balanescu Quartet who are featuring in my new music project that will be released next year. I’ve been working with a producer called Marc Collin who also has the band, Nouvelle Vague. I’m signed to the French label, Kwaidan, and my EP will be released in January 2016.

GB Can you describe what it will sound like?

WB It’s like a beautiful meeting of the very human voice of the violin and the rest of the Quartet juxtaposed with dark wave post punk electronic music!  I’m very proud to be working with them because what they’ve achieved as a Quartet through their work with people like Kraftwerk really suits what I’m doing. I also learned Eastern European folk music for a long time and that melancholia really comes across in the Quartet with their minimalist aesthetic.

GB Do you think that things are more beautiful when they’re offset against something dark or sad?

WB Yes I think so. You need the contrast of the dark and the light. I wrote a song called Rose and Thorn and it’s about exactly that: how the softness of the rose petal can allure you, but the things that hold the most beauty can often hurt you the most.

GB So can something be too beautiful?

WB I think we’ve lost our idea of beauty to a certain extent because we’re so concerned with the idea of perfection. We retouch photographic images and become a parody of ourselves. But we want to buy into a fantasy and the notions of fanstasy and beauty are intrinsically linked.

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

WB It’s Imperfection.

You can listen here to Slowlight, experimental album written by Wendy Bevan using the violin and synths, with music producer /sound artist Christos Fanaras. Slow light was part of an exhibition shown in London’s COB gallery in 2014.

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