Violin virtuoso Charlie Siem is one of the world’s most promising young musicians, and an international style muse who has been the face of Dior, Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani and Dunhill. Recently featured in the May 2018 issue of Vanity Fair, Siem is seamlessly bridging the world of classical music, fashion and pop culture with the elegance he brings to the stage each performance. He was also profiled in The New York Times.
Born in London, Siem studied the violin at the Royal College of Music with Itzhak Rashkovsky, and later with Shlomo Mintz, whilst attending Eton College and Cambridge University. At only 30 years of age, he became the youngest Professor of Music in the UK (Leeds College of Music). He performs with one of the most rare instruments on the classical music stage -- a priceless 1735 Guarneri del Gesù violin once owned by the king of Prussia.
The classically-trained musician also works with many of the world’s finest orchestras (The Royal, the Moscow and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestras; the Czech and the Oslo National Symphony Orchestras) and conductors (including Charles Dutoit, Edward Gardner, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sir Roger Norrington, Libor Pesěk and Yuri Simonov) and performed for the Queen of Denmark.
Siem has also performed onstage with stars like The Who, Bryan Adams and Jamie Cullen, while winning a unique fan base including Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Karl Lagerfeld.
His dapper, elegant style and on-stage performances has caught the attention of the fashion world. Siem was photographed by Lagerfeld for Dior’s 2015/16 fall ad campaign, as well as the “Little Black Jacket” coffee table book by Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld, formerly of French Vogue. He has been named to Vanity Fair’s International Best Dressed List in 2014 and 2017.
Based in Monte Carlo, Siem travels the world for concerts, tours, private performances, marketing campaigns and editorial shoots.
Q&A with Charlie Siem:
Question: Did you always want to become a violinist?
Charlie: I’ve always played the violin -- I picked up on it when I was three and I've looked back. It was my mum who introduced me to the instrument. She used to play tapes of music and I really fell in love with it. The repertoire for the violin is particularly special, there’s so much variety. Some of the great pieces which I used to listen to as a child are absolutely inspirational and they really stimulated my imagination. And it was wanting to play this music myself that really led me into it.
Q: What are some of your fondest musical memories?
Charlie: When I was 11, I played in Israel, in Tel Aviv -- the Vivaldi concerto for four violins with Ida Haendel, one of the great violinists of all time, whom I studied with, and Shlomo Mintz, who is also my teacher. That was a great memory for me. Also, when I first played with the Oslo Philharmonic (I’m half Norwegian). I also remember playing with the Royal Philharmonic in Kenwood House, which is this big open-air venue in London, when I was 17. When I wrote my own piece, one or two years ago, and recorded this with the English Chamber Orchestra, that was a special moment for me because I’ve never written a piece before.
Q: How does being so well-traveled affect your music?
Charlie: Playing the violin is a very technical thing, and traveling is distracting in a way because the best way to be good at the violin is to stay in one place and practice very hard. But travelling is a great privilege and I enjoy it as much as I can. I don’t know if that affects the way you play, but I think it affects the way you enjoy music and what you get out of music. Your breadth of understanding is expanded when you travel because you see various different cultures, meet very different people and this opens you up. It makes you more aware of the differences in the world. And this allows you somehow to maybe be more generous in the way you express yourself in the music.
Q: You have also become a style ambassador and muse for designers like Karl Lagerfeld. When did this develop?
Charlie: By chance. I was playing a concert and I was asked the next day to be in the Dunhill campaign. I thought this was a great way to get exposure as a violinist and so I said yes. That’s how it started. I’ve done a few things in the fashion world and I continue to do things with those guys because I can meet a lot of interesting people and it doesn’t take much time. And I get paid very well!
Q: You make it sound very easy.
Charlie: If you’re lucky to work with great photographers, they make everything happen. It’s different than music but the same principles apply -- you really have at it. And it’s a challenge every time when you go on the stage to do the best you can and to be at your highest level.
Q: Why do you think the fashion world has taken such a liking to you?
Charlie: I’ve got my personal style and I feel strong about who I am. I don’t think of myself as a fashionable person. I don’t follow the fashion of today. I like clothes and I like style but I find my own style, which is not necessarily the fashion of today. I do something unusual for the fashion world to use – they don’t have many violinists that they use. It’s an unusual but kind of glamorous connection.
Q: What is your style secret?
Charlie: The key to me is wearing clothes that fit you in a very complimentary way and are tailored particularly to your body shape. And also not to be wearing very flamboyant clothes so that everyone looks at the clothes and they don’t look at you. You don’t want people to just notice the clothes and not the person. I don’t like too many colors – I keep it simple."