Who is Vanessa-Mae and what does she contribute to music?

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Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Vanessa Mae Vanakorn Nicholson (27 October 1978) is the daughter of Vorapong Vanakorn (Thai) and Pamela Soei Luang Tan (Chinese). Vanakorn is a hotelier while Luang Tan is a concert pianist and lawyer. Born in Singapore and a British citizen, Vanessa Mae, known professionally as "Vanessa-Mae," has lived in London since she was four when her mother moved with her second husband, lawyer Graham Nicholson, and Vanessa back to England. Vanessa-Mae began playing piano at the age of three and added the violin at the age of five. Renowned as a child violin prodigy, Vanessa-Mae gave her first performance when she was nine and played at Germany's Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival and with London's Philharmonia Orchestra at age ten. At Eleven, she enrolled in London's Royal College of Music.

Vanessa-Mae's childhood accomplishments were in classical music. By age thirteen, Vanessa held the Guinness World Book record for being the youngest solo violinist to record the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky violin concertos. Vanessa-Mae had released three recordings under her mother's private record label, with the two violin concertos on a single recording, before she turned fourteen. By the end of her fourteenth year, she had completed an international tour with international tour as a featured soloist with the London Mozart Players and had signed a recording contract with EMI Records. Her general education continued apace under the guidance of professional tutors.

In the leisure time of her youth, Vanessa indulged her enjoyment of Michael Jackson and techno music. One condition of her contract with EMI granted her exclusive control over her performance and recording content, a condition that allowed her the freedom to "crossover" from classical to the genre of violin techno-acoustic fusion, as she describes it herself. As a fusion violinist, Vanessa-Mae is free to exercise her interest in many musical forms and to perform in the pop music genre as well as the classical arena. After transforming her child prodigy public image into one of a maturing ingenue (young, innocent adolescent), Vanessa-Mae began her first United Kingdom tour featuring a combination of classical and popular music. Her first EMI album was released when she was sixteen, The Violin Player. The album sold over two million copies and was number eleven on the U.K. pop charts, with one track from it, "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor," in the Top 40 lists for several weeks. She added her own vocals in two single releases in 2001, most notably her lyrical strains in "I Am a Doun."

Vanessa-Mae's youthful exuberance and trendy choices in performance and costuming caused not only some family controversy with her father, still living in Singapore, loudly objecting to the objectification of her young teen sexuality and her mother and adoptive stepfather defending her youthful, flamboyant approach to her stage presentation, it also caused public controversy. Her image--made over into the ingenue by producer Mel Bush with a video that includes, at the end of a montage of images of Vanessa-Mae playing "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" in sundry outdoors scenes, a shot of her standing, cold and in a gauzy white dress in the surf of the Mediterranean Ocean--caused some reasonable concern about teen and sexual exploitation. In the end, her mastery of and talent with the violin and comparisons to other contemporary classical music divas, such as Sarah Brightman, silenced the outcry though the concerns were not without foundation and continued until Vanessa-Mae was old enough for them to cease to apply. To celebrate the success of The Violin Player, Vanessa-Mae launched a 1995 tour of the United States that included an appearance on the "Tonight Show." Her outdoor concert in New York's Times Square was capped off when she leapt onto the roof of a taxi cab while never missing a note of music.

Instruments and Repertoire

  • For Classical selections: Guadagnini violin constructed in 1761 (received when she was ten years old).
  • For techno-fusion classical and popular: MIDI configuration on electric violin.
  • Electric violins: two Zeta Jazz Model Electric Violins, three Ted Brewer Violins.
  • Repertoire: from Brahms to Paganini to Kreisler to Ravel to syncopated rhythms.

Notable Performances

  • Buckingham Palace
  • Hong Kong Reunification Concert: "Happy Valley: The Reunification Overture"
  • Royal Albert Hall, London

Original Compositions

  • Violin Fantasy on Puccini's "Turandot"
  • Reunification Overture


Gloria Cooksey. "Vanessa-Mae." Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 26. Gale Cengage, 2006.

laurto | Student

Vanessa-Mae is a British (born in Singapore) violinist. She has a very unique musical style being described as "violin techno-acoustic fusion". She was a child prodigy and continues to be very successful. She contributed a new style of music to the traditionally classic instrument. 

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