Teenage violin virtuoso stakes claim to place on world stage with £1m deal

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The Independent Culture

She may not have won Pop Idol or the X Factor, but Nicola Benedetti is about to become a household name and one of the highest-paid performers of her generation after agreeing a £1m-plus, six-album record deal.

The 17-year-old violinist, who last May became the first Scot to win the BBC Young Musician of the Year award, has been signed to Universal Music, the most prestigious classical label in the industry. Her first CD will be released in the spring.

Benedetti, who was born in Ayrshire and has been playing since she was four, already commands more than £10,000 for a 20-minute recital and has the talent and looks to combine a career as a serious classical musician with popular mass-market appeal.

Between modelling, advertising and other personal appearances, she has been booked for a series of UK and US performances this year. But comparisons with the violinist Vanessa Mae are not welcome. Mark Wilkinson, Universal's head of classics, said Benedetti was probably the most exciting prospect in the classical music world at present, and he added: "There won't be any wet T-shirts or club DJ remixes."

The violinist also signalled that she was keen to avoid the popularity seeking tactics of groups such as the female string ensemble Bond. She said: "I have not ruled out different types of music but I was trained as a classical musician. I don't want to compromise what I do and what I love.

"The only reason many young people don't appreciate classical music is because they don't get to hear it. If I can change that I will be happy. I want to do something I believe in and I believe in classical music."

When Benedetti was just eight, she led the National Children's Orchestra of Scotland. At 10, she left home in East Kilbride to train at the Yehudi Menuhin school in Surrey and became Young Musician Of the Year when she was 16.

Since then, she has performed at the opening of the Scottish Parliament, played at the Wigmore Hall and been nominated for Best Breakthrough Artist in The Times South Bank awards.

She has completed her debut album for Universal/ Deutsche Grammophon with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Harding, 29, who was recently appointed principal guest conductor of the LSO and music director of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

She is also scheduled to play at the world premiere of a symphony written in Edinburgh's honour by the composer Robert Farnon, a performance billed as the city's "biggest artistic and social event" of 2005. And there are plans for two potentially lucrative tours of the United States, which could propel the teenager into the league of international superstars.

Bill Holland, the divisional director of Universal's classics and jazz, said: "A combination of prodigious talent and her natural personality have made her the leading young face of classical music and an inspiration to young musicians.

"We decided to announce the contract in Scotland because that is where Nicola already has a substantial fan base. We are looking at her as a local hero who has the talent and personality to go much further. This is a huge deal and I can't think of anything over the past 25 years which would equate to it."

Benedetti was at the centre of a political row last year when Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell was criticised for rushing to congratulate the Pop Idol winner, Michelle McManus, while failing to send a letter of congratulation to Benedetti, when she won the less popular Young Musician of the Year.

Although Universal refused to discuss how much the deal is for, an insider said it was easily worth more than a million and compared Benedetti's talent to that of Nigel Kennedy. "He's a classical musician in the same way," the source said. "He didn't compromise but his version of the Four Seasons sold millions of records."