Danish violinist Philippe Benjamin Skow has always been something of a musical phenomenon. Gifted his first violin at the age of two, by the age of five he made his first solo performance at Tivoli Concert Hall. And, by the age of nine, he debuted on television. Since then, Skow has been described as one of the most prominent violin virtuosos in Scandinavia and has graced numerous international stages — from the Opéra Garnier and the Emirates Palace to the Danish Royal Theatre and the Bergen International Festival.
“My goal is always to touch people’s hearts and emotions in a profound way,” he explains in an email interview with Denmark In New York. “Give them a unique moment to rest, reflect and, most importantly, feel on a deeper level.”
Now, on January 30th, Skow will bring his 300-year-old Stradivarius violin to the world famous Weill Concert Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City to perform Nordic Highlights: A Concert for Climate alongside Norwegian pianist Julie Coucheron. The concert, a selection of pieces from their upcoming Nordic Highlights album, is a testament to the Nordic commitment to nature and a vibrant soundtrack to the climate ambitions of our time.
Denmark In New York spoke to Philippe Benjamin Skow ahead of his concert about his career, future ambitions, and his inspiration for the upcoming Nordic Highlights: A Concert for Climate.
Denmark In New York: Philippe Benjamin Skow — you are an accomplished violinist who has played for Heads of Government and Heads of State. Tell us a little bit about how you matured your passion for music and the violin.
Philippe Benjamin Skow: At the age of two, the Concert Master of The Danish Royal Theatre gave me a violin as a Christmas present. Three years later, I gave my first solo performance in Tivoli Concert Hall. The violin has, therefore, always been a natural extension of me. Classical music is written by some of the world’s biggest geniuses. It is universal, evokes deep emotions and represents something that transcends time, borders and minds. Yesterday, a woman stopped me on the street to tell me how she had been profoundly touched when hearing me. To touch people’s hearts is what makes all the hard work purposeful.
Your upcoming concert on January 30th at New York City’s Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall is called Nordic Highlights: A Concert for Climate. How do you think artists and musicians can best wield music to highlight the climate crisis afflicting the planet?
PBS: Music is the communication of energy and strong feelings. It communicates, resonates and creates light and hope. This program represents the best Nordic composers and shows their great love for and appreciation of nature.
You will be accompanied by Norwegian pianist Julie Coucheron and will play a varied selection of Danish, Nordic and international composers. How did you conceive of and curate this particular program?
PBS: The whole program relates to nature and represents highlights from our upcoming album Nordic Highlights as well as our own personal favourites. These are pieces we have taken into our hearts, performed around the world, and which we, on a personal note, deeply wish to share with our audience.
What do you hope that your New York audiences will take away from the concert?
PBS: My goal is always to touch people’s hearts and emotions in a profound way. Give them a unique moment to rest, reflect and, most importantly, feel on a deeper level. This is something that can be difficult in our already-stressed lives surrounded by more and more superficial fulfilment. And it does not matter if my audience is composed of state leaders, professionals or first-time listeners.
You have already played at a number of legendary venues. And, on January 30th, you will be on stage at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. What kind of preparation do you undertake ahead of your performances at such esteemed venues?
PBS: It really is as the famous saying about Carnegie Hall goes: ‘Practice, Practice, Practice.’ Ten to twelve hours a day and not just physically but also mentally. The intensity of the practice is very much like that of tennis players in order to get every little detail perfect. The pressure is tremendous. But, once you are on stage, one’s focus makes you forget, and it becomes all about giving people a unique experience.
You are in the middle of an impressive career both in the private sector and in the world of classical music, where you have been performing since the age of five. What is your next big milestone?
Of course, performing at this venue on one of the world’s finest Stradivarius violins with my preferred and impressive pianist and friend Julie Coucheron represents the culmination of a longer journey of which I have dreamt ever since I was a child. It does not really get any bigger than that!
However, there are things I am also looking forward to in the near future. I have just been asked to open a live TV award show in Austria in front of a 2,000-strong audience. The show will also be broadcast live to the whole of Germany and Austria, feature performances by numerous major pop stars and will be attended by the Chancellor of Austria. That will definitely also be a great and fun experience.
Lærke Gammelgaard Winther is the Public Diplomacy Intern at Denmark In New York.