Vanessa-Mae Vanakorn Nicholson was born October 27, 1978, in Singapore. Incidentally, she shares a birthday with the classical composer, Paganini. The daughter of a Chinese mother and Thai father, Vanessa relocated to London at the age of 4 with her mother.
By the time she was 3 years old, Vanessa was already taking piano lessons, and 2 years later, she began to study the violin. Despite her multi-talent at playing both the piano and the violin, Vanessa decided to focus on the violin, ironically after winning a prize at the British Young Pianist of the Year Competition.
The former (and youngest) student of Professor Lin Yao Ji of the Central Conservatoire of China, and of Felix Andrievski of the Royal College of Music in London, the wonderkid was set to hit the stage. She began performing early in her career, as she performed with the Philharmonie Orchestra at the age of 10.
Her skilled violin-playing was evident by audiences and especially those in the industry — the Director of the Royal College of Music even hailed Vanessa as a “true child prodigy, like Mozart and Mendelssohn.”
No doubt, even being compared to such classical greats is an honor in itself, and by the time she was 13, Vanessa had gone on an international tour with the London Mozart Players and recorded both Tchaikovsky’s and Beethoven’s Violin Concertos (making her the youngest in the world to have completed such a feat).
When Vanessa began to work on her album, The Violin Player, she already had 3 classical recordings under her belt, as well as her debut and sophomore albums, Violin and Kids’ Classics.
1995’s The Violin Player, which blends traditional and modern, electric violin sounds, spawned the pop song, “Toccata & Fugue”, which hit the UK charts. Vanessa made history yet again, as the only classical artist to have a Billboard Dance Chart Topper, with the dance remix of “Toccata & Fugue”.
The Violin Player (Japanese and Asian versions were also released) went multi-platinum with millions of sales worldwide, all the more reason to work on a follow-up album. In 1996, Vanessa’s The Alternative Record From Vanessa-Mae was released, along with The Classical Album, that same year.
1997 saw the release of China Girl and Storm (on which she sings), while The Original Four Seasons and The Devil’s Trill Sonata was released one year later.
Vanessa’s critical and commercial success is not what marks her as an artist in her own class; the awards and honors she has received reflect her achievements. In 1996, Vanessa was nominated for Best Female Artist at the BRIT Awards, blurring the lines between musical genres as the first instrumental and classical artist to receive this nomination. She also received the BAMBI International Classical Artist of the Year Award.
In 1997, Vanessa became a first again, as the first non-native of Hong Kong to be invited to perform at the China Re-Unification Ceremony. She even played to roaring crowds at the “Sopot Festival”, sharing the bill with Annie Lennox, and further proving her ability to blend rock into her music. Her performance at the World Series Playoff at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park have certainly helped boost her recognition in the US.
Vanessa was last heard on the album The Classical Collection — Part 1.
Featured in magazines like Time and Newsweek, and the subject of several documentaries, the talented musician has taken the violin to new heights and dimensions.