undefinedSteve Bingham1

 Steve Bingham is acclaimed worldwide as an eclectic and sensitive musician who has a great rapport with audiences of all ages. He is also renowned as an educator and technophile. His quartet returns to Benslow this May to deliver a special weekend devoted to coaching pre-formed quartets. We caught up with Steve to discuss the course, his new album, his colourful career and more!

Steve, thank you for speaking to Benslow Music. Please tell our readers what drew you to a career in music.

It’s strange looking back: I began playing the violin almost by accident, aged seven when my then-best friend decided to give it a go. He gave up quite quickly but by the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a violinist!

You studied classical violin at London’s Royal Academy of Music. Please tell us more about your experience at the Academy and how it prepared you for a career as a professional musician.

Having been lucky enough to have had two good teachers by the time I got to be 18, it was clear that the best pathway would be a music college and since my teacher at that time, Michael Bochmann, had been to the RAM, it was a logical choice. I had also, by then, got the string quartet bug and so my time there was really split between violin lessons and chamber music. However, perhaps the most useful opportunities whilst at the Academy were those that allowed me to meet and work with established musicians – taking on outside concerts and meaning that I had work contacts once I graduated and was out on a precarious freelance career!

Your career includes exploring non-classical music, with eclectic solo recitals using electric violin and live-looping, alongside gigs with a variety of rock, pop and folk bands. What encouraged you to pursue these alternative paths?

As a teenager, I had listened to exclusively classical music, but my cousin (composer Colin Riley) had a much more eclectic taste, and I was aware of his interest in prog rock and other genres. I finally discovered this rich vein of non-classical music whilst at the RAM – exploring second-hand record shops in London, and I have been a firm fan of bands like Yes, Rush and Genesis ever since. I never really thought about playing in different styles, or using electric violins and technology, until about 1999 when I met guitarist Jason Carter. It was his encouraging me to play in a world music band he had formed, and my subsequent meeting with their bass player, Steve Lawson – known for his live-looping – that finally made me realise the opportunities available to a solo violinist.

After releasing my first solo album, Duplicity, in 2007, I was approached by rock and pop artists with playing and recording opportunities, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. I firmly believe that embracing other styles and genres has very positive effects on my playing.

Your extensive portfolio covers many music genres, from unaccompanied Bach to interpretations of classic Peter Gabriel tracks. What draws you to a composition of music?

That’s hard! I like a huge variety of styles, but tend to particularly enjoy interesting use of harmonies and unexpected musical juxtapositions. But I’m also drawn to minimalism and can thoroughly enjoy a good formulaic pop song too! From a live-looping perspective, I do often tend to listen to a new piece while thinking “Could I do a looped version of that?” However, but I’m now trying out pieces with backing tracks, electronic parts and more – which is widening the scope of what I can do beyond just looping. My latest album, Cuckoo, is an example of this, with seven new pieces I have commissioned over the last few years, covering acoustic violin, multi-tracked violins, looping, electronic backing, delay effects, and even pre-recorded bird song….and played on an acoustic violin, a de-tuned acoustic violin, a 5-string electric violin and a 6-string electric violin.

You have a long-standing interest in wildlife and a growing collection of bird photographs. Many artists claim their interests or hobbies feed or shape their artistry. To what extent has your interest in wildlife shaped your approach and appreciation of music?

To be honest, I don’t think there’s a direct link here: I got into birdwatching via my Dad in about 1977 and I find it’s a way to get me out into the countryside and not thinking about music. Obviously, there are links to wildlife in a variety of pieces of music, but I don’t specifically feel that my interest in natural history has shaped my music, but rather been a foil to it – a way to allow me to relax. Perhaps the only real link is that sometimes I do some of my best thinking whilst out birding, and so an idea for a new piece of recording might take shape at these times.

Benslow Music provides inspirational lifelong learning for all ages. What advice would you give to our students?

For me, the key thing is that people at Benslow are making music at whatever age: Having the facilities and atmosphere that are available at Benslow Music allows many people to expand, improve and enjoy their music-making – an altogether good thing.

My advice, such as it is, would be to keep doing it! Music has so many benefits and is an unending resource that we can explore throughout our lives. For me, the opportunities to play in a string quartet, which I began to do in 1982 and continue to this day, are amazing and have kept me musically and technically engaged for over 40 years.

undefinedSteve Bingham Album 

Please tell us more about your solo album “Cuckoo”, and what listeners can expect.

Cuckoo, as I mentioned earlier, comprises of works I have specifically commissioned from composers I knew. My previous 5 solo albums had included some new pieces but were deliberately mixed and eclectic. But having decided that I really wanted to do an album of new pieces written for me I have been delighted that the result is still eclectic: Any worries about ending up with seven difficult to listen to and very contemporary pieces were quickly dispelled!

I played the whole album live for the first time recently, in Ely, and was delighted by the audience reaction: People were amazed by the sheer variety of music the seven talented composers had come up with! There’s modernistic, emotional, and exciting writing for a single acoustic violin (by Kevin Flanagan and Steve Crowther, Medieval dance music on multiple violins (by Sadie Harrison), and a work with a highly inventive and driving electronic backing, with dance elements and palindromes (by Wayne Siegel). Alongside these are three specifically palindromic pieces for two violins, ranging from manic to reflective (by Colin Riley), a piece written in lockdown and inspired by birdsong, utilising both acoustic and electric instruments and effects (by Simon Speare), and finally the title track of the album, a minimalist tour-de-force (by Rowan Alfred), which revolves around my own 2015 field recording of cuckoos in East Anglia! (…perhaps my hobby does sometimes influence my music after all…)

You return to Benslow this May with the Bingham Quartet. Please tell us more about the quartet’s origins and what students can expect from your two and three-night courses.

The great thing about a Benslow course for my Quartet is the opportunity to work with a variety of pre-formed quartets, passing on some of the things we’ve learned about this fascinating genre over the years, and giving a concert on the first evening: A chance to do what we all love – share some of the amazing string quartet repertoire with an audience.

And the various groups on the course get plenty of coaching from all four members of the Quartet. This provides the chance for the members to gain insights into the music they are playing from the differing perspectives of myself and my colleagues – something which I hope is of value.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently quite busy with the Quartet, as we have a wonderful new 2nd violinist, Hilary Sturt (our previous player, Marina, had to move to Cologne – not easily viable for regular rehearsals!), with whom we are learning lots of repertoire for upcoming concerts.

I also have another live performance of the Cuckoo album in Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, on Saturday 8thJune, and an exciting concert in Ely on 22nd June called Re: Imagine, featuring film composer Max Richter’s recomposing of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, chorale harmonisations by J S Bach, and arrangements of film music by Michael Nyman, with my string ensemble Ad Hoc Strings.

Where can our members and followers find out more about you?

General information about me, plus concert listings for both myself and the Bingham Quartet, can be found on my website – stevebingham.co.uk – where there are also video links and more. Various recordings are available on my Bandcamp store here – music.stevebingham.co.uk

Finally, I have a YouTube channel with quite a lot of fun arrangements I’ve filmed over the years: youtube.com/stevebinghamviolin


For further information on the Bingham Quartet Courses please visit the following links:

String Quartets with the Bingham (2 night option)

Fri 24 - Sun 26 May 2024
Tutors: Steve Bingham, Hilary Sturt, Brenda Stewart, James Halsey

String Quartets with the Bingham (3 night option)

Fri 24 - Mon 27 May 2024
Tutors: Steve Bingham, Hilary Sturt, Brenda Stewart, James Halsey