Samson Diamond

Samson Diamond is an internationally acclaimed violinist with a string of awards to his name. His latest accolade, ushering in his return to South African stages, is the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music 2010.

"This award is a wonderful validation and comes at a time when I am returning to South Africa to develop an audience from differing ends of the spectrum, both the classical and the light listener alike," said Diamond. "I must admit that it is truly unexpected, and wholly humbling that, having walked such a short path, I have been recognized."

Diamond matriculated from the National School of Arts in Johannesburg in 2001, with a distinction in Music. He then went on to study in Manchester, obtaining a Masters of Music Performance degree (with distinction) in 2007 from the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), where he also obtained a Bachelor of Music honours degree (first class, with distinction). He has studied violin under world-renowned teachers such as Philippe Graffin, Pauline Nobes, Richard Ireland and Rosemary Nalden.

"I think of a musical journey as a stream of water. It flows from one point to the other, with no definite point of where it begins or ends," said Diamond. "Personally, I think that the awareness of my musical journey began when I felt wholly liberated by music and that elevated me to another sphere, where beauty transcended earthly struggles."

Some of the awards that Diamond received during his studies include the RNCM Eric Nicholson Bow Prize, the RNCM Major Entrance Award, Edward Heaton Scholarship as well as the RNCM Philip Newman Violin Prize. In 2006/07 he was a candidate for the Hallé Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic professional experience schemes, and a recipient of the Charles Hallé Award in 2007/08.

"Awards to young artists are imperative in the struggle of practicing your art," said Diamond. "There are many hours one spends practicing as a violinist, or any other instrumentalist for that matter, and it makes it worthwhile if one is rewarded at the end.  Awards are inspiring, encouraging and motivating for young artists, as they may help the artist not to alter their aspirations because of a lack of financial support or recognition."

Apart from winning exceptional awards, Diamond has also won sought-after scholarships, including the Buskaid Charitable Trust, the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and the RNCM's Canon Collins Trust.

Diamond said that he wanted to use his Young Artist's year to collaborate and perform. "My philosophy is 'the further you go, the further there is to go'. Never stop searching. I look forward to performing to South African audiences," said Diamond. "Of course, there will be high expectations, but what standards can you produce without expectation?" 

No stranger to high expectations, Diamond's music gift has brought him before royalty. Some of the distinguished guests that he has performed for include Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II, The Duke of Edinburgh, HRH The Duke of York, Tony Blair, Thabo Mbeki, Gerhard Schröder, and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

"Samson is a natural performer and such an approachable person. He is a delight to work with and as one of the most talented of the new generation of string players to come out of SA," said popular South African conductor Richard Cock, who is on the National Arts Festival committee for music. "This award will give him the profile and boost he needs to put him in the limelight, and to show South Africans what amazing talent we really have!"

At the beginning of 2009, Diamond toured Europe, performing at prestigious halls including the Berlin Philharmonie in Berlin, Bela Bartok National Concert Hall in Budapest, and the Musikverein in Vienna, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.

As a freelance violinist during 2007 and 2008, he worked for the Hallé Orchestra, the Academy of St Martins in the Fields, the BBC Philharmonic, Manchester Camerata, and the Academy of Ancient Music, gaining experience under world-renowned conductors including Sir Neville Marriner, Sir Mark Elder, Gianandrea Noseda, Yan Pascal Tortellier, and Stanislav Skrowacevski.

In March 2007 he appeared as co-leader of the Freedom 200 orchestra at the national commemoration service for the bicentenary of the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Act at Westminster Abbey. During September and October 2008 he toured South America, Germany, and Austria with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder.

Diamond is also a former leader of the internationally acclaimed Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, from its inception in 1997. As a leader of the Buskaid Ensemble, he made five recordings to date and successfully collaborated in concerts with international artists such as Steven Isserlis and Bernarda Fink, and with members of the English Baroque Soloists, as well as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He performed at the 2007 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall with the English Baroque Soloists and Montiverdi Choir conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and as leader and member of the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble.

"This Standard Bank Young Artist Award grants me a platform to re-introduce world-class music to an audience that may have not been particularly interested. Coming from Soweto, and being a classically trained violinist is quite unique, so I want to share with people and demonstrate through my skills that perhaps differing musical perceptions suggest a lack of understanding and not a lack of appreciation," said Diamond about his expectations of South African audiences, and the year to come.  "It's the same with sport. When people do not understand a certain sport they tend not to appreciate or follow it."

Diamond is no stranger to South African audiences, and has appeared as a soloist with leading orchestras in South Africa in 1997, 1999 and 2002, including the Buskaid Ensemble under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner.  In 1999, on tour with the Buskaid Ensemble, he performed as a soloist in a community concert with L'orchestre Nationale d' France.

In June and July of 2008, he worked with the Haringey Young Musicians in London as violin coach and soloist, visiting schools in North London and introducing classical music to under-privileged communities. He also toured Jamaica with the Haringey Young Musicians. In July 2009 he extended his community service reach to his home country, where he directed and appeared as soloist with the string ensemble from the South African National Youth Orchestra.

Diamond has received master classes from members of the Endellion String Quartet, the New Zealand String Quartet, and regular chamber lessons with Alisdair Tait and the late Dr Chris Rowland. The Diamond Quartet has participated at the London String Quartet Symposium 2007, where they received master classes from top internationally acclaimed chamber musicians including Andras Keller, Johannes Meissl, Christoph Richter, Seppo Kimanen, Roger Tapping and Vladimir Mendelssohn.

Diamond said that he now wants to "pay it forward" to young people in South Africa by demonstrating how they can empower themselves through music to be ambassadors of excellence in whatever they strive for in life. "This is vital for our youth, whom I think are now being seduced by the acquisition of material possessions and less work," said Diamond. "The essence of art is an act of conscious intention by rule, preliminary and preparatory design. I wish to demonstrate with this opportunity that determination of self-expression is what we should aim for. Music expresses externally what we conceive internally," said Diamond.

Photographer: Suzy Bernstein

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