David Garrett has accomplished what few other classical musicians have been able to do: cross over into mainstream popularity. With his covers of pop songs (and his good looks) the young violinist is almost as much a pop star as classical musician.
Garrett was born in 1980 in Germany to an American ballerina and a German antiques dealer. Wanting to copy his older brother, he started taking violin lessons when he was four. But Garrett soon took a serious interest in the instrument and began entering local competitions. At age 7, he entered the prestigious Lübeck Conservatory. At age 10, he performed with the Hamburg Philharmonic, and then a year later performed for German president Richard von Weizsäcke. Three years later, he signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophone, making him the youngest artist to sign with the company. By the time he enrolled in London’s Royal College of Music in 1997, he already had as much performing and recording experience as many of its current students.
Only one semester into his studies in London, Garrett dropped out after being threatened with expulsion due to skipping class. Two years later, in 1999, he enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and became one of Itzhak Perlman’s first students. He graduated in 2004 with a degree in musicology and composition. (He had won Juilliard’s highly competitive composition competition a year earlier.)
Since then, Garrett has committed himself to bringing classical music to a younger, wider audience. He once said, “In my eye, the Paganinis, Liszts, and Chopins of the 19th century were the world’s first rock stars.” This philosophy has guided his career choices. In 2007, he released the album Free, which featured a mixture of works by Paganini, Rimsky-Korsakov, Leonard Bernstein, and the metal band Metallica. In 2010, he released Rock Symphonies, a full album of violin interpretations of classic rock songs. Since then, his albums have contained a mixture of classical and contemporary covers, as well as his own compositions. His 2011 album Legacy, became Germany’s highest-charting classical album of all time.
Eschewing traditional orchestra tours, Garrett prefers instead to tour solo in promotion of his albums. Taking advantage of his good looks, he’s also done a bit of modeling work. He’s said that he did small modeling gigs to pay his way through Juilliard, and in 2007, he signed with the high-end pen company Montblanc to promote their Tributo ad Antonio Stradivari collection. A year later, GQ named him one of their Men of the Year.
If it’s true that classical musicians from centuries past were the rock stars of their time, they would be proud of David Garrett and his career. A thoroughly unique musician with a thoroughly unique sound, Garrett has paved his own road from a very early age. Though he has classical training that would rival any other famous violinist, his career resembles that of a pop star. Now a household name around the world, Garrett has been successful in his mission to make classical music mainstream again.