Review: Nigel Kennedy @ SDH
Nigel Kennedy is a curious kind of beast.
For the past twenty-five years, he has seen success after success as a violinist in concert and on CD. His popularity is abundant and people who aren’t even fond of classical music love him. Come to think of it, he looks and sounds nothing like a concert violinist.
That’s what makes him so unique. His flair is in both his playing and his appearance. His apparently made up accent and fashion sense have ruffled feathers in the past. I certainly agree with Kennedy in his repulsion for the arrogance and snobbishness that is sadly associated with classical music. Something which needs to be eradicated.
Before going into the concert, it dawned on me that tickets to see this famous name in classical music were nearly £40, although I can’t complain since I have on numerous occasions been generously given press tickets. But if Kennedy wanted to tear down the elitism of classical music, then prices are simply too high to do this. I scoffed at paying £5 for a programme, but still bought one (it helps with the review). With his background, he should know better than this (his teacher, the great Yehudi Menuhin, paid for all his fees). I’m sure he has done master classes with children and other charitable ventures, but I just can’t get over the ticket prices. The sad fact is people will pay this today.
I did look forward to see what he would wear. It turned out to be his usual punk pirate number, complete with Mohican. He wears a jacket that looks no thicker than a bin bag, a frilly scarf which seems to protrude out of his abdomen, accompanied with black trainers. A bizarre mix by anyone’s standards. In the second half, he proudly wore an Aston Villa t–shirt and spoke of the silliness of the Cardiff Blues having to change their colour.
But the clothes and their statements are nothing compared to the way he plays. He makes it look so easy. The masterful use of his instrument is enough to bring today’s violin student to shame. As a child, I did actually play the violin, yet grew sick of it resulting with it being thrown down the stairs in frustration. Years later, I would massacre the instrument with a shovel, since it rang out of strings. Very rock and roll, I know.
Through all these eccentricities, the pairing of the music seemed even more bizarre. It was to be Bach and Fats Waller. This turned out to be a fairly appealing mixture with the latter not feeling like too much of a stretch for him. He loves to improvise and makes jazz just as worthy in the billing (the randomness of jazz seen in the programme with ‘not necessarily in that order’ by the billing). I don’t hear any live jazz and must do something about this. I have had a forgotten love for it for years and must rekindle it. Since he knows and loves Bach, he wants us to enjoy it just as much. It’s not that hard considering Wagner called him ‘The greatest composer who ever lived’. Bach’s work is filled with that refined sense of detail and crisp notes of sound.
As for Fats Waller (who I had never heard live before), he has that ding dong, breakfast in bed quality. That may sound strange but with jazz my descriptions change from what I would normally say for classical music. The violin here is replacing the piano and I can’t help but feel that I would much rather get to know the original forms. Take Five by Paul Desmond was recognisable (from adverts, if I recall) and made many audience members sigh with relief when Kennedy announced it.
A painting of Kennedy was each side of the stage and on the programmes by Dora Holzhandler. Inspired no doubt by the paintings of Mark Chagall, it looked nothing like him. More like the love child of David Guest and Boy George.
What can’t be forgotten is his relationship with the audience. He addressed us numerous times and his humour is certainly ruff and ready. Jokes included the horse meat scandal, the femininity of his guitar player (and how bugs live in his hair, with the drummer pretending to scratch his head and stamp on them) and making sure he had turned off his mobile phone just before playing. He would dip into the audience now and then, seeking out the ladies, going up to them, asking their names and informing the rest of the audience that that currents ladies name is his favourite name. He does have a charm that is void in other concerts and the humour really does help to fall into the evening. He did swear at one point, which I was kind of waiting for since I knew he can get easily excited.
His band of Rolf Bussalb on guitar, Yaron Stavi and Krzysztof Dziedzic on drums were a fine brew of a backing group. With the minimal lighting and mentioned painting the venue become much more intimate and warm, which is rare for such a large hall. Kennedy at one point even called this a ‘gig’ instead of a concert.
At the age of fifty–six (hard to believe), he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon and all the better for it. Perhaps composers should write more for concertos for him. I’m sure he would relish that.
A roguish evening of jazzy features and violin delights.