Nigel Kennedy: The man who made classical cool

Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy

First published in Entertainments
Last updated

RENOWNED violinist Nigel Kennedy brings his world acclaimed concert series Bach Plus to Salisbury City Hall at the weekend. The Journal catches up with him ahead of his trip to the city.

What can audiences expect from this latest tour?

NK: The seeds of this show were sown at a Late Night Prom a couple of years ago. I played some solo Bach and then moved into some swinging Bach and Fats Waller.

The performance in Salisbury will also start with some solo Bach, after which I'll invite my band to join in. It's an evening of Bach plus some of my own composition with some Django and other treats.

It's a tribute to my two mentors: the great Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin. Stephane introduced me to improvising when I was at the Menuhin School and it was something I felt comfortable with from the start.

I very rarely play anything, whether it's Beethoven, Bach or Vivaldi, where I don't improvise.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?

NK: It's now. I'm at that stage where I can pick and chose what I do, where I play and who with. I'm very lucky not to have my repertoire and musicians dictated by anyone else.

Are there things that you still want to achieve in your career as a violinist?

NK: Yes - I'm learning new things every day. I am taking the Four Seasons on tour next year and will pick up local musicians who will improvise in their own musical style. I did this with the Palestine Strings at the Proms last year. These amazing young classical musicians broke off into Arabic music in the improvising sections. It was amazing.

Can you play any other musical instruments?

NK: I actually began with the piano before the violin (my mum was a pianist and used to stick me under her grand piano in my basket while she practised. She saw, though, that I had a talent for the violin quite quickly and took me to Menuhin so he could hear me). I injured my neck once and took up the cello - this was my dad and my grandfather's instrument and I definitely had an affinity with it.

What would you say to young people who want a career as a professional musician?

NK: You've got to really want to do it and you shouldn't just aim to play like everyone else. There are so many musical clones around at the moment, and too few with their own voice.

How did your distinctive style evolve? Did you make a conscious decision to make classical musical look cooler?

NK: I am cool? Are you sure? I do genuinely like to communicate with the audiences, whether it's musically or verbally and I think people like that.

Please tell us about your own taste in music, what you enjoy listening to and how this has influenced your repertoire.

NK: I listen to and like all kinds of music apart from so-called crossovers. I also hate country music and I'm trying to like opera but still find it difficult to appreciate.

Nigel Kennedy is at Salisbury City Hall on Saturday, July 5 at 7.30pm. Tickets and information at cityhallsalisbury.co.uk or call 01722 434434.

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