Last night we took in Nigel Kennedy and friends at the Wycombe Swan. I say “and friends” advisedly as Kennedy had with him 3: a German guitarist, Palestinian bass player, and Polish drummer. They’re great pals, and Kennedy is forever beating his heart with his fist or fist bumping them to indicate his appreciation of their playing. They reciprocate in kind.
And this gives you an idea of how unconventional Kennedy is during a concert: fist bumping, jokes – Kennedy is naturally funny, in an offbeat way – swilling lager from a bottle, whooping and foot tapping. This is not just a classical music performance: it’s all round entertainment.
As for his performance, what can you say? The self-proclaimed best selling violinist in history is a bona fide world leading virtuoso even to my untrained ear. He certainly plays from the heart not head, denigrating those whose sole purpose is “technical mastery”, as he puts it. Eyes closed, he seems to feel not only the music, but also the audience’s reaction to it, and to adapt his playing accordingly. Extraordinary.
As for the audience, I think he needs them as much as they need him. Without subjecting poor Nigel to psycho-analysis, he seems to me a person who really wishes to please. The corollary is he wants to be liked, but he also wants the music to be liked. Last night he lauded the audience for listening carefully to the pieces, in between rapturous applause and bravoing. This is something more noble than the seeking of adulation, though I’m sure, like the rest of us, he doesn’t mind a bit of that (he knows he’s good).
Indeed, so good is he, he reminded me of Jimi Hendrix. The guitar was an extension of Hendrix. He could do almost anything with it. He could play it with his teeth, for goodness sake! So too, Kennedy. One minute he’s playing classical Bach, the next linking Bach movements with an improv Irish jig, the next interspersing Fats Waller with a stanza from Rule Britannia, the next making the violin chirp in imitation of a bird as he walks amongst the audience.
All round entertainment, indeed – and it makes classical music accessible. This is the greatest tribute I can pay Kennedy: he’s doing his best, in a unique and quality way, to mix and modernise somewhat less popular musical genres – classical and jazz – and in this way bring them to the people. He’s a veritable One Man Proms!
And finally, this wouldn’t be the Polska Dotty blog if I didn’t mention a Polish connection. For those of you who don’t know, Kennedy married a Polish girl – I approve! – and fell in love not only with her but the Polish zeitgeist. He divides his time between the two countries. And sure enough, the programme reveals a preponderance of Polish influence, right through to the Band Driver, maybe a German of Polish origin? (stand up Norbert Figurski!).
It was a twist that made Marzena and I feel like we belonged, just a little bit more. Something of which Nigel would approve, I’m sure. Or, as he might say, Love and Respect.