He might dress like a superannuated punk. And talk like one, too. But is anyone fooled anymore by the old ‘Nige’ Kennedy shtick?
Yehudi Menuhin’s most famous protégé, student of New York’s revered Juilliard School of Music, pupil of the legendary Dorothy DeLay; his musical education was as classical as it gets and his talent remains sublime.
Which is why, despite his relaxed style, the former Brighton boy has been able to get across like no other performer the joy and wonder of the world’s most beautiful music.
His first highly-acclaimed recording was Elgar's Violin Concerto which was immediately voted 1985 Record of the Year by Gramophone magazine and was awarded Best Classical Album of the Year at the BPI Awards.
But even this was blown out of the water by his landmark recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, 25 years ago, which earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the best-selling classical work of all time.
“It’s great to see Viv doing a bit of damage in the charts,” he said, in typical, deprecating fashion.
It must have been, given that when he took up jazz icon Stephane Grappelli’s invitation to play the Carnegie Hall with him at the age of 16, his Julliard teachers reportedly told him it might ‘ruin’ his classical career.
And they weren’t his only knockers. In a newspaper interview he revealed the metaphorical bashing he got from his mother, Scylla, who was a musician herself.
“She used to come and criticise everything I did and it wound me up,” he said.
“She would not just insult me, but also my fellow musicians. She would come backstage and say (in a plummy accent) ‘Oh, he’s not great and you’re not great’ in front of my friends. She would tell me I needed to work harder.”
Once he gave her one of his precious gold records.
“She put it in the attic,” he said.
“She didn’t want anyone seeing it.”
So, how happy for him, then, that he’s found a way to combine his love of classical and jazz music on his current tour, which rocks up to the Regent Centre on Monday. Bach Plus celebrates the music of this composer as well as that of Fats Waller and Dave Brubeck, arranged by Kennedy himself.
This, combined with his work with the Orchestra of Life, which he founded in 2010, which presented a unique programme of Duke Ellington arranged by him, further validates the musical choices he has made.
In the past five years he’s presented a project inspired by the music of Jimi Hendrix and given a performance of this at Ronnie Scott’s (the last venue where Hendrix performed) on the 40th anniversary of the musician’s death, as well as giving sell-out performances of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
While his concerts may continue to be a sell-out, no one could ever accuse him of this crime; Nigel is as popular as ever. He’s just been nominated to enter the Gramophone Hall of Fame. And he still supports Aston Villa.
- Nigel Kennedy brings Bach Plus to the Regent Centre, Christchurch, on Monday