A Natter With Nigel Kennedy

Posted on: 28 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The violinist talks music and Aston Villa.

Nigel Kennedy turned the classical music scene on its head in the late 1980s with a ground-breaking recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons which sold 6 million copies worldwide.

For over 25 years, he has been acknowledged as one of the world's leading violinists. With his virtuosic technique, unique talent and natural ability to communicate with his audience, he has brought fresh perspectives and new audiences to classical music.

He remains the best-selling international classical violinist of all time and for his new album has recorded the Beethoven Violin Concerto and coupled it with a Mozart violin concerto, both recorded with the Polish Chamber Orchestra.

Now, undeterred by having reached his early 50s, Nigel Kennedy is still every bit the non-conformist bad boy of classical music with his trademark Mohawk hairstyle, designer stubble and sunglasses. He told 50connect about music, his latest projects, living in Poland and supporting Aston Villa.

So you have been living in Krakow for the last five years - what has that been like?

It's been good. I mean trying to settle down anywhere is impossible because my business is between making albums and playing live. So, although I have lived in Krakow for some time now, in reality it's been pretty hard for me to spend more than four or five days in a row there at any one point! So it's a lot of time spent on the road. But I tell you what: Polish society has given me a great musical life. Musicians are incredibly hard-working and disciplined but creative and there's a great vibe in Krakow.

Is there anything that you've missed about the UK while you've been there or while you've been away touring?

Yeah - I really miss Aston Villa which is, of course, the greatest cultural achievement of the British Isles! And also the multicultural aspect of what London particularly has to offer. You don't get that in many international cities, not even the main ones in Germany. Even though people are making a big issue of Polish immigration at the moment, overall the British are so tolerant and I've never seen so much multiculturalism with so little agro. I've been to a lot of places and I think we're really lucky to live in a place like this and I definitely miss that aspect when I'm away.

The Beethoven and Mozart album is a really exciting project - how would you describe it for those who haven't heard it?

Well Beethoven was like the father of the Romantic movement and was starting to write bigger scale works. With the Beethoven and the Mozart I have chosen, you can see the line of development between the two composers. They are both very melodic. It's not hard listening but it's absolutely amazing writing.

And how long was the recording process?

It was pretty quick. You know we did tour this music before we went into the recording studio so we could just go in there as if it was live. So we did it in two days and the orchestra was finely honed as I took them to Berlin. Even though it's a Polish orchestra, to go to the country which is the home of these two great composers and play in the church where the Berlin Philharmonic rehearse made everyone more up for it than if it had just been another recording date in Warsaw. It was a great vibe doing that stuff. We did a tour of Germany first and it went down really well so we knew that we had something worth recording. It was just fun doing it basically.

You've got your prom date which has been announced now coming up in July, are you excited about that concert?

Yeah I'm very excited because there aren't many festivals that can offer me two concerts on the same day playing such a diverse repertoire. We're playing an early concert of the Elgar Concerto and then, later, jazz on the same stage in a later concert so it should be cool. How many festivals can offer that? And the Proms audience are there to enjoy themselves - they've got a good knowledge of the music and everything so it's like an enormous musical party really.

What's the best venue you have played in or your best performance?

It's really hard because if an audience has bothered to turn up and listen to you, that's the biggest compliment anyone can give you really so it just doesn't matter where it is. Obviously there are venues of great fame where players I might have respected or worshipped as a kid have been on the same platform. Somewhere like Carnegie Hall for instance, which has had artists ranging from Rachmaninov to Miles Davis all playing on that stage which is really special. Or somewhere like Ronnie Scott's in London where so many great musicians have played. You just know you're going to get something extra from playing on that same stage where one of your idols has been sweating their soul out for an audience. Basically any audience can make it an amazing night, without the audience you're nowhere.

You mentioned your idols - who are your main inspirations and who did you aspire to when you were younger?

I suppose having been involved in it for so long it's not really my job to have idols in music. Maybe Ronaldinho doesn't need to have idols as a footballer because he's out there doing it all the time! But when I was a kid it was definitely people like Miles Davis or Frank Zappa, people like that. Or within classical music, an amazing violinist called Isaac Stern - I used to get all of his albums.

If you hadn't been a violinist do you know what you would have done?

I'm not sure - it's quite likely that I would have done something in music other than the violin. But also as a kid, like a few others, I had aspirations to be a train driver and things like that. I know London quite well so I'm sure I could do cab work!

There's the stereotype of classical music being an 'upper class' taste, does that annoy you?

I think it would be a shame if that was still the case. I hope that things have opened up a bit. I hate the thought of classical music being locked behind the doors of a private club. I know there is still a little bit of that but my career does seem to have the bullshitometer factor. Anyone who might be a little bit prejudiced is going to show it against me so I bring the musical bigots out into the open!

Other than classical - what musical tastes represent you?

I have to say I never listen to classical music at all because I have played so much of it in my time. Well maybe that's an exaggeration, I mean I hardly ever listen to it. I love listening to the Blue Notes stuff, the jazz stuff, that's what I normally have on. Because most of my friends are jazz musicians and although we are playing a lot more modern stuff ourselves we like to go back to the source and hear people like Lee Morgan, Horace Silver and those on the Blue Note label.

What has been your highlight of the last year?

Probably Saturday - Derby 0, Villa 6! That is the best away victory in the league this year - it's phenomenal.

If you were Manager of Aston Villa for a day with a vast sum of money which player would you buy?

Wow! That's a tricky question because I wouldn't want to buy one of those stars from Manchester United or Chelsea because they've already sold out. So I would probably buy about ten young ones. What's nice about our club now is that we've got quite a few English ones in it and for an English club that's almost unheard of! What I like about my Polish orchestra and my Polish band is that they've got all Polish names in them and in the same way I'd love to see a few more English players in the Premier League.

When things get too much for you where do you go?

There's this amazing range of mountains near Krakow where I go trekking quite a lot, the Tatra Mountains. It's only about 60km away from Krakow so I spend a lot of time there. Sometimes on my own writing or with my wife and kid trekking around. That's really great because you feel a real sense of freedom from all business aspects of life.

What else do you do in your spare time - do you get much spare time?

I don't get much spare time. Obviously I like looking after my kid. I get him ten days a month to look after so I make sure I'm hardly working at all when he's around as it's not good for him to be a sideshow to the Kennedy thing. So that leaves me 20 days to work as hard as I can and fit everything in!

What's your biggest strength?

Letting people do their best around me - I'm good at that. It's all about teamwork. And never doing what I'm told!

What scares you?

Heights I reckon. I've done balloon trips and stuff but I'm not very good with them!

What are your future ambitions on and off stage?

I'd like to make some more collaborations with other musicians that I really respect. Quite a lot of the time I'm playing with my band or my orchestra and I couldn't respect them more but I'd like to do stuff with other musicians who have achieved a lot. Making partnerships with jazz cats, people who have done rock, programmers, modern... I'd like to do more partnership stuff. Stuff that I haven't done before and learn as I'm going along.

Any ambitions which aren't career or music related?

I have an ambition to get a kitchen in my house! I've lived in this house in London for about ten years and I haven't got a kitchen yet. The touring aspect of my life makes it seem less urgent to get stuff like that done but if we did have a home that was based around a kitchen and a sitting room it might be quite nice!

Answer the question, I Like Music because...

…it's very nice. My next album is called A Very Nice Album which is all my own stuff with my band and I wouldn't like it if it wasn't very nice!

What's next for Nigel Kennedy?

At the moment, we're releasing the Mozart and Beethoven and my next album on EMI, A Very Nice Album, will be launched in London in June. Then in September we'll be doing a tour around Britain which also includes a big gig with my orchestra as well as the band in the Tower of London. So we're putting that together and people can look out for those dates. We're going to have some fun in the next few months!

Web Links

For more information on Nigel Kennedy and his new album visit www.kennedybeethoven.com.

Nigel Kennedy - Beethoven: Violin Concerto / Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 / Horrace Silver: Creepin InYou can purchase Nigel Kennedy - Beethoven: Violin Concerto / Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 / Horrace Silver: Creepin In from all good record stores or online at Amazon.

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