Saturday 2 June 2012

Nigel Kennedy Captivates Reading

Portrait from the brochure
Last night Nigel Kennedy and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's Diamond Celebration Gala did the Hexagon, Reading proud.  Playing to a packed auditorium Nigel entertained with his jokes, singing [oh yes!], sheer exuberance and of course his virtuosic violin performance.

In tatty jeans, t-shirt, his trade-mark spiky hair and 3-day stubble, I spotted Nigel taking his Bulldog for a walk before the gig - apparently when in the UK Nigel takes his dog everywhere. Meantime in the Mayor's garden the VIPs sipped Pimms and ate canapés. I was lucky to be the Mayor, Jenny Rynn's, consort for the evening and amongst others we said hello to Sir John Madejski.

Once everyone was seated inside the theatre, Jenny gave an introductory speech.  Next the audience rose for the RPO playing God Save the Queen. Under Andrew Litton's baton the RPO's first-half performance, Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony No 6 was a delight.  Some people couldn't restrain themselves from applauding the uproarious Allegro Molto Vivace before the exquisite, painful beauty of the last movement, the Adagio Lamentoso.

After tea or coffee and more canapés in the VIP garden, we went back to our balcony seats. Nigel & Andrew Litton came onto the stage together, Nigel having changed into black trousers, white shirt & a baggy waistcoat covered by a 3/4 length sleeved black jacket bearing an emblem on the right hand upper arm.

In his traditional way Nigel got the audience all laughing. He told us he'd bumped into a wife and her “huge geezer” husband earlier who were celebrating their wedding anniversary at the event. The couple turned out to be on the front row so after putting his knuckles against the huge geezer’s and kissing the woman's hand, Nigel played "Here comes the bride" but then mischievously he turned it into a dirge!

Nigel gave a bit of background to the Concerto, jokingly saying he'd written an amazingly erudite programme note about Frit Kreisler's cadenza.  However Nigel announced he'd changed his mind - wasn't playing Kreisler's after all but instead was going to "try my hand at my own bit of shit!"

Following banter with Andrew Litton - they were school mates at what Nigel calls the Julliard School of Boredom - silence fell, for Brahms' Violin Concerto in D major. Unlike most soloists, Nigel not only stood well back from the front of the stage but he faced the orchestra - not the audience - whilst waiting for his cue.

His happy chappy, laid-back persona vanished as he put the bow to his strings. He exuded confidence taking instant control and literally stamping his own mark on the flamboyant, dynamic entrance. It was a sheer delight witnessing the contrast from the grand, majestic opening to the delicate, lyrical tune on his violin then intertwining momentarily with the flute, then soaring to the rafters.

Nigel’s absolute love for the music and mastery of his craft, his connection with Andrew and the RPO was blatant to see and hear.  A highly physical performance with both Nigel and Andrew’s bodies caught up.  At times Nigel’s legs going rigid, stamping to his playing; Andrew actually jumping into the air with the baton!  This wasn’t mere showmanship as I was told they’d fully immersed themselves in the same way during the afternoon rehearsal.

A fabulous end to a wonderful evening

Andrew disappeared for the encore leaving Nigel conducting with his violin.  He joked around with the RPO members before teasing them with some deliberate false starts.  They played a lively Hungarian gypsy dance piece which suited the night to perfection.  Nigel had duets with the leader, and also the lead cellist, before which he even sang accompanied by the RPO.  He had everybody transfixed, it was magical!

If you’ve never seen Nigel perform live, GO!  Nigel's non-conformist antics and zany behaviour are well-known having put off some snooty classical music aficionados; however even they cannot deny his awesome ability.  He is irrepressible; his energetic, masterful and unique style has to be witnessed to be fully appreciated.  His facial expressions melt your heart; his boyish pleasure whilst performing is quite irresistible.  It is an unbelievable experience, and not to be missed.

As you may have guessed I’m in awe of him and was terribly excited to see him.  The night was topped off by being introduced to him, together with Jenny and Sir John backstage afterwards.  Jenny & I stayed for a glass of champagne and were privileged to get to see more of what he’s like.  He has a cheeky sense of humour, says what he thinks, is perfectly charming even though his language is famously fruity!  He was humble and unbelievably appreciative of the praise given.  He spent time encouraging a teenage girl who has reached Grade 8 level in just 3 years, arranging to listen to her play when she next comes to him performing. 

We met his manager, Terri Robson, who was very friendly and patient and also Elizabeth Forbes, one of his 5 sisters.  Elizabeth was charming and very friendly.  Although she said she used to play the piano and flute, she now is the RPO’s Concerts Director.  They enabled me to have my photo with Nigel and also to get his signature.

Post concert wearing his beloved Aston Villa shirt
Truly Nigel is a role model, a man who has blown away the conservative straight-jacket and old-fustiness surrounding classical music and transformed it into being accessible to the masses.  He isn't into computers and only has a basic mobile phone.  It is difficult to remember that someone so youthful and full of the joys of life - he is quite some party animal - is now in his mid-fifties.  Long may he inspire and entertain us!