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Nigel Kennedy & Friends – A Gala Celebration – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer:  John Kennedy

The Yehudi Menuhin nurtured child prodigy, later to let loose a panther amongst the San Marco Square pigeons with his resin melting, 1989 released pyrotechnic take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, is an unbelievable 61 years young this year. Will he dabble in some Doors? Been there. Let loose some crucial Jimi Hendrix licks? Likewise. It’s his party and he’ll do what he wants to. Always has. He’s asked some fellow fiddle buskers along as well. We fasten our seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.

There are a fair few ‘Heads’ here tonight, maybe short of hair but long in memory eager of ear to hear what Jean-Luc Ponty might play. Ponty featured on Frank Zappa’s 1969 seminal Hot Rats album. Earlier explorative experimentations included a time on tenor sax following his fascination with the new form Jazz directions of Miles Davies and John Coltrane. Eventually, he took the leap of conviction and chose the violin – the rest is history – and a future ever in flux. His international citations, accolades, awards and gongs read like a Jazz musician’s – What Hasn’t He Done That’s Left To Do, Who’s Who?

Kennedy introduces Ponty’s composition Cosmic Messenger as changing the whole concept of the violin – even more so than Paganini. There are some who remain unconvinced by Kennedy’s mockney, cheeky-chappy public persona, the constant high-fives and ‘Yo bruv’ knuckle bonding.  Small irritants compared to the frustrations he gives The Orchestra Of Life for jumping around the programme schedule and causing mayhem with music-stand scripts. He admits to nerves and really, he’s just so eager to share and to please and that is utterly sincere. And then he blazes into barnstorming arrangements of Bach followed by a medley of his own compositions featuring his guest musicians. The virtuoso brilliance, the incandescent near genius of the man forgives all. There’s the inevitable Aston Villa FC name checking: the back-stage drapes are drenched in claret & blue. Kennedy duets with Bulgaria-born Georgi Andreev, his national instrument: a compact ancestral cousin of the violin, the Gadulka. Theirs is a shamelessly romantic medley of Aegean dances composed by Andreev. Imagine Elgar, seduced by ambrosia wine, being serenaded by benign Sirens. You don’t get that on The Malverns – even with Ken Russell.

What ought to be car-crash kitsch but isn’t is seeing Kennedy teaming up with fellow fiddlers Michael Guttman and Pieter Daniel playing a romantically drenched  Nessun Dorma. Glorious. Kennedy has a reputation for coming on late.  Give or take ten minutes final tweaking, he’s on time tonight. He also has a rep for curfew dodging run-overs. Interval time is 21.45.  Part two commenced at 22.30. John Luc Ponty and Kennedy riff off on each other as the band/orchestra have morphed into electric mode – at times perilously close to smothering the textual and tonal subtleties of Ponty’s playing. Kennedy has now got hip to an electric violin approximating the form of a Klingon battle cruiser’s hand brake. All sorts of weird and foot-pedal fireworks ensue. The synthesis between electric guitar and violin sound dynamics decidedly ambiguous and equally fascinating.

Guest vocalist, the ultimate in Jazz-dapper dress code, Cleveland Watkiss, opens Kennedy’s cover of Kashmir dedicated to Robert Plant. Arabic/Celtic dronal chanting together with nuances of monastic plainsong and muezzin calls are a teasing prequel to the approaching sound of thunder. Or what Plant once described as Page’s ‘Guitar Army On The March.’

A spectacular evening with the celebrated Mr. K, willingly mugged by his muse that elevates him to violin Valhalla. Meanwhile, here on planet Earth might not the programme length be a tad edited to avoid punters having to catch the milk train home? As for the Hendrix? That was a Rainbow Bridge too far. There has been enough magic tonight and TRH needs must be home by midnight lest their carriage turns back to a pumpkin. This evening’s highlight? For many, the hypnotic and labyrinthine majesty of the Kennedy/cellist Peter Adams’ Passacaglia for Violin and Viola, (Johan Halvorsen). Two musicians, one mission – exploring enigmatic variations on a theme of human possibilities.

Reviewed on 11 March 2017 | Image: Contributed

Reviewer:  John Kennedy The Yehudi Menuhin nurtured child prodigy, later to let loose a panther amongst the San Marco Square pigeons with his resin melting, 1989 released pyrotechnic take on Vivaldi's Four Seasons, is an unbelievable 61 years young this year. Will he dabble in some Doors? Been there. Let loose some crucial Jimi Hendrix licks? Likewise. It's his party and he'll do what he wants to. Always has. He's asked some fellow fiddle buskers along as well. We fasten our seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy night. There are a fair few ‘Heads’ here tonight, maybe short…

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