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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On 'Così', Nigel Kennedy and recovering the Ashes,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I too went to watch Così (at the RCM) and I thought the South African soprano was amazingly good. There's no way you can compare her with the Despina or the Ferrando, for that matter. Those are just different voices.

Dr G Fraser

Dear Dr Fraser,

Very true, but we all have our preferences. Thanks for expressing yours!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I thought I spotted you in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, last week, accompanying Nigel Kennedy. However, there was no orchestra list in the programme.

G G, Edgebaston

Dear G (or G, for that matter),

Well spotted!!!!!!!! I was indeed decorating the English Symphony Orchestra cellos. It was an amazing week altogether, and I still find myself (cooking, writing, driving -- especially driving, for some reason) with Kennedy's tone singing in my ears.

Of course, he WAS the vast majority of the programme. For those of you not lucky enough, like G G, to have been there, I will explain what you missed.

You missed:

  1. his outfit: gent's grunge, as worn: hideous trousers, jacket four sizes too big, with designer patches on elbows and elsewhere.
  2. his (ugh) sub-mohican hair-cut
  3. his gait: pigeon-toed, rolling, faintly sailor on shore leave
  4. his language. The final scores are now in, and I am able to report that, over the five days, (averaging the scores from violins, oboes and brass) we have:
    1. 245 'motherf---------'
    2. 441 plain old 'f---'
    3. 246 's---'
      (not to mention one outburst notably combining all three, when deeply moved.)
  5. his rapport with the audience.
    1. Lady calling out, 'I love you, Nige!'
      Nigel: What's your name?
      Lady: Monique!
      Nigel: Hey wow, man, Monique's my favourite f-------- name!
  6. a very interesting concerto by a Polish composer Mlynarsky -- Violin Concerto No 2 in D Op 16, written roughly at the same time as the Elgar violin concerto, and brilliantly played. The conductor, Jacek Kaspszyk, won my heart personally by being so devastated by the death of his Highland Terrier as to be unequal to one of the rehearsals; his eloquent ritardando at the conclusion of almost every phrase was less appealing, however.
  7. Nigel Kennedy's sublime artistry, during not only the Mlynarsky, but especially the Elgar.

And with (g) is why we care. Because, of course were Nigel (imposs to think of him as anything more formal, and -- after all -- he kissed me twice, in common with all the orchestral players) less of a ruddy genius, no-one would care about all the rest. But the very fact that I can't get (not the Elgar concerto) but his particular SOUND out of my head, these days later, and having heard about four Proms on BBC4 in the meantime, proves otherwise.

Of particular beauty (though it's almost invidious to single out just a couple) were his choice of when (and when NOT) to vibrate: Elgar himself was beaming down from above with approval here, as well as his otherworldly bow control in Elgar's movement two, when even the most bronchial of us feared to breathe, lest the magic be dispelled. And above all, the sound, the SOUND (doesn't matter which of his two violins he was playing: his sound is so individual) ... I was driving home from Symphony Hall in Birmingham in the pelting rain, listening to radios four and three in alternation and the SOUND would not leave me. It may never leave me (I almost hope it won't, though drowning, in sheer intensity, every other sound I can remember ...)

Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy is a genius. A prat, but mainly a genius.

Now people are flippant with the word 'Genius.' It has come to mean clever, gifted, lucky, or even just happening to be in the right place at the right time. But what we were (as an orchestra) confronted with (and there is no dodging it, no ungenerous ignoring of it) was genius. Genius to take a phrase and bend it; genius to take a colour and fill it in, like a child operating with felt-tip pens. Genius to take a thing of wood and steel and make a whole world come out of it.

Now I suspect he toys and sports with the audience (especially BEFORE he plays) in order to demolish demons all performers have some knowledge of. Also, he makes me wonder: can anything really well-balanced emerge from the Menuhin School? Also, he makes me wonder: does a genius this passionate NEED all the paraphernalia of costume and jokes and language so appalling that the programmes had to have a disclaimer regarding same?

No, is the answer, and yet he remains himself: perhaps even more himself for all the scent of gunpowder and clownish show.

How many other soloists would stand, out of sight of the audience, and thank/kiss/shake hands with every member of the orchestra?

How many other soloists could combine the encore of Bach unaccompanied with a jazz improvisation which (in its own way) carried equal power and conviction???????

What other Peter-Pan/Prat/amazing, stunning and original human being would have played these three concerts, donating his total fees to the Acorn Children's Hospice in Malvern??

'I celebrate myself and sing myself,' wrote Walt Whitman,
'And what I shall assume you shall assume.'

With Nigel Kennedy the celebration and the singing become one.

And now I am off to Crete, hoping that our house-sitters will cherish my goldfish, giant African landsnail and sea-monkeys (the dachshunds are at the in-laws). I leave you, my faithful readers, in the capable hands of Kelly Ferjutz.

Yours in hopes of recovering the Ashes,

Copyright © 29 July 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

Ask Alice

Readers might also be interested to know of Mr FcKennedy's elusiveness within the music world. Music & Vision attempted to contact the violinist's agent to ask for some background material to accompany Alice's article. Starting with some out-of-date information that he's managed by Hazard Chase in association with Big Life Management, our office team quickly discovered no mention of Kennedy on either company's website, so a web search came up with Grabow and Associates.

A phone call to this firm left us in the hands of a flustered receptionist trying to manage five incoming calls at once. Eventually she divulged a New York phone number but wouldn't say which company's number it was. We rang that number, and got through to someone who told us that Nige is self-managed, so no publicity information is available. The final link in the chain should have been to another number -- on one of the cellular networks in the UK, to Eli Page, Nige's manager. But this number was out of service!

So have a wonderful relaxing break, Alice!

For the next two weeks, Kelly Ferjutz will be fielding all enquiries, and writing about female conductors. So if you've any burning issues on this or any other subject, please contact Kelly via the usual 'write now' link below.



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