Showing posts with label Nigel Kennedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nigel Kennedy. Show all posts

Monday, September 09, 2013

My first (real) Last Night


I was here the other night... Yep, Last Night of the Proms. Sneaky admission: I've been watching it on TV for decades, thinking about how amazing it must be to experience it. Last time I tried to go it was 2001, two days after 9/11, and the entire jamboree was ditched. This, though, was the real thing.

There's nothing else like it anywhere else, that's for sure. It may be crazy - it is crazy - but still, it felt like a true celebration of everything that we've experienced in that hall in the last two months, and of everything it stands for: great music for all, shared with love, open enthusiasm and absolute dedication.

There couldn't have been finer choices for the soloists. Nigel Kennedy, in case you wondered, is a truly mesmerising violinist. Nigel is Nigel and you take him as you find him: what other musician would trot on for the LNOP in a football shirt and carrying a cup of tea? Yet if his appearance bothers you, that's your problem, not his, because his playing is exquisite. The Lark Ascending was hushed, loving, sensitive, breathtaking. As for the Csardas, those who object to improvisatory interjections might do well to reflect that that is the genuine bit. Vittorio Monti is fake Gypsy music; Nigel improvising is the real thing. Nigel gets away with everything he gets away with - even bursting one of Marin's pink balloons with his bow - because he is a bloody incredible musician. Like it or lump it.

No sartorial questions over the divine Joyce DiDonato, who wore a blood-red Vivienne Westwood gown in the first half, and glittering peach in the second (left: curtain call), and delivered singing of such glory that it was a privilege to hear her, let alone sing along in 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. She dedicated Somewhere Over the Rainbow to the LGBT community "whose voices are being silenced" - handling this by explaining on social media beforehand rather than announcing from the platform, which I suspect will be the way of the future (nuff said...).

The whole evening was in fact a great celebration of inclusivity. Music was included from Handel to Anna Clyne. A woman (indeed, a gay woman) conducted the event for the first time ever, and judged the content of her speech to perfection. Bernstein's  Chichester Psalms are sung in Hebrew - and how beautiful they are, and how marvellous Iestyn Davies was as soloist. Nigel did his Gypsy improvisation alongside rare Brit composers Granville Bantock and George Lloyd (read about the astonishing story of that piece here). (Missed the sea shanties, though.) Verdi was there - the chorus of the Hebrew Slaves; and Wagner too - the overture to Die Meistersinger, the only one of his major operas that doesn't seem to have been bustin' out all over this year; and Britten, in The Building of the House and his arrangement of the national anthem to close.

What, then, of all those patriotic songs? Well, if you try to sing 'Land of Hope and Glory' but, for any reason, even if you are waving a flag (my nice Scottish neighbour, hedging her bets, had brought both, so she lent me the Union Jack), you just can't do the words properly given the reality outside the hall, it won't be noticed amid a crowd of 5000+ if you change them a teeny bit, in good and appropriate spirit, so... All together now:

"I LOVE EDWARD ELGAR,
HE'S THE MAN FOR ME!
HE'S OUR GREATEST COMPOSER
AS TONIGHT WE SEE..."

The important thing, though, is not the words. It's the singing. I believe I have tracked the magic of the Last Night, and it is not what we sing, but the fact that we do sing, and we all sing together, and we are the audience but we are joining in the concert ourselves, with the world's top musicians. And that's the ultimate in sharing music. And that, dear friends, is what the thrill of the Last Night is all about.

Over and out.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I love you, Nigel Kennedy

Blimey, guv - good old Nigel is at it again. In an age when much of the world feels toothless and truthless, he hasn't lost one bit of his bite or his bark. The Guardian reports:

In a broadside at fellow musicians, he said that some were sidelining Bach into "a rarefied and effete ghetto" while others were turning "philosophical masterpieces" into "shallow showpieces". He despaired at musicians who have "learned the same technical way [and who] all play the same technical way".
A protege of Yehudi Menuhin, Kennedy wrote in programme notes for last weekend's performance that "four melodic notes from Yehudi are worth more than a thousand from any of our living violinists", adding that "Bach speaks through Menuhin's violin".
It takes someone with real passion and chutzpah to speak up like that; not many dare to. Of course, he's generalising a little... I wish he could have heard Alina Ibragimova's mesmerising Chaconne at Wilton's the other week. No doubt this latest outburst will leave his targets pretty peeved, but I don't think that's his aim. I think he speaks up because he flippin'well cares - and you can hear that in his playing. That's why he's still here and still at it after all these years.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Happy Monday



"When 5000 people pay to listen to Bach on a solo violin, there's hope for Western civilisation," says The Times. My colleague Ed Seckerson at the Indy says it was 6000 people, so the news is perhaps even better. Either way, bravo Nigel Kennedy. The markets are in turmoil, people have been looting in Tottenham, Enfield and Brixton, but over at the RAH, or in front of our own radios, we're listening to the Proms and feeling lucky to be alive.

Honest to goodness, guv, I really believe the world would be a better place if we could all spend more time making or listening to great music and less time on greed, envy, accumulation, materialism and...oh well. It's worth saying now and then, even if only one person takes it on board.

How anybody could have failed to take the lessons of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra on board with that Mahler 2 on Friday is beyond me (pictured left: the queue at 1pm). Music for all. Music as the resurrection of hope (to quote Gustavo's words to me). I went to the rehearsal and sat mesmerised by them - these guys give everything. So, too, did the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, so you don't have to be Venezuelan... The churlish have been out in force, predictably, carping on about tempi being too slow, edges being too rough, and so on. There's still an element in British life that loathes anything too successful. Most of us saw past that to the essence of the event, and took it all to our hearts, where it belongs. The point of this Prom was not to offer benchmark Mahler to compete against the recordings of Tennstedt, Bernstein et al. What had to be definitive was the honesty and passionate nature of the music-making, the symbol, the life-affirming pulling-together of it all. Yes, it was the event that came first, and there is nothing wrong with that - not when it's an event you'll remember until your last breath. If every concert could be an event on such a scale, nobody would ever have talked of classical music 'dying', because it couldn't be clearer that that is not true, never was and certainly won't be as long as these guys are around.

Hope resurrected? You bet. Besides, give Gustavo another ten or 15 years and he could potentially grow to be a figure comparable to Bernstein. I can't think of another conductor working today who has quite that type of energy. It's easy to forget that he's only 30 as he is so much a part of the musical landscape at present. Watch that space. (Right: The Dude in rehearsal, flanked by Miah Persson and Anna Larsson, and in discussion with assistant.)

It's been one thing after another at the Proms, and yesterday I caught up not only with the Mahler but also with the National Youth Orchestra with Benjamin Grosvenor and Vlad, plus Nigel's very late-night Bach. Benjamin played the Britten Concerto - a terrific piece and much underrated. It's very much of its 1930s day, a British cousin to Bartok and Prokofiev, and Benjamin's coolly ironic eye and deft, light-sprung touch suited it to a T. Vlad wrought dynamic stuff from the orchestra, too - they're not the Bolivars, but they're the creme-de-la-creme of what young British musicians can be. And full marks to everyone for bringing Gabriel Prokofiev mainstream, putting his Concerto for Orchestra and Turntables centre stage in the Royal Albert Hall. Sergey's grandson may have 'Nonclassical' as his brand-name, but the piece, even with all its 21st-century irony, humour and imagination, still reminded us at times of The Rite of Spring. Character, precision and charm were everywhere; and the Radio 3 announcer's apparent bemusement about the whole spectacle had a type of charm all its own. He even considered DJ Switch's light-blue tee-shirt worth remarking upon.

I missed Saturday evening in London because I went to work with Tomcat. Which means I cried my eyes out over Rusalka. Watch out for the marvellous Dina Kuznetsova (left), a big Russian voice with a great heart to match, her every phrase serving Rusalka's searing emotional journey. Melly Still's production is magical - a timeless fairy-tale taken on its own terms, mildly modernised and exquisitely imagined. We know the Freudian ins and outs of the story's psychological implications well enough these days to add our own interpretation, if desired - it's refreshing that directors need no longer bash us over the head with it, and we can enjoy Dvorak's folksy joys and quasi-Wagnerian ventures with a view to match.

And Nigel? He's still working his own brand of magic; and it's as irresistible as ever because beneath the famous image is a passionate and phenomenally accomplished musician. He has not only magic, but the staying power that comes from true underlying solidity. Others may try, but there's still only one Nigel.