Interview


Nigel Kennedy interview
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Maverick classical star music Nigel Kennedy returns to the BBC’s Proms concerts – after an absence of two decades – on July 19. Having spent recent years performing in his wife’s native Poland, the violinist tells hellomagazine.com why it feels good to play at home.





How does it feel to be back at the Proms, especially as relations with one of the festival’s previous directors were reportedly difficult?

“I don’t remember anything controversial or heavy about my last Prom gig. Maybe (some people) were peed off because I was selling too many records. But I would never be too busy to go back to the Proms because it has a unique audience and a unique vibe.

“The current head of music at the BBC has got a broader, more catholic agenda than in the past, and it’s a fantastic privilege to return.”

Which pieces will you be performing?

“I’m doing two concerts on the same night. One is the Elgar Violin concerto, the other is with my quintet. We’re going to play compositions off my latest jazz-rock record A Very Nice Album.

“The Proms have given me the chance to enjoy music from my vantage point – ranging from classical through to contemporary. No other festival could have offered me that opportunity.”

Why did you avoid playing in London for so long?

“It was good for me to get away and live in Poland for a while as the business pressures were further away. It maybe meglomaniac, but I believe the musician – not the business people - should originate the music.”

So the scene there allowed you to be yourself?

“Absolutely. In countries outside Britain I find there’s not this view of ‘Oh isn’t Nigel a naughty boy for playing Hendrix or for playing jazz?’. In other countries people just listen to music and decide whether they think it’s good or bad.

“Poland hasn't been taken over by the ‘Britney Spears’ factor so much. They’re just as likely to promote a good jazz concert as (pop music).”

Do you speak any Polish?

"Enough to order a beer!"

Is your wife Agnieszka a musician, too?

"No, she studied law at Westminster university, but didn't want to get involved in such a cut throat profession. She's involved in visual arts now."

You have a son, 11-year-old called Sark Amadeus, from a previous relationship. Is he musical like you?

“With the name of Kennedy it’s quite likely there’s going to be some music there somewhere! He wants to be a drummer.”

Tell us about your relationship with your two mentors, Yehudi Menuhin and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.

“The relationship with Yehudi was a close one, because he first heard me play when I was six and then paid for me to go to his school for ten years.

“Then when I was 12 or 13 I met Stephane. Some years later he asked me to play with him at Carnegie Hall. But my classical advisers told me that playing with possibly the greatest jazz violinist ever would be detrimental to my career.”

Is it true you did in fact join him on stage, but only after drinking a bottle of whisky?

“Yeah. And I played even better actually!”

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