Nigel Kennedy at the BBC


Nigel Kennedy at the BBC

Performances and appearances by Nigel Kennedy from the BBC archive, demonstrating a versatility of styles from classical to experimental to a jazz duet with Stephane Grappelli.


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Nigel Kennedy is Britain's most famous violin virtuoso,

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with a global fanbase.

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Beyond his idiosyncratic performance style and brilliant technique,

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Kennedy is pure musician.

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His never ending quest to immerse himself in new genres,

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to discover a fresh voice for the violin,

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has taken him from WOMAD...

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..to the Royal Albert Hall.

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Kennedy's career from child prodigy...

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to superstardom has made him a household name,

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the cameras never far behind.

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In this programme of highlights from the BBC Archive,

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we track Nigel Kennedy's musical journey...

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and varying hairstyles...

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over 50 years.

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From Mendelssohn to jazzing with Grappelli.

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His enduring love of Vivaldi...

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..to folk.

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From the surreal...

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..to the spiritual...

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..Kennedy plays every gig as if it were his last.

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He is a true original.

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SONG: The Sonata for Violin and Piano by Cesar Franck

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As a child of seven in 1964, Nigel Kennedy's natural musicality

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was captured in this rarely seen BBC footage of him playing the piano.

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Well, Nigel, that was simply terrific.

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Come up to my height now and let me have a word with you.

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Whoops!

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Well now, for a seven-year-old, that was pretty good playing, I think.

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How long have you been playing the piano?

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-Two years.

-You also play the violin, don't you?

-Yes.

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-And how long have you been playing that?

-Eight months.

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-Which one do you prefer?

-Violin.

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His status as a child prodigy was established in the programme

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Coming Along Nicely, which followed him at a specialist music school

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set up by the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

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MUSIC CONTINUES

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When he came, from the very first time with his mother,

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he played a composition of his own and he played with intelligence.

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-This was on the piano?

-It was on the piano, yes.

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When he did play on the violin, he played perfectly in tune.

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Then, by the clarity and rhythm of his violin playing,

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which was still in an embryonic stage,

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but already had the mark of strong rhythmic personality

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and the impeccable ear that demanded perfect intonation...

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..I knew that I was dealing with one who would inevitably become

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the musician he was destined to be.

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APPLAUSE

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In fact, I found myself playing piano easier than I could the violin.

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But when it came to a time when I had to make up my mind

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which I was going to play, I wanted to play the violin.

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Looking ahead to five years' time,

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when you'll be 21, what do you hope to be doing then?

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Well, it's difficult to say. Just enjoying my music.

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I hope I'll be able to...

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still be playing jazz and classical music and more things quite freely,

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hoping that they won't be getting in the way of each other.

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I'd like to become a solo concert violinist, if possible.

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Also a solo jazz violinist.

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MUSIC: Lady Be Good by Gershwin

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It was the violinist Stephane Grappelli

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who galvanised his love of jazz.

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They first played together when Nigel Kennedy was still a schoolboy,

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aged just 13.

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This is them working together in 1974,

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jamming at London's Ronnie Scott's.

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APPLAUSE

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APPLAUSE

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Would you rather be the best violinist in the world,

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play the best jazz or be the best centre-half?

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Well, I'm interested in football, but I'd rather play the best jazz.

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As a 17-year-old,

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Kennedy crossed the Atlantic to go to the Juilliard School of Music

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in New York, one of the world's most prestigious conservatoires.

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HORNS BEEP

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I chose the Juilliard School to study at

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because I thought that it would be good for my development

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to be surrounded by so many really good musicians.

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And then, at the time, I was quite attracted by the jazz scene

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over here, which is very big. There are lots of jazz clubs,

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lots of really good jazz players

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and all the good musicians seem to live in this city

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and there is some way of meeting them if you put your mind to it.

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HE PLAYS A CLASSICAL PIECE

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At Juilliard, in the diploma course,

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which is what I'm taking,

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you have to do orchestra for six hours a week,

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two three-hour sessions,

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you have to do literature and material of music,

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and history of music you do for something like three hours a week.

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And you have your lesson with your major teacher,

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Miss DeLay in my case.

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Dorothy DeLay is one of the best violin teachers in the world.

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Could you begin our first movement once more?

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HE CONTINUES PLAYING

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There are some things that I don't like and some which I do like.

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I like all the entertainment and all the action which goes on,

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but the kind of environment I don't think is good.

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I don't think people were meant to live in polluted air

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and in concrete enclosures

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when there could be grass or something.

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And there's quite a lot of violence

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and lots of unhappy people in New York,

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so it can't be all terrific, you know.

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CLASSICAL PIECE CONTINUES

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APPLAUSE

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Students all over the world are generally hard up

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at some time or other,

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but music students are luckier than most

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in so far as they have an easy way of attracting funds.

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MUSIC: Double Violin Concerto by Bach

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After his first year at the Juilliard School,

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Nigel returns to England on holiday

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and appears at King's Lynn for the 1975 Music Festival,

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invited to share the platform with his mentor, Yehudi Menuhin,

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to play Bach's Double Violin Concerto.

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I reckon England is the most pleasant place to live.

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Well, you've got cricket matches here,

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and that's quite important, really.

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I mean, not just cricket in itself, but a sense of tradition

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and a sense of something which is

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artistic and has value,

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although it's not easy to see in the first place.

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I think there's more of that kind of frame of mind

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in England than in a country like America,

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which isn't very old.

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With his experience of the Juilliard Music School now behind him,

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the testing moment for Nigel arrives.

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He auditions for the distinguished Italian conductor Riccardo Muti.

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The audition is a success

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and he is invited to play Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto

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here in the Royal Festival Hall.

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This concert in 1977 marked the beginning of extraordinary decade

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for the 20-year-old violinist,

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which brought award-winning recordings

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and performances with the world's greatest orchestras.

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Kennedy had become one of the hottest young talents

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in classical music.

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Well, I don't want to do anything until I have mastered it,

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and I've learnt that from classical music,

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that there's no point in going out and trying to play something

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if you haven't actually mastered

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and feel that you are totally at one with it.

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Unless it was something which I felt was totally myself,

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I'd never dream of doing it.

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But I think having been born in this kind of musical age,

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you hear many more different kinds of music

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than one used to, maybe even 50 years ago.

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So it's going to be necessary for musicians,

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if they want to call themselves complete musicians,

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to be involved in more than one kind of music.

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JAZZY MUSIC BEGINS

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Good evening.

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Well, Lark Ascending was written for violin and string orchestra,

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and we're going to play a bit of a violin and piano adaption

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by Vaughan Williams that we've hacked about rather!

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I've asked a violin star that I wanted to meet for some time.

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He's a man after my own heart,

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who plays all kinds of music with all kinds of musicians,

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including Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli and Stan Getz.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Nigel Kennedy.

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APPLAUSE

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APPLAUSE

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-What's your age now?

-Well, I am getting on, maestro - 27.

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27. There's not scarce a mark on you, Nigel.

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But you seem to have fairly Catholic tastes,

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cos you're into pop, you play the old electric fiddle.

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Well, yeah. I mean, I figure there are so many people in classical music

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who say, "Oh, isn't it easy for pop musicians

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"just to write a simple song and just do it?"

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Well, it's not that simple

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and, I think, as far as what playing music is for is to communicate

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and what I want to be able to do is...

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We have kind of got a group together which is kind of the Art of Noise,

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Trevor Horn type stuff. Except it's played live, you know...

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-So, you've no snobbery about music?

-Not at all.

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I think it's quite fun to make a violin

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sound like a little baby having its throat cut.

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LAUGHTER

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Having conquered the classical music world,

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Kennedy craved experimentation.

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Not only did he electrify the violin,

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but we got the first glimpses of his famously supercharged hairstyle.

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Something different about playing electric fiddle

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is the fact that the sound's not really coming out of the violin,

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so you're not having your left ear deafened by a Stradivari anymore,

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you're having both your ears deafened by an amp.

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Also, the sounds you're making

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are not being totally controlled by your hands,

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it's obviously by the pedals and

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other things that you're using to achieve the sounds.

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So basically you've got all the possibilities of, like,

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a good electric guitar player

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and if you want to get them in line, you can make some good damage.

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HE PLAYS ELECTRIC VIOLIN

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MUSIC: The Four Seasons by Vivaldi

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Yeah, Vivaldi

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is a man who I think is quite a vandal.

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He was working for the church

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and I think he got rid of all his aggression by writing music.

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And he wrote The Four Seasons.

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MUSIC: The Four Seasons

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It was Kennedy's landmark recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons

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in 1989 that really established him as an musician of mass appeal.

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Selling in excess of two million copies,

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the album sat at the top of the classical charts for two years

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and ensured Kennedy's place in the record books.

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What I'm trying to do is bring the music into the 20th century,

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by doing a bit of improvisation and playing in an idiom

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which is associated with the 20th century,

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ie jazz or, you know, basically making some noise on the fiddle.

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I think I'm helping to bring Vivaldi to life again.

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I was in the supermarket the other day and I looked round,

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I was buying, you know, a pack of pork sausages,

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which wasn't much good, cos I'm a vegetarian,

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and this bloke said to me, he was standing next to me, he said,

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"It's my hundredth birthday this year,

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"do you want to come to the party?"

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And I looked round and it was Harpo Marx.

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He's a pretty cool cat, so

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I'm not sure if it was a figment of my imagination,

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but, like, if he was alive today, he would be 100.

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This curious mashup with Harpo Marx is one good example of Kennedy's

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insatiable appetite to explore new ways of presenting his music,

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making full use of the magic and power of television.

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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This certainly is a programme of contrast, ladies and gentlemen,

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because we now have a great classical musician

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who has written his own LP entitled Kafka.

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The track he's going to play is called Melody In The Wind.

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He's accompanied by Mr John Etheridge.

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Please welcome, it is Britain's greatest violinist,

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Mr Nigel Kennedy.

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APPLAUSE AND CHEERING

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Nigel Kennedy's association with the great jazz guitarist

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John Etheridge stretches back almost 30 years.

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They met when Etheridge was touring with Kennedy's childhood mentor,

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Stephane Grappelli.

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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Kennedy is an ever colourful figure, his individuality

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and eccentricity extending to most areas of his life.

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What about all these sort of bits of shavings round...

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-Yeah, I've done that, as well.

-Yeah?

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But that's not just cos you don't want to pay to get your hair done?

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Well, I could pay someone to do it, but I can do it just as good.

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-But isn't that because you want to look like that?

-Yeah.

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But I don't want to pay and spend time

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for someone else to make me look like that.

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I prefer to look like that myself, you know.

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So that's the look. That's the Nigel Kennedy...

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-Yeah, it's what I like.

-Cos you're called Nigel, I think,

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-and you're trying to get away from it.

-Well, it's a dreadful name!

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And you've got to do anything to try to get rid of that name.

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-I did try to get rid of it.

-Did you?

-Yeah, I dropped it for a bit,

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but then I started missing it.

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LIVELY MUSIC PLAYS

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Hello, baby. How are you?

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I feel, like, kind of spaced out. I got in from Germany this afternoon.

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You know how musicians are, they're always travelling,

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but when you meet some friends, like what Kroke are,

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then you feel at home straightaway.

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These guys are such amazing musicians and I've learnt

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so much about the traditions of music from these guys,

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not by them telling me stuff,

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but from their soul and the way that they play with open spirit.

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Kennedy's 2004 appearance at WOMAD,

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the great world music fest,

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saw him bring together his electric violin

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with the eclectic sounds of Polish folk band Kroke.

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Do you have one day a week where you put your violin down and say,

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"OK, now I'm going to let myself be open to other things"?

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Absolutely. You know, like, I think

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I've worked very hard, but I think it's very important...

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In a way, the violin IS my religion,

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you know, because doing this work,

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which is really, like, could be seen as just some guy, like,

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going through his coordination exercises and stuff.

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This is the physical manifestation of, like,

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some spiritual development which is going on, as far as I see it,

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from within myself, you know.

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AUDIENCE CHATTER

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We end with Kennedy in front of a packed Royal Albert Hall

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aged 56 at the Last Night Of The 2013 BBC Proms.

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APPLAUSE BUILDS

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Dressed down and informal, he's on blistering form,

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every inch the virtuoso and showman.

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It's music-making that sums up everything we've come to expect

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from this undoubtedly influential artist.

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NOTE WAVERS

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LAUGHTER

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LAUGHTER

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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VIOLIN SCREECHES

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LAUGHTER

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TRILL CONTINUES PLAYFULLY

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LAUGHTER

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Yeah!

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LAUGHTER

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TEMPO INCREASES

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AUDIENCE CLAPS IN TIME

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LAUGHTER

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VIOLIN MIMICS WOLF WHISTLE

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LAUGHTER

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Yeah!

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SILENCE

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LAUGHTER

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PLAYING VERY QUIETLY

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LAUGHTER

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VIOLIN SQUEAKS

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LAUGHTER

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HE PLAYS SCRATCHILY

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LAUGHTER

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FOLK INTERPRETATION OF THE FOUR SEASONS

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LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

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JAUNTY FOLK TUNE

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PLAYS 'BONANZA' THEME TUNE

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LAUGHTER

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LAUGHTER

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Yeah!

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Yeah!

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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Compilation of performances and appearances by Nigel Kennedy from the BBC archive, following his music development and career from a seven-year-old child on Town and Around to his virtuoso showstopper Czardas from the Last Night of the Proms 2013.

Featuring interviews with him through the years, and demonstrating a versatility of styles from classical to experimental to a jazz duet with Stephane Grappelli.


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