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,
with a global fanbase.
Beyond his idiosyncratic performance style and brilliant technique,
Kennedy is pure musician.
His never ending quest to immerse himself in new genres,
to discover a fresh voice for the violin,
has taken him from WOMAD...
..to the Royal Albert Hall.
Kennedy's career from child prodigy...
to superstardom has made him a household name,
the cameras never far behind.
In this programme of highlights from the BBC Archive,
we track Nigel Kennedy's musical journey...
and varying hairstyles...
over 50 years.
From Mendelssohn to jazzing with Grappelli.
His enduring love of Vivaldi...
From the surreal...
..to the spiritual...
..Kennedy plays every gig as if it were his last.
He is a true original.
SONG: The Sonata for Violin and Piano by Cesar Franck
As a child of seven in 1964, Nigel Kennedy's natural musicality
was captured in this rarely seen BBC footage of him playing the piano.
Well, Nigel, that was simply terrific.
Come up to my height now and let me have a word with you.
Well now, for a seven-year-old, that was pretty good playing, I think.
How long have you been playing the piano?
-You also play the violin, don't you?
-And how long have you been playing that?
-Which one do you prefer?
His status as a child prodigy was established in the programme
Coming Along Nicely, which followed him at a specialist music school
set up by the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin.
When he came, from the very first time with his mother,
he played a composition of his own and he played with intelligence.
-This was on the piano?
-It was on the piano, yes.
When he did play on the violin, he played perfectly in tune.
Then, by the clarity and rhythm of his violin playing,
which was still in an embryonic stage,
but already had the mark of strong rhythmic personality
and the impeccable ear that demanded perfect intonation...
..I knew that I was dealing with one who would inevitably become
the musician he was destined to be.
In fact, I found myself playing piano easier than I could the violin.
But when it came to a time when I had to make up my mind
which I was going to play, I wanted to play the violin.
Looking ahead to five years' time,
when you'll be 21, what do you hope to be doing then?
Well, it's difficult to say. Just enjoying my music.
I hope I'll be able to...
still be playing jazz and classical music and more things quite freely,
hoping that they won't be getting in the way of each other.
I'd like to become a solo concert violinist, if possible.
Also a solo jazz violinist.
MUSIC: Lady Be Good by Gershwin
It was the violinist Stephane Grappelli
who galvanised his love of jazz.
They first played together when Nigel Kennedy was still a schoolboy,
aged just 13.
This is them working together in 1974,
jamming at London's Ronnie Scott's.
Would you rather be the best violinist in the world,
play the best jazz or be the best centre-half?
Well, I'm interested in football, but I'd rather play the best jazz.
As a 17-year-old,
Kennedy crossed the Atlantic to go to the Juilliard School of Music
in New York, one of the world's most prestigious conservatoires.
I chose the Juilliard School to study at
because I thought that it would be good for my development
to be surrounded by so many really good musicians.
And then, at the time, I was quite attracted by the jazz scene
over here, which is very big. There are lots of jazz clubs,
lots of really good jazz players
and all the good musicians seem to live in this city
and there is some way of meeting them if you put your mind to it.
HE PLAYS A CLASSICAL PIECE
At Juilliard, in the diploma course,
which is what I'm taking,
you have to do orchestra for six hours a week,
two three-hour sessions,
you have to do literature and material of music,
and history of music you do for something like three hours a week.
And you have your lesson with your major teacher,
Miss DeLay in my case.
Dorothy DeLay is one of the best violin teachers in the world.
Could you begin our first movement once more?
HE CONTINUES PLAYING
There are some things that I don't like and some which I do like.
I like all the entertainment and all the action which goes on,
but the kind of environment I don't think is good.
I don't think people were meant to live in polluted air
and in concrete enclosures
when there could be grass or something.
And there's quite a lot of violence
and lots of unhappy people in New York,
so it can't be all terrific, you know.
CLASSICAL PIECE CONTINUES
Students all over the world are generally hard up
at some time or other,
but music students are luckier than most
in so far as they have an easy way of attracting funds.
MUSIC: Double Violin Concerto by Bach
After his first year at the Juilliard School,
Nigel returns to England on holiday
and appears at King's Lynn for the 1975 Music Festival,
invited to share the platform with his mentor, Yehudi Menuhin,
to play Bach's Double Violin Concerto.
I reckon England is the most pleasant place to live.
Well, you've got cricket matches here,
and that's quite important, really.
I mean, not just cricket in itself, but a sense of tradition
and a sense of something which is
artistic and has value,
although it's not easy to see in the first place.
I think there's more of that kind of frame of mind
in England than in a country like America,
which isn't very old.
With his experience of the Juilliard Music School now behind him,
the testing moment for Nigel arrives.
He auditions for the distinguished Italian conductor Riccardo Muti.
The audition is a success
and he is invited to play Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto
here in the Royal Festival Hall.
This concert in 1977 marked the beginning of extraordinary decade
for the 20-year-old violinist,
which brought award-winning recordings
and performances with the world's greatest orchestras.
Kennedy had become one of the hottest young talents
in classical music.
Well, I don't want to do anything until I have mastered it,
and I've learnt that from classical music,
that there's no point in going out and trying to play something
if you haven't actually mastered
and feel that you are totally at one with it.
Unless it was something which I felt was totally myself,
I'd never dream of doing it.
But I think having been born in this kind of musical age,
you hear many more different kinds of music
than one used to, maybe even 50 years ago.
So it's going to be necessary for musicians,
if they want to call themselves complete musicians,
to be involved in more than one kind of music.
JAZZY MUSIC BEGINS
Well, Lark Ascending was written for violin and string orchestra,
and we're going to play a bit of a violin and piano adaption
by Vaughan Williams that we've hacked about rather!
I've asked a violin star that I wanted to meet for some time.
He's a man after my own heart,
who plays all kinds of music with all kinds of musicians,
including Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli and Stan Getz.
Ladies and gentlemen, Nigel Kennedy.
-What's your age now?
-Well, I am getting on, maestro - 27.
27. There's not scarce a mark on you, Nigel.
But you seem to have fairly Catholic tastes,
cos you're into pop, you play the old electric fiddle.
Well, yeah. I mean, I figure there are so many people in classical music
who say, "Oh, isn't it easy for pop musicians
"just to write a simple song and just do it?"
Well, it's not that simple
and, I think, as far as what playing music is for is to communicate
and what I want to be able to do is...
We have kind of got a group together which is kind of the Art of Noise,
Trevor Horn type stuff. Except it's played live, you know...
-So, you've no snobbery about music?
-Not at all.
I think it's quite fun to make a violin
sound like a little baby having its throat cut.
Having conquered the classical music world,
Kennedy craved experimentation.
Not only did he electrify the violin,
but we got the first glimpses of his famously supercharged hairstyle.
Something different about playing electric fiddle
is the fact that the sound's not really coming out of the violin,
so you're not having your left ear deafened by a Stradivari anymore,
you're having both your ears deafened by an amp.
Also, the sounds you're making
are not being totally controlled by your hands,
it's obviously by the pedals and
other things that you're using to achieve the sounds.
So basically you've got all the possibilities of, like,
a good electric guitar player
and if you want to get them in line, you can make some good damage.
HE PLAYS ELECTRIC VIOLIN
MUSIC: The Four Seasons by Vivaldi
is a man who I think is quite a vandal.
He was working for the church
and I think he got rid of all his aggression by writing music.
And he wrote The Four Seasons.
MUSIC: The Four Seasons
It was Kennedy's landmark recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons
in 1989 that really established him as an musician of mass appeal.
Selling in excess of two million copies,
the album sat at the top of the classical charts for two years
and ensured Kennedy's place in the record books.
What I'm trying to do is bring the music into the 20th century,
by doing a bit of improvisation and playing in an idiom
which is associated with the 20th century,
ie jazz or, you know, basically making some noise on the fiddle.
I think I'm helping to bring Vivaldi to life again.
I was in the supermarket the other day and I looked round,
I was buying, you know, a pack of pork sausages,
which wasn't much good, cos I'm a vegetarian,
and this bloke said to me, he was standing next to me, he said,
"It's my hundredth birthday this year,
"do you want to come to the party?"
And I looked round and it was Harpo Marx.
He's a pretty cool cat, so
I'm not sure if it was a figment of my imagination,
but, like, if he was alive today, he would be 100.
This curious mashup with Harpo Marx is one good example of Kennedy's
insatiable appetite to explore new ways of presenting his music,
making full use of the magic and power of television.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
This certainly is a programme of contrast, ladies and gentlemen,
because we now have a great classical musician
who has written his own LP entitled Kafka.
The track he's going to play is called Melody In The Wind.
He's accompanied by Mr John Etheridge.
Please welcome, it is Britain's greatest violinist,
Mr Nigel Kennedy.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
Nigel Kennedy's association with the great jazz guitarist
John Etheridge stretches back almost 30 years.
They met when Etheridge was touring with Kennedy's childhood mentor,
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Kennedy is an ever colourful figure, his individuality
and eccentricity extending to most areas of his life.
What about all these sort of bits of shavings round...
-Yeah, I've done that, as well.
But that's not just cos you don't want to pay to get your hair done?
Well, I could pay someone to do it, but I can do it just as good.
-But isn't that because you want to look like that?
But I don't want to pay and spend time
for someone else to make me look like that.
I prefer to look like that myself, you know.
So that's the look. That's the Nigel Kennedy...
-Yeah, it's what I like.
-Cos you're called Nigel, I think,
-and you're trying to get away from it.
-Well, it's a dreadful name!
And you've got to do anything to try to get rid of that name.
-I did try to get rid of it.
-Yeah, I dropped it for a bit,
but then I started missing it.
LIVELY MUSIC PLAYS
Hello, baby. How are you?
I feel, like, kind of spaced out. I got in from Germany this afternoon.
You know how musicians are, they're always travelling,
but when you meet some friends, like what Kroke are,
then you feel at home straightaway.
These guys are such amazing musicians and I've learnt
so much about the traditions of music from these guys,
not by them telling me stuff,
but from their soul and the way that they play with open spirit.
Kennedy's 2004 appearance at WOMAD,
the great world music fest,
saw him bring together his electric violin
with the eclectic sounds of Polish folk band Kroke.
Do you have one day a week where you put your violin down and say,
"OK, now I'm going to let myself be open to other things"?
Absolutely. You know, like, I think
I've worked very hard, but I think it's very important...
In a way, the violin IS my religion,
you know, because doing this work,
which is really, like, could be seen as just some guy, like,
going through his coordination exercises and stuff.
This is the physical manifestation of, like,
some spiritual development which is going on, as far as I see it,
from within myself, you know.
We end with Kennedy in front of a packed Royal Albert Hall
aged 56 at the Last Night Of The 2013 BBC Proms.
Dressed down and informal, he's on blistering form,
every inch the virtuoso and showman.
It's music-making that sums up everything we've come to expect
from this undoubtedly influential artist.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
TRILL CONTINUES PLAYFULLY
AUDIENCE CLAPS IN TIME
VIOLIN MIMICS WOLF WHISTLE
PLAYING VERY QUIETLY
HE PLAYS SCRATCHILY
FOLK INTERPRETATION OF THE FOUR SEASONS
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
JAUNTY FOLK TUNE
PLAYS 'BONANZA' THEME TUNE
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
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.