NigelKennedyPaintingBach Meets Nigel Kennedy at the National Concert Hall (12 July 2014)

Charmingly eccentric and admirably fearless, the world-renowned violinist Nigel Kennedy and his cohort of fine musicians rock the stage of the National Concert Hall with rebellious flair. Framed within two large stills of his Recital Album cover, a semi-circular Perspex wall ensconces the motley group made up of the German guitarist Rolf Bussalb, the English guitarist Doug Boyle, the Polish double bassist Tomasz Kupiec and his fellow countryman, and percussionist, Adam Czerwinski. Not one for adhering to a set programme, Kennedy meanders through a fragmented fusion of musical styles, peppered with Baroque and Jazz idiosyncrasies representative of Kennedy’s musical influences. Flickers of Yehudi Menuhin (his much-loved mentor), Stéphane Grappelli (jazz violinist), Django Reinhardt (jazz guitarist), Fats Waller (jazz pianist/composer), and Dave Bruebeck (jazz pianist/composer) illuminate the dynamic score of the evening’s entertainment.

Kennedy, bedecked in eye-watering neon runners, opens the concert with a technically flawless performance of Bach’s Praeludiem (Partita No. 3 in E major). The lengthy applause, and whoops of praise, confirms the audience’s approval of this quirky extemporizer. Kennedy reacts with an enthusiastic ‘thumbs up’.  He then embarks upon a slightly comedic routine in which he asks various ladies from the front row their names, and proceeds to claim each one as his favourite. As the night progresses, Kennedy takes this act further by walking down the aisle singing names to dodgy rhymes, while intermittently improvising on the violin. Entertaining as it is, some of the more conservative members of the audience appear unnerved by his Avant-garde behaviour.

Kennedy introduces his second musical set as a “longwinded and adventurous” foray into the world of Bach. He segues beautifully into flashes of ‘Sonata No. 2’ in A minor (BWV 1003), ‘Air on the G String’ from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major (BWV 1068), and a cheeky excerpt from Toccata and Fugue in D minor, (BWV 565).

Kennedy’s mastery of his instrument is well documented, but his utter brilliance lies in his refusal to denigrate Bach’s music to the intellectual snobbery of technical virtuosity and soulless mathematics. Kennedy’s Bach is philosophical and passionate. The jazz-like colouring of his interpretations, brought to life by a world-class ensemble, does not detract from the academics of Bach’s music. It merely enhances it — much to the delight of the auditorium. The first half ends with a stirring rendition of Reinhardt’s ‘Swing 39’, and Kennedy’s promise to “do damage in the second Act”.

Following a collage of works written by Kennedy, our own Cora Venus Lunny appears on stage to perform a stunning imagining of Bach’s Concerto in D minor for 2 violins and orchestra (BWV 1043). The musical chemistry between the pair is electric.

In an unorthodox move, Kennedy pops open some beers, and casually presents each one to his colleagues. Not often seen on the stage of the NCH, many audience members approved of his nonchalant bon viveur, whilst others muttered d isapprovingly. Nonetheless, the rest of the night flurries by with a pastiche of tongue-in-cheek renditions of pieces such as Brubeck’s Take 5, Brahms’s ‘Hungarian Dance No. 5’ and the theme from The Lone Ranger.

This was definitely one of the more entertaining nights at the NCH of late, despite the smattering of empty seats around the hall. Standing ovations and rapturous cheers of applause affirm Kennedy’s status as one of the finest violinists and ambassadors for classical music of our time.