Nigel Kennedy

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For the politician, see Nigel Kennedy (politician).
Nigel Kennedy
Nigel Kennedy 2009.jpg
Nigel Kennedy, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2009
Born (1956-12-28) 28 December 1956 (age 57)
Brighton, England
Occupation Violinist, violist

Nigel Kennedy (born 28 December 1956) is a British violinist and violist. He made his early career in the classical field, and he has performed and recorded most of the major violin concerti. He later included jazz, klezmer, and other genres in his repertoire.

Musical background[edit]

Nigel Kennedy's grandfather was Lauri Kennedy, principal cellist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra,[1] who played with Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, Arthur Rubinstein, and others. His grandmother was Dorothy Kennedy, a pianist, who accompanied John McCormack and taught Enrico Caruso's children. Lauri and Dorothy were Australian, but their son, the cellist John Kennedy, was born in England. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, at the age of 22, John joined the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, later becoming the principal cellist of Sir Thomas Beecham's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. While in England, John developed a relationship with an English pianist, Scylla Stoner, with whom he eventually toured in 1952 as part of the Llewellyn-Kennedy Piano Trio (with the violinist Ernest Llewellyn; Stoner was billed as "Scylla Kennedy" after she and John married). However, they ultimately divorced and John returned to Australia, [2] Nigel Kennedy has about 30 close relatives in Australia, whom he visits whenever he tours there.[3]

Early life and musical career[edit]

Nigel Kennedy was born in Brighton, East Sussex. A boy prodigy, as a 10-year-old he would pick out Fats Waller tunes on the piano after hearing his stepfather's jazz records.[4] He was a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music, and later studied at the Juilliard School in New York with Dorothy DeLay.

At the age of 16, Kennedy was invited by Stéphane Grappelli to appear with him at New York's Carnegie Hall, under the threat from his teachers at the Juilliard that it would ruin his classical career.[5] He made his recording debut in 1984 with Elgar's Violin Concerto. Kennedy's recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1989 sold over 2 million copies and earned a place as one of the best-selling classical recordings ever.[6] The album remained top of the UK classical charts for over a year with sales equivalent to one copy sold every 30 seconds.[7]

He gave numerous performances for The Prince's Trust, the Royal Variety Performance and private performances at St. James's Palace and Buckingham Palace. He published his biography Always Playing in 1991.[8] He then took the controversial and highly publicised decision to withdraw completely from public performance, at which point he made the album Music in Colours with Stephen Duffy. He made a triumphant return to the international concert platform to critical acclaim five years later.[7] In 1997, Kennedy received an award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music at the BRIT Awards, and in 2001 received the 'Male Artist of the Year' award.[7]

Kennedy recorded a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" for the 1993 album Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. In 1999 Sony Classical released The Kennedy Experience, which featured improvisational recordings of Hendrix compositions. According to a BBC interview with Kennedy, the violinist stated that the recording is "an album of music inspired by Jimi Hendrix. It is an extended instrumental work in six movements, each movement a classical interpretation of a Hendrix song".[9] On the recording, Kennedy is accompanied by seven other musicians, and the lineup includes two cellos, an oboe, two guitars, a Dobro, flute, and double bass.

In 2000, he recorded Riders on the Storm: The Doors Concerto (with Jaz Coleman), a violin-based orchestral version of Doors songs, including "Strange Days", "LA Woman", "The End", and "Riders on the Storm". And, on 27 November, Kennedy joined rock group The Who at the Royal Albert Hall to play the violin solo on the song "Baba O'Riley", released three years later on the album Live at the Royal Albert Hall. Kennedy has played on several tracks - notably "Experiment IV"- by British singer/songwriter Kate Bush, who was a guest on Kennedy's episode of This Is Your Life. He was featured on two of Sarah Brightman's songs for her 2003 album Harem and has recorded an album of duets with cellist Lynn Harrell.

He has been exploring Klezmer music with the Polish jazz band Kroke. The band consists of musicians "who have been knocking around with Kennedy for five years. ... [Kennedy explains], 'I met them all separately at jam sessions in the jazz club near where I live in Cracow, ... I thought: that’s the drummer I want, that’s the bass player, and so on. They’ve all got their own projects.'"[10]

In late 2005, Kennedy went to New York to record his first album for the jazz label Blue Note Sessions. Other musicians on the album were Ron Carter on double bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums; and saxophonist Joe Lovano. Kennedy has since stated that "from now on, at least 50 per cent of my endeavour is going to be in the jazz field".[4]

Kennedy appointed a new manager, Terri Robson,[citation needed] and returned to the Proms after an absence of 21 years, performing Elgar's Violin Concerto and a late-night Prom with the Nigel Kennedy Quintet.[10]

He also plays the viola, and has recorded Sir William Walton's Viola Concerto.[11]

In 1991, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) by the University of Bath.[12]

Image and controversies[edit]

Kennedy's persona is seen by some as abrasive and limiting to his career,[13] citing as an example his use of a 'Mockney' accent instead of the Received Pronunciation he had when he was interviewed as a child in 1964 on the BBC's Town and Around.[14]

Kennedy was attacked for his approach to classical music by John Drummond in 1991, who called him "a Liberace for the Nineties" and criticised his "ludicrous clothes and grotesque, self-invented accent."[4][15]

Until 2006 he had expressed his intention of not appearing on the classical London concert scene with a London orchestra, seen by some as arrogance[5] and stated by Kennedy in terms of frustrated perfectionism: "It all comes down to the amount of rehearsal you get, or don't get, in this country. I insist on three or four sessions prior to a concert, and orchestral administrators won't accommodate that. If I didn't care about getting it right I could do three concerts in the same amount of time and earn three times the money. But you can't do something properly in less time than it takes."[5]

Kennedy expresses a preference[16] for the immediate appeal of live performance, and often records entire works or movements in single 'takes' to preserve this sense in his recordings. He also introduces improvisatory elements in his performances, as in his Jimi Hendrix-inspired cadenza to the Beethoven Violin Concerto and his jazz and fusion recordings.

In the 2013 BBC Proms he appeared with the Palestine Strings and made passing reference to Israeli 'apartheid', later accusing the BBC of 'censoring' his remark.[17]

Personal life and politics[edit]

When not touring, Kennedy divides his time between residences in Malvern, Worcestershire (where his former girlfriend and son Sark live), and London and Kraków, where he lives with his Polish second wife, Agnieszka.[4][5][18][19]

In the late 1980s, Kennedy was romantically involved with singer/guitarist Brix Smith.

Kennedy is a well-known Aston Villa F.C. supporter.[20] At Przystanek Woodstock 2010, he had his orchestra wear Aston Villa shirts, while directing the crowd in the team's chants. Whilst living and recording in Poland he also took an active interest in KS Cracovia, in whose 100th anniversary club replica kit he appeared.

On 24 October 2006, Kennedy broke his arm in a cycling accident, confirmed in an interview on BBC Radio 3 on 20 April 2007.[21]

Kennedy has acknowledged regularly smoking cannabis in order to aid his creativity.[22]


Kennedy is a socialist.[23] He supported David Davis's campaign when he quit his shadow home secretary post to force a by election in protest over proposals to allow terrorist suspects to be locked up for 42 days without charge.

The musician is a vocal opponent of Israel's policies in the West Bank, and, in the summer of 2007, he told a Ha'aretz reporter:

"I was shocked to see these walls, it's a new apartheid, barbaric behaviour: How can you impose such a collective punishment and separate people? After all, we are all living on the same planet. It seems to me the world should have already learned from what happened in South Africa. And a country that hasn't learned should be boycotted, so that's why I don't perform in your country."[24]

In 2013, the BBC censored the violinist's attribution of Apartheid to Israel which had been made during a Proms performance, from its broadcast of the event.[25] Kennedy said:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a bit facile to say it but we all know from experiencing this night of music tonight, that given equality, and getting rid of apartheid, gives a beautiful chance for amazing things to happen."[26]

Extra: he was guessed at the Whos on heart competition on the heart radio network for winning 100,000 pounds on 14/11/14 16:04 GMT[27]


Year Album Notes
2010 The Very Best of Nigel Kennedy (EMI) with various artists
2009 SHHH! (EMI) Nigel Kennedy Quintet (Nigel Kennedy, electric violin; Adam Kowalewski, contrabass & electric bass; Krzysztof Dziedzic, drums; Tomasz Grzegorski, tenor sax, soprano sax & bass clarinet; Piotr Wyleżoł, piano & hammond) with vocals by Boy George;
2008 A Very Nice Album (EMI) Nigel Kennedy Quintet (Nigel Kennedy, electric violin; Adam Kowalewski, bass; Paweł Dobrowolski, drums; Tomasz Grzegorski, tenor sax; Piotr Wyleżoł, piano) with vocals by Xantoné Blacq & Chris Loung; Sylwia Wójcik, cello; Suzy Willison-Kawalec, harp;
Beethoven: Violin Concerto / Mozart: Violin Concerto No.4 / Horace Silver: Creepin In (EMI) Polish Chamber Orchestra
2007 Polish Spirit (EMI) Polish Chamber Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk
The Platinum Collection (EMI) with various artists
2006 The Bluenote Sessions (EMI)
Kennedy, Live at La Citadelle (DVD) (EMI) Polish Chamber Orchestra
Inner Thoughts (EMI)
Nigel Kennedy Plays Bach (DVD) (EMI) Irish Chamber Orchestra
2005 Legend: Beethoven and Bruch (CD+DVD) (EMI) NDR Symphony Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt / English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate
2004 Vivaldi II (EMI) Berliner Philharmoniker
2003 East Meets East (EMI) with Kroke
Vivaldi Berliner Philharmoniker
2002 Greatest Hits (EMI) with various artists
2000 Kennedy Plays Bach (EMI) (as Kennedy)
Riders on the Storm: The Doors Concerto (Decca) as Kennedy with Jaz Coleman
Duos for Violin & Cello (EMI) as Kennedy with Lynn Harrell
1999 Classic Kennedy (EMI) (as Kennedy)
1999 The Kennedy Experience (Sony) (as Kennedy)
1998 Kreisler (EMI) (as Kennedy)
1997 Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (EMI) (as Kennedy), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
1996 Kafka (EMI)
1993 Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto (EMI) London Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
1992 Beethoven: Violin Concerto NDR Symphony Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt
Just Listen: Sibelius: Violin Concerto / Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto (EMI) City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle / London Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
1991 Brahms: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 (EMI) London Philharmonic Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt
1989 Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (EMI) English Chamber Orchestra
1988 Sibelius: Violin Concerto (EMI) City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor / Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 / Schubert: Rondo in A (EMI) English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate
1987 Let Loose
Walton: Violin Concerto / Viola Concerto (EMI) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, André Previn
1986 Bartók: Mainly Black / Ellington: Sonata for Solo Violin (EMI) with Alec Dankworth (double bass)
Tchaikovsky; Violin Concerto / Chausson: Poeme (EMI) London Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
1984 Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61 (EMI) London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley
Salut d'Amour & Other Elgar Favourites (Chandos)
Nigel Kennedy Plays Jazz (Chandos)


Nigel Kennedy has owned or played instruments by:


  1. ^ John White, Lionel Tertis. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  2. ^ "NSW HSC online". Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  3. ^ Limelight, February 2008
  4. ^ a b c d Nigel Kennedy: All jazzed up The Independent – 5 December 2007
  5. ^ a b c d "If you need a pillock, call me", The Guardian, 29 September 2006
  6. ^ Not quite Vivaldi: Nigel Kennedy remembers Hendrix – 23 August 1999.
  7. ^ a b c "We may play dead composers' works, but we don't have to look as if we're still at the funeral", – Nigel Kennedy ClassicFM
  8. ^ Nigel Kennedy Always Playing. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991 ISBN 0-297-81209-2
  9. ^ Interview with Nigel Kennedy on his album of Jimi Hendrix compositions from the BBC News website
  10. ^ a b Richard Morrison "Nigel Kennedy returns to the BBC Proms", The Times, 11 July 2008.
  11. ^ "Nigel Kennedy and the viola". Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  12. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  13. ^ "Get Nigel Kennedy's Four Seasons CD FREE in today's Mail On Sunday | Mail Online". The Daily Mail (London). 9 March 2008. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  14. ^ Preston, John (8 June 2008). "Nigel Kennedy: 'I didn't want to be the Des O'Connor of the violin'". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ booklet Beethoven violin concerto (1992)
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Nigel Kennedy tries less spit, more Polish", The Times, 26 October 2007.
  19. ^ "Out of the woods."
  20. ^ "Famous Aston Villa supporters". Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ Hall, Allan; Ward, Victoria (5 October 2010). "Nigel Kennedy admits smoking cannabis at drugs raid party". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  23. ^ "Tory MP Louise Mensch 'probably took drugs in club'". BBC News. 29 July 2011. 
  24. ^ "First violin / Prelude to dialogue". Noam Ben Zeev . Ha'aretz, 24 December 2007.
  25. ^ staff (18 August 2013). "Report: BBC to cut Israel 'apartheid' comments from UK concert broadcast". Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  26. ^ Marcus Dysch (16 August 2013). "BBC to cut Kennedy slur from Proms broadcast". Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  27. ^

External links[edit]