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Nigel Kennedy

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Nigel Kennedy
Kennedy performing in 2010
Kennedy performing in 2010
Background information
Born (1956-12-28) 28 December 1956 (age 67)
Brighton, Sussex, England
GenresClassical, classic rock, jazz
Occupation(s)Violinist, violist
Instrument(s)Violin, viola, piano
Years active1984–present
LabelsEMI Classics
Nigel Kennedy Szczawnica – Jaworki, Poland

Nigel Kennedy (born 28 December 1956) is an English violinist and violist.

His early career was primarily spent performing classical music, and has since expanded into jazz, klezmer, and other music genres.

Early life and background[edit]

Kennedy's grandfather was Lauri Kennedy, principal cellist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra,[1] and his grandmother was Dorothy Kennedy, a pianist. Lauri and Dorothy Kennedy were Australian, while their son, the cellist John Kennedy, was born in England. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music in London, at age 22, John joined the Royal 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). But they ultimately divorced, and John returned to Australia.[2]

Kennedy was born in Brighton. A child prodigy, as a 10-year-old he picked out Fats Waller tunes on the piano after hearing his stepfather's jazz records.[3] At the age of 7, he became a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music.[4] He later studied at the Juilliard School in New York City with Dorothy DeLay. While there he helped to pay for his studies by busking with fellow student and cellist Thomas Demenga.

Musical career[edit]

Until 2000[edit]

At the age of 16, Kennedy was invited by jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli to appear with him at New York's Carnegie Hall.[5] He made his recording debut in 1984 with Elgar's Violin Concerto. His subsequent recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1989 sold over two million copies and earned a place as one of the best-selling of all classical recordings.[6] The album remained at the top of the UK classical charts for over a year, with total sales of over three million units.[7]

In 1992, Kennedy announced the end of his career in classical music.[8] Around this time, he recorded the album Music in Colours with Stephen Duffy. He returned to the international concert platform in the mid-1990s. In 1997, he received an award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music at the BRIT Awards, and in 2001 received the 'Male Artist of the Year' award.[9]

In other music genres, Kennedy recorded a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" for the 1993 album Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. The same year, he made an appearance on Robert Plant's solo album Fate of Nations on the track "Calling to you". In 1999, Sony Classical released The Kennedy Experience, which featured improvisational recordings based on Hendrix compositions.[10] Kennedy's autobiography, Always Playing, was published in 1991.[11]

Since 2000[edit]

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", "L.A. Woman", "The End", and "Riders on the Storm". On 27 November 2000, Kennedy joined rock group The Who at the Royal Albert Hall to play the violin solo in the song "Baba O'Riley", released three years later on the album Live at the Royal Albert Hall. Kennedy also played on several tracks – including "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. He has explored Klezmer music with the Polish jazz band Kroke.[12] In late 2005, Kennedy recorded his first album for the Blue Note jazz label, released as Blue Note Sessions, with Ron Carter on double bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and saxophonist Joe Lovano.

Kennedy returned to the 2008 Proms after an absence of 21 years, performing Elgar's Violin Concerto and a late-night Prom with the Nigel Kennedy Quintet.[13] He was appointed artistic director of the Polish Chamber Orchestra and in 2010, founded the Orchestra of Life, an ensemble of mainly Polish musicians.[8]

In August 2013, he again returned to the Proms performing The Four Seasons at a concert featuring Kennedy with a group of young Palestinian musicians, the Palestine Strings from the Edward Said Conservatory of Music, and the Orchestra of Life. According to Michael Church of The Independent, in the first movement "Spring", Kennedy "swerved off-course with a flurry of bird-tweets followed by a jazz riff from his bassist; the staccato chords of the next movement were decorated by a microtonal Arabic riff from one of the guest players".[14] Near the end of the concert, the BBC removed the violinist's attribution of apartheid to Israel from the television broadcast on BBC4. The comments were broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. A representative of the Corporation said they did not "fall within the editorial remit of the Proms as a classical music festival."[15][16] 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.[17]

Kennedy objected to the removal of his remarks from the broadcast. A condition of the booking, to which Kennedy had agreed, was not making such a comment, according to his manager.[15]

Kennedy also plays the viola, and has recorded Sir William Walton's Viola Concerto.[18] Kennedy's own compositions include incidental music for Chekhov's play Three Sisters.[19] Kennedy published his second autobiography, Nigel Kennedy Uncensored!, in 2021.[20]


In 1991, the Controller of BBC Radio 3 John Drummond criticised Kennedy describing him as "a Liberace for the nineties" and objected to his "ludicrous" clothes and "self-invented accent".[21]

Until 2006, Kennedy expressed his intention of not appearing on the classical London concert scene with a London orchestra, which was seen by some as arrogance,[5] although he rationalised it 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[22] 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 improvised elements to his performances, as in his Jimi Hendrix-inspired cadenza to Beethoven's Violin Concerto and his jazz and fusion recordings.

In September 2021, Kennedy cancelled a performance at the Royal Albert Hall after the host, Classic FM, prevented him from including a Jimi Hendrix composition at the concert. He had intended to perform a version of "Little Wing" in the manner of Ralph Vaughan Williams[23]

Personal life and politics[edit]

Kennedy was romantically involved with singer/guitarist Brix Smith after she had broken up from and divorced husband Mark E. Smith in 1989.[24] Kennedy currently divides his time among residences in Malvern, Worcestershire where his former girlfriend Eve Westmore and son Sark Yves Amadeus (born in 1997) reside, London and Kraków, Poland. He has been married twice; his second wife, Agnieszka (née Chowniec), is a Polish actress and artistic director, born in April 1977.[5][25]

Kennedy acknowledges regularly smoking cannabis to aid his creativity.[26]


Kennedy is an Aston Villa F.C. supporter.[5] At Przystanek Woodstock 2010, he had his orchestra wear Aston Villa shirts and led the crowd in the team's chants. While living and recording in Poland, he also took an active interest in KS Cracovia, in whose 100th anniversary club replica kit he appeared.


Kennedy is an avowed socialist.[27] 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. Kennedy is a vocal opponent of Israel's policies in the West Bank, and, in the summer of 2007, he told a Haaretz 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.[28]


In 1991, he was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Letters, or Litt.D.) by the University of Bath.[29]


List of albums, with selected chart positions and notes
Album Year Peak chart positions Notes
Plays Jazz (Chandos) 1984 Piano: Peter Pettinger
Salut d'Amour & Other Elgar Favourites (Chandos)
Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (EMI) 97 London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley
Tchaikovsky; Violin Concerto / Chausson: Poeme (EMI) 1986 London Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
Bartók: Mainly Black / Ellington: Sonata for Solo Violin (EMI) with Alec Dankworth (double bass)
Walton: Violin Concerto / Viola Concerto (EMI) 1987 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, André Previn
Let Loose
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor / Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 / Schubert: Rondo in A (EMI) 1988 28 75 English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate
Sibelius: Violin Concerto (EMI) City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (EMI) 1989 3 12 35 15 3 English Chamber Orchestra
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 (EMI) 1991 71 76 29 London Philharmonic Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt
Just Listen: Sibelius: Violin Concerto / Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto (EMI) 1992 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle / London Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
Beethoven: Violin Concerto NDR Symphony Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto (EMI) 1993 London Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
Kafka (EMI) 1996 67
Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (EMI) 1997 (as Kennedy), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
Kreisler (EMI) 1998 (as Kennedy)
The Kennedy Experience (Sony) 1999 (as Kennedy)
Classic Kennedy (EMI) (as Kennedy)
Duos for Violin & Cello (EMI) 2000 as Kennedy with Lynn Harrell
Riders on the Storm: The Doors Concerto (Decca) as Kennedy with Jaz Coleman
Kennedy Plays Bach (EMI) 73 47 (as Kennedy)
Greatest Hits (EMI) 2002 71 with various artists
Vivaldi 2003 36 Berliner Philharmoniker
East Meets East (EMI) with Kroke
Vivaldi II (EMI) 2004 39 Berliner Philharmoniker
Legend: Beethoven and Bruch (CD+DVD) (EMI) 2005 NDR Symphony Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt / English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate
Nigel Kennedy Plays Bach (DVD) (EMI) 2006 Irish Chamber Orchestra
Inner Thoughts (EMI)
Kennedy, Live at La Citadelle (DVD) (EMI) Polish Chamber Orchestra
The Blue Note Sessions (Blue Note) 107
The Platinum Collection (EMI) 2007 with various artists
Polish Spirit (EMI) Polish Chamber Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk
Beethoven: Violin Concerto / Mozart: Violin Concerto No.4 / Horace Silver: Creepin In (EMI) 2008 99 Polish Chamber Orchestra
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;
SHHH! (EMI) 2009 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
The Very Best of Nigel Kennedy (EMI) 2010 with various artists
The Four Elements 2011
Recital (Sony) 2013 Nigel Kennedy Quintet (Nigel Kennedy, violin, celeste; Rolf Bussalb, acoustic guitar & 12 string; Yaron Stavi, bass; Krzysztof Dziedzic, drums; Barbara Dziewiecka, 2nd violin, viola)
The New Four Seasons 2014
My World 2016 Composed by Nigel Kennedy, with the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra & The Stella


  1. ^ White, John (2006). John White, Lionel Tertis. Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1843832782. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  2. ^ "NSW HSC online". Hsc.csu.edu.au. Archived from the original on 10 March 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  3. ^ Duncan Seaman (8 March 2013). "Music interview: Nigel Kennedy". The Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  4. ^ Christina Patterson (31 August 2012). "Nigel Kennedy: Still pulling the strings". The Independent. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e Alfred Hickling (29 September 2006). "If you need a pillock, call me". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  6. ^ Steve Wright (23 August 1999). "Not quite Vivaldi: Nigel Kennedy remembers Hendrix". CNN. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  7. ^ John Brunning (3 September 2014). "How Nigel Kennedy changed classical music forever". Classic FM Magazine. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  8. ^ a b "The classical music pop star: Nigel Kennedy at 60". DW. 28 December 2016. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  9. ^ Michael Church (3 September 2014). "Nigel Kennedy: Don't just sit there. Do something Polish". The Independent. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  10. ^ Mark Coles (18 June 1999). "Kennedy plays Hendrix". BBC News. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  11. ^ Nigel Kennedy Always Playing. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991 ISBN 0-297-81209-2
  12. ^ Richard Morrison, "Nigel Kennedy returns to the BBC Proms". The Times, 11 July 2008.
  13. ^ Anthony Holden (26 July 2008). "Such affectation, but such virtuosity". The Observer. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  14. ^ Church, Michael (9 August 2013). "Classical review: Proms 33 and 34: Nigel Kennedy Orientalises Vivaldi and Mitsuko Uchida casts spells with Beethoven". The Independent. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  15. ^ a b Bingham, John (21 August 2013). "BBC accused of 'censorship' after cutting Nigel Kennedy's Israel statement from Proms". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  16. ^ "Report: BBC to cut Israel 'apartheid' comments from UK concert broadcast". The Jerusalem Post. 18 August 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  17. ^ Dysch, Marcus (16 August 2013). "BBC to cut Kennedy slur from Proms broadcast". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  18. ^ "Nigel Kennedy and the viola". Viola-in-music.com. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  19. ^ Kettle, David (March 2017). "Review: My World – Kennedy: Dedications, Three Sisters". The Strad. Braintree, UK. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  20. ^ Kennedy, Nigel (2021). Nigel Kennedy Uncensored!. Fonthill Media. ISBN 978-1-78155-856-0.; Morrison, Richard (18 December 2021). "Nigel Kennedy Uncensored! review – plays like an angel, acts like a prat". The Times.
  21. ^ Paul Kelso (30 August 2000). "Kennedy hits back at arts elitism". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  22. ^ booklet Beethoven violin concerto (1992)
  23. ^ Alberge, Dalya (20 September 2021). "Violinist Nigel Kennedy cancels concert after Classic FM stops Hendrix tribute". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  24. ^ Barton, Laura (25 March 2006). "Brix and mortar". TheGuardian.com.
  25. ^ Stephen Pritchard (13 April 2008). "Return of the prodigal son". The Observer. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  26. ^ Allan Hall and Victoria Ward (5 October 2010). "Nigel Kennedy admitted smoking cannabis at drugs raid party". The Daily Telegraph.
  27. ^ Victoria King (29 July 2011). "Tory MP Louise Mensch 'probably took drugs in club'". BBC News.
  28. ^ Noam Ben Zeev (24 December 2007). "First violin / Prelude to dialogue". Haaretz. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  29. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". bath.ac.uk. University of Bath. Archived from the original on 19 December 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  30. ^ "Nigel Kennedy | full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  31. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010 (PDF ed.). Mt Martha, Victoria, Australia: Moonlight Publishing. p. 152.
  32. ^ "Discographie Nigel Kennedy". lescharts.com (in French). Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  33. ^ "Discografie Nigel Kennedy". dutchcharts.nl (in Dutch). Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  34. ^ "Discography Nigel Kennedy". charts.nz. Retrieved 16 August 2022.

External links[edit]