There is no point in working with a conductor



The fearless “No-conductor!” violinist of classical music: Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy is the fearless violinist of classical music, who has been a magnet of attention for almost 50 years, thanks to his iconoclastic dressing style and unique performances. Maybe he is best remembered by his Guinness Record-breaking Vivaldi Four Seasons album which sold more than 2 million copies. As Andante magazine we had the privilege of holding an e-mail interview with him, before his “Bach meets Kennedy” concert at Zorlu PSM, to touch upon some hot patoto topics!
Sanat Deliorman
In few words, what did you learn from Stéphane Grappelli and Isaac Stern you think?
From Grapelli, I learnt to relax and see what happens and from Isaac Stern I learnt the importance of musical honesty and structure.
You rebelled at the artistocracy of classical music traditions, you put things in your own way and notched your name in the Guinness Book, selling more than 2 million copies with your Vivaldi album which was re-made after years. Being such a catchy public figure, there must have been times that you came to the point of feeling as if you are being exploited by promoters, or let’s say, feling as if being commercialized with not what you do but how you are perceived. Has it been hard for you to choose you managers?
It is much harder for a manager than for an artist to think of something original to do instead of following stereotypical routes which are easier and less challenging for themselves and for the music industry in general. This obviously presents problems for artists who try to forge their own way instead of adhering to a boring status quo. Of course, the problem is not just from managers, but from everyone else involved in the music business. It is always important to remember that while of course it is a working partnership, it is the manager who is the employee of the artist and not the other way around.
You are a great improviser, and this you do not being restricted by the ways of any specific musical genre. And you pay great importance to the excitement boosted by stage dialogue. You are a man of first-takes in recording sessions. But then may I ask you why you feel the need for more than one rehearsal with the orchestra before a classical music concert?
It is important with an orchestra that everybody recognises the musical structures that they are dealing with, and it is my job to make that structure clear to all of the musicians on stage. This is not a process which happens in 5 minutes and I think it is immoral to charge an audience for listening to a sight-reading session. Another important point is that to make a personal performance of classical music it is essential that you know the faces of the musicians and aspects of their musical style. This is also something which does not happen in 5 minutes!

Are you now in better terms with the conductors? Should a conductor be someone in the group playing with the others on stage? You must have had positive collaborations at least with some?
I have never had an antagonistic relationship with any conductor that I am working with but, up to the size of Beethoven, I work with no conductor because the communication between me and the musicians, and the ability of the musicians to listen to each other is then able to happen at a far higher level. 90% of my experience with orchestras from teenage years onwards has been the players bitching about the conductor and telling me that they are listening to me rather than looking at him. My main question is what is the motivation to become a conductor instead of playing music properly on an instrument? Having said that, there is no point in working with a conductor at all unless the collaboration is a complete and equal one.
Have you ever tried your hand at viola or double-bass?
I have recorded Walton’s viola concerto but I am completely shit at double bass or electric bass.
Where would you place J. S. Bach in your almost 50 year-long musical journey?
At the beginning, middle and end.
Can you introduce the ensemble with whom you are coming to Istanbul?
My ensemble consists of 2 guitars, bass and minimal drums (bearing in mind that we are playing in a classical concert hall acoustic). Doug Boyle (on guitar) is a fantastic writer and unique guitar player who has played with artists ranging from Robert Plant to Toto. Rolf “Das Cobra” Bussalb (guitar) is a master of every style and has been a friend of mine for too long to mention. Tomasz Kupiec (bass) and Adam Czerwinski (drums) are one of the greatest rhythm sections in Poland and have been friends of mine since we met when playing in the great Jarek Śmietana band. This particular formation of players have been playing together for more than a year and complement each other brilliantly.
Are there any other Polish composers or any new artists whose works you would like to cover in near future?
As far as new music is concerned, my main priority is writing more original music of my own. However, I really hope to meet more musicians and expand my musical horizons. On that score I am just waiting to see what happens.
Beside your musicianship, you have always been after the rights of the Palestinians. And now how would you comment about the situation of the Syrian refugees in Europe?
To me it seems obvious that nobody in the world is a second-class citizen and Europe’s attempts to offload Syrian and other people onto other countries by means of bribery, fences, concentration camps, etc. is not very impressive. My wife is an actress, film-maker and we are planning to visit Calais, of course with some necessary supplies, to meet the people and communicate to the rest of our friends in Europe what the situation is being faced by Syrian and other displaced people.



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