Nigel Kennedy

For the politician, see Nigel Kennedy (politician).
Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2009
Born (1956-12-28) 28 December 1956
Brighton, Sussex, England
Occupation Violinist, violist
Years active 1984–present

Nigel Kennedy (born 28 December 1956) is a British violinist and violist. He made his early career in the classical field, and has more recently performed in jazz, klezmer and other music genres.

Musical background

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 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] Nigel Kennedy has about 30 close relatives in Australia, whom he visits whenever he tours there.[3]

Early life and musical career

Nigel Kennedy was born in Brighton. A boy prodigy, as a ten-year-old he would pick out Fats Waller tunes on the piano after hearing his stepfather's jazz records.[4] At the age of seven, he became a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music.[5] He later studied at the Juilliard School in New York City with Dorothy DeLay.

At the age of 16, Kennedy was invited by leading jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli to appear with him at New York's Carnegie Hall.[6] 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 classical recordings ever.[7] The album remained at the top of the UK classical charts for over a year, with total sales of over three million units.[8]

Kennedy published his autobiography, Always Playing, in 1991.[9] He then withdrew completely from public performance, at which point he made the album Music in Colours with Stephen Duffy. He returned to the international concert platform five years later. 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.[10]

In other music genres, 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 based on Hendrix compositions.[11] 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". 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 – 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. He has explored Klezmer music with the Polish jazz band Kroke.[12] In late 2005, Kennedy recorded his first album for the jazz label 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 also plays the viola, and has recorded Sir William Walton's Viola Concerto.[14]

In 1991, he was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Letters, or Litt.D.) by the University of Bath.[15]

Image and controversies

Kennedy's persona is seen by some as abrasive and limiting to his career,[16] who cite 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.[17]

In 1991 John Drummond criticized Kennedy publicly, calling him "a Liberace for the nineties" and noting specifically his "ludicrous" clothes and "self-invented accent".[18]

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[6] although he rationalized 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."[6]

Kennedy expresses a preference[19] 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 Beethoven's Violin Concerto and his jazz and fusion recordings.

Personal life and politics

Kennedy was romantically involved with singer/guitarist Brix Smith after she split from husband Mark E. Smith in 1989.[20][21] Kennedy currently divides his time among residences in Malvern, Worcestershire (where his former girlfriend and son Sark live), London and Kraków, Poland. He has been married twice; his second wife, Agnieszka, is Polish.[6][22]

Kennedy has admitted to regularly smoking cannabis to aid his creativity.[23]


Kennedy is a well-known Aston Villa F.C. supporter.[6] 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 a self-avowed socialist.[24] 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 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."[25]

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.[26] Kennedy registered his objection to the removal of his remarks from the telecast, during which he had said,[27]

"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."[28]


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
1990 Plays Jazz Piano: Peter Pettinger
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. Duncan Seaman (8 March 2013). "Music interview: Nigel Kennedy". The Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  5. Christina Patterson (31 August 2012). "Nigel Kennedy: Still pulling the strings". The Independent. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Alfred Hickling (29 September 2006). "'If you need a pillock, call me'". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  7. Steve Wright (23 August 1999). "Not quite Vivaldi: Nigel Kennedy remembers Hendrix". CNN. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  8. John Brunning (3 September 2014). "How Nigel Kennedy changed classical music forever". Classic FM Magazine. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  9. Nigel Kennedy Always Playing. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991 ISBN 0-297-81209-2
  10. Michael Church (3 September 2014). "Nigel Kennedy: Don't just sit there. Do something Polish". The Independent. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  11. Mark Coles (18 June 1999). "Kennedy plays Hendrix". BBC News. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  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. "Nigel Kennedy and the viola". Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  15. "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  16. Jo Knowsley (9 March 2008). "Get Nigel Kennedy's Four Seasons CD FREE in today's Mail on Sunday | Mail Online". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  17. John Preston (8 June 2008). "Nigel Kennedy: 'I didn't want to be the Des O'Connor of the violin'". Telegraph. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  18. Paul Kelso (30 August 2000). "Kennedy hits back at arts elitism". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  19. booklet Beethoven violin concerto (1992)
  20. "Lives don't come much more colourful than TV fashion guru Brix Smith-Start's. Here she tells her incredible story...".
  21. Barton, Laura (25 March 2006). "Brix and mortar".
  22. Stephen Pritchard (13 April 2008). "Return of the prodigal son". The Observer. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  23. Allan Hall and Victoria Ward (5 October 2010). "Nigel Kennedy admits smoking cannabis at drugs raid party". The Daily Telegraph.
  24. Victoria King (29 July 2011). "Tory MP Louise Mensch 'probably took drugs in club'". BBC News.
  25. Noam Ben Zeev (24 December 2007). "First violin / Prelude to dialogue". Ha'aretz. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  26. "Report: BBC to cut Israel 'apartheid' comments from UK concert broadcast". Jerusalem Post. 18 August 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  27. John Bingham (21 August 2013). "BBC accused of 'censorship' after cutting Nigel Kennedy's Israel statement from Proms". Telegraph. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  28. Marcus Dysch (16 August 2013). "BBC to cut Kennedy slur from Proms broadcast". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 18 August 2013.

External links

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