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Nigel Kennedy: My plan to put Vivaldi to an electro-beat

They say that Nigel Kennedy divides opinion, but he hasn’t lost his ability to pull a crowd. For his late-night performance of solo Bach at the Proms in early August, throngs of customers were still straining at the doors trying to get in well after the scheduled 10pm start time. As the unorthodox fiddler had told me previously, he approached the performance with deadly seriousness.

“It’s my main challenge of the year in many ways, doing this Bach concert,” he said, as we sat round the kitchen table in his cottage at the foot of the South Downs. He finds it a great place to rehearse because you can’t get a mobile phone signal unless you trek down to the bottom of the garden.

“I’m also thinking of it as a tribute to Yehudi Menuhin because he was the one who handed Bach on to the next generation of violinists after he’d been taught by George Enescu. I’ve been playing the Bach a few times in different situations, even in a jazz club in Vienna called Porgy & Bess. I’ve just been trying to get the instinctive architecture of it sorted.”

This studious concern for the classical violin tradition might prompt some onlookers to ask why Kennedy doesn’t devote more of his time to upholding it, especially since he went out of his way in his Proms programme notes to deplore the treatment of Bach by various schools of violinists. Kennedy is, after all, the former boy prodigy and star of the Yehudi Menuhin school, the son and grandson of professional cellists and pianists.

His 1989 recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons remains one of the bestselling classical discs of all time. Yet, today, he devotes the greater part of his energy to his own particular blend of jazz-crossover music, which he explores further on his new album, The Four Elements.

By Adam Sweeting