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Kennedy at the Proms: who won? who lost out?

I assess this summer’s furore in Standpoint magazine.

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  1. When Mr Kennedy puts down his violin and begins talking I reach for the OFF button.

  2. I was at the Proms for that concert, and if he’d not been there, then we would have been the losers. He was just great, and he always takes the stuffiness out of classical music with his South London background, and not compromise in quality – like some singers I know. He’s not posh but some middle-class people can’t cope with his accent, which is a great shame – a form of snobbery of the first order.

    • Where’s the South London background from!!!

      He was born in Solihull Warwickshire….

      Any other accent is put on! People who don’t realise that are a bit thick.

      He’s Brilliant – When he keeps his mouth shut, that is!

      • Mike Schachter says:

        They are thick indeed. Solihull is a very middle class area of the West Midlands. The phoney accent is all part of Nige’s marketing persona an ordinary bloke. Innit. No-one would mind a genuine accent, some more discerning people object to fakes in general.

      • I think you will find he was born in Brighton, if you ask him :) There are other ways of talking about people and to people without being insulting, and when it it actually pointed at me. If I am wrong, fine, but I am not ‘thick’ or ignorant, just because they say ‘innit’ from where I also originate – and I do know where Solihull is – I’ve sung in the Parish Church, and yes, it is middle class, but I’m not.

        • I was misinformed about where he was born, my apologies. I also did not say YOU were thick , just people that did not realise his accent is put on were thick. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            But Una *didn’t* realize that his accent is put on, so that means you *are* sayin that she is thick. ;-)

    • 18mebrumaire says:

      The reason that many of us ‘can’t cope with his accent’ is that is it is fake, affected and entirely self-invented. I agree, however, that snobbery probably does come into it. We in the UK have been conditioned for centuries to recognize such social markers as accent and vocabulary to an extent that has almost become instinctive. Unfortunately, by adopting such a passive-aggressive persona, NK runs the risk of alienating his audience.

      • Well he’s done well for himself, made a very fine living, and has broken down many barriers. He’s earnt enough that he doesn’t even have to play anymore. The Proms are trying to make the concerts accessible for the vast majority of the country, and my British working class neighbours and Bengali neighbours in the East End have listened to classical music for the first time ever when he came on the scene, and so be it. If people don’t like him or his playing, no need to say that there are so many other violinists around who don’t do the ‘CHAV’ imagine you seem to detest so much. I enjoyed him very much at the Proms. I also enjoyed Wagner’s Ring with Barenboim and lots of other concerts. Enough said in case I’m insulted further by you men!

  3. Michael Schaffer says:

    I am still amazed by how much waves were generated, and still are, by that one *single word* he said at the Proms, no matter if it was in place or not.

    BTW, I was puzzled by your phrase “with the keffiya-clad Palestine Strings”. Many members of the IPO wear kippas (or I guess the correct plural is kippot), but I have never seen the orchestra described as “the kippot-wearing Israel Philharmonic”. Because it doesn’t really matter what they, or the Palestinians, wear, does it?

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I guess I should have said “out of place or not”.

    • How many?

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Don’t know. I didn’t count them. It wasn’t something I found particularly important, just something I noticed in passing, so to speak, when I saw them live, and never thought about since until I read this slightly puzzling “keffiya-clad” remark. What left a much deeper impression on me was how great their strings sounded.

      • Having enjoyed IPO performances many times since 1980s until just last year, I have never seen more than three of their musicians wearing kippot – mostly in percussion section, for some reason.

  4. Kennedy was a posh boy who went to a privileged school. No problem. Then why does he put on a working class accent. Some of us have been working for years to get rid of ours!

    • What’s the difference if you choose to change your accent from one to another? Accents should be acceptable from any part of Britain, but they’re not. Thank goodness the BBC are now using more reginal accents, Scottish and Irish, and not just southern Received Pronunciation. Why is RP more acceptable to some people? Language is about communicating, not which class you belong to or whether you make the odd grammatical error. No wonder we are laughed at from abroad with our snobbery.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        I think the point people are trying to make here is not that he has a working class accent, but that he has a *fake* working class accent. In fact, so fake that even I, not a native English speaker, could tell that it is, well, fake.
        Pointing that out has little to do with “snobbery”. It’s probably the opposite. The whole point of displaying a working class accent is that these days, in a new and different kind of “snobbery”, or let’s call it “reverse snobbery”, people think it gives you “street credit”, it makes you “cool”, you are a “regular guy”. Or, I guess, in England that would be a “regular bloke”. But if someone really is just a pampered middle class kid, it does come across as more than a little ridiculous.

  5. bratschegirl says:

    My favorite Kennedy story comes from a US tour he did with the Minnesota orchestra a number of years ago. Members of the orchestra who are friends told us that after every performance, he’d come out for an encore, chat with the audience making folksy comments about “ol’ Edo and the band,” make a show of taking encore requests from the audience, and then play the very same movement of solo Bach every single time.

  6. Will Duffay says:

    I didn’t know there was a furore; I doubt most of the music-listening population does. Seems a pretty artificial attempt to manufacture a story.

    It must be said: he does a really good job of playing the violin and a really good job of annoying people. Whenever I’ve heard him speak on Radio 3 he has spoken a lot of sense (albeit with a mockney accent).

    (Incidentally: Standpoint has Gove on its editorial board I see. Just saying.)

    • Just saying what?

    • Eh? What’s the relevance of the Standpoint board?
      As for Gove, his past as a well-educated and respected journalist and editor, principally for the Times, in addition to writing several books and working for television programmes, surely qualifies him to give time in a editorial advisory capacity? But I can’t see the relevance to Kennedy at the Proms!

  7. I didn’t see this Prom as I was out of the country, so can’t comment on this specific concert. However a few months back I was fortunate enough to go and see Nigel Kennedy live in his Bach/Fats Weller programme. The extremely diverse audience (both in age and musical taste) was in the palm of his hand right from the start and it has been a long, long time since I’ve experienced such intense “listening” from an audience, as happened in his solo Bach spots and indeed, in the jazz items.

    Nigel’s chatty patter between items was certainly completely corny at times, but it totally broke down that notorious barrier between stage and auditorium, musicians and audience. When he picks up his violin, his commitment to the music is obviously 100%. If a violinist can have jazz fans raving about his solo Bach, and classical fans raving about his jazz – then in my mind, he’s doing something right. I don’t want my music and musicians bland and boring, I want someone like Nigel Kennedy who on that evening sent me home musically inspired, entertained, emotionally moved and determined not only to practice the Bach solo violin works a bit harder, but also to look out some Fats Weller as well.

    By the way, read Nigel Kennedy’s biography – particularly about his childhood and adolescence – and one can understand totally why he may act the way he does.

  8. How times change! Leopold Stokowski was born in London, but told some he was born in Pomerania, Germany. He changed his somewhat cockney accent to an affected one of indeterminate origin, perhaps Polish. This was to help advance his career in America, where continental Europeans were at that time considered superior musicians. Kennedy is employing a similar “marketing” strategy, but in reverse. To make his classical music seem cool and relevant, he utilizes a phony accent and punk hair style. Whatever the case, he was a much finer violinist two dozen years ago.

  9. Larry, we’ll have to agree to disagree here, I’m a violinist myself (and have studied these pieces for years) and I can tell you that Nigel’s Bach that I heard live a few months ago was pretty well perfect technically, and not only that – had something exciting and moving to say from an interpretative point of view too.

  10. Rosalind, it’s great that you enjoyed Kennedy’s Bach recently. Of course he can play the violin, and quite well moments at a time. Could he reproduce his older recordings of Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, or Elgar? Doubtful. Instead, we are given the pseudo-jazz album “Recital,” the Bach violin concerti, the 20th anniversary edition of The Four Seasons, and plenty of encore-type pieces that help sell CDs. Making money is not necessarily making art. I’ll take mine neat, thank you.

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