NIGEL WHEREVER WE FIND HIM
While Nigel is on vacation, I thought we might revisit some of the more relevant news, concerts and comments from earlier this year. I hope you enjoy them.
If you read Nigel's programme note for his performance of Bach solos at the Royal Albert Hall (click HERE), you will have noticed that Nigel paid tribute to Yehudi Menuhin and to Peter Norris for equipping him to play the music we heard that night. Well,yes........Yehudi Menuhin ........I know who he is, but Peter Norris ? I googled him, of course. You really wouldn't believe how many people are named Peter Norris ! I got him, though. He was a director of music at the Yehudi Menuhin School and Nigel is one of his pupils. He died in 2011 and here is a tribute written by another pupil, Valentin Gerlier:
'On first appearance, Peter could come across as a shy and retiring man and it was not always easy to get to know him. Yet, despite the great awe so many of us held him in, it was also a delight to talk with Peter, not least for his dry wit and fondness for telling jokes and anecdotes. In class, he taught with clearness and sobriety, but was also a very fair and patient tutor, who never seemed to mind what level any of us were at, so long as we brought dedication and interest to the class. I also remember feeling some shame that the one time music teacher of such stars as Nigel Kennedy should be wasting his time on my absolutely abysmal sight-reading skills.
Yet Peter was patient with me for, as anyone who has experienced his teaching would have been struck by, he was animated by an altogether different force, which seemed to come directly from the music itself rather than from his own ideas. This quality of being extraordinarily alive and responsive to the music was always there, whenever music was in the room. Whether we looked at a simple music exercise for children or a complex symphony score, Peter always responded to the music with complete and undivided attention; a kind of attention that seemed to bring him tremendous vitality and an almost child-like joy and curiosity as to what the music was doing, as though he himself was discovering it for the first time!
Such energy made us understand music in a completely different way, and it also taught us something of the nature of attention which went far beyond ‘just’ musical skills. Everything we did had to be music, for Peter always insisted that everything a musician plays must be music, all the time. And music, we learnt, was born from pure attention.
Speaking personally, Peter Norris was without a doubt the most remarkable musician and music teacher I have ever known.'
by Valentin Gerlier, former student
We're also grateful to Peter Norris, aren't we ? Everything that Nigel plays is music all the time. Peter Norris taught him well.
IVAN HEWETT, LANG LANG, AND NIGEL
When Lang Lang was criticized for being too much of a showman, Ivan Hewett wrote as follows:
'Performers can go too far, and no doubt Lang Lang often does. But let’s be more generous towards this astonishing musician, who tends to receive either mindless adoration or contempt. He can do something the more subtle and admired pianists can’t: reach out to a live audience of thousands, and by his larger-than-life style and expressive gestures, show them how to listen to the music. He’s done wonders to raise the general awareness of the art form, and deserves better.'
Elizabeth Muir-Lewis commented in a letter to the editor:
SIR – I am glad that Ivan Hewett picked up on the extraordinary criticism of Lang Lang, the Chinese concert pianist (Comment, March 26). In Britain we have always had certain attitudes towards musical performers. Many years ago, agents would sniff at a singer contemplating a lighter repertoire, intimating that it is not the done thing.
A pianist such as Lang Lang provokes this reaction. Because he entertains, it is felt that he must be suspect in some way.
We musicians have to entertain as well as trying to reach the highest levels of interpretation. But with popular music dominating the public arena, how do we strike a balance?
Fortunately, lovers of classical music know a master when they hear one – but if that master has a vibrant and outgoing personality, so much the better. Why is Nigel Kennedy, the violinist, so popular? It is not just because he is a showman, but because he adds to it superb playing. Pavarotti had the same instinct. There were other tenors who were just as good – he admitted that himself – but he gave us pizzazz, top notes and all.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
A PROPOS Of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING
A musicologist is someone who can read music, but who cannot hear it.
(This is one of Sir Thomas Beecham's delightful comments. He had a way of hitting nails right on the head, and this is one of his wittiest. IMO. I can't put IMHO, I'm afraid........I have never had a humble opinion in my entire life. As Joan Baez says, "if you are going to have an opinion, why be humble about it ?")
NIGEL KENNEDY AT SYMPHONY HALL
by RICHARD BRATBY
Nigel Kennedy clumps on stage in fluorescent yellow trainers and a donkey-jacket. Of course he does: that’s who he is, that’s what he does. If that bothers you, you’d already have seen enough to get steam jetting out your ears: the pretentious publicity, the daft programme notes (he’s making Vivaldi “relevant”), the eye-watering ticket prices (he’d never get away with those in the “classical ghetto”).
And then he turns to cellist Peter Adams, and launches into a performance of the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia so huge, fantastic and free that you find yourself straining not to burst into applause after each variation. He’s still got it: the gleaming, soulful tone, the lightning left hand, and a sincerity so powerful that he can hold an audience of 2000 rapt with virtuosity alone. You start to understand what it must have felt like to witness Paganini or Liszt playing live.
He’s combined a baroque orchestra with his regular jazz-folk line-up, and the evening began with homages to fiddle heroes like Isaac Stern and Stéphane Grappelli. Kennedy’s no composer. GCSE-level melodies (“it’s like Einaudi” commented my neighbour) alternated with freewheeling improvisations, Kennedy spinning through every trick in his technical armoury and hurling fragments of Dvorak, Beethoven and Deep Purple at his band members - who responded in kind. It’s not every day you see a bespectacled viola player physically leaping onto his chair for a solo.
[If you, like me, have no idea what "GCSE-level melodies" might be and plan to google the phrase, don't ! I googled it to death and all found was this: "GCSE is the qualification taken by 15 and 16 year olds to mark their graduation from the Key Stage 4 phase of secondary education in England, Northern Ireland and Wales." Music is a course they can take, but which particular melodies are involved we're not told . Einaudi is easier. Here he is, playing his own composition ' Le Onde:'
[If you can tell me which of Nigel's compositions sounds even remotely like this, I'll owe you one. It's a nice piece and I'm glad to have discovered it, but Nigel Kennedy it isn't !]
And then, after some shambolic banter about the Villa, came Kennedy’s latest reinvention of Vivaldi - his “New Four Seasons”. Some movements he played straight, with a flamboyance and a fire that made you want to grab certain period-instrument practitioners by the shoulders and force them to listen. Others were simply trashed: the first movement of Autumn was reduced to the punchline of a musical joke.
[ I'm not sure what Mr. Bratby means by this. I wish he had found time to elaborate ! ]
But thrown in amongst it all, were moments – like the hushed, bluesy little interlude between Summer and Autumn – so beautiful, so heart-breakingly sincere, that it was like hearing pure music, straight from the source, pouring from the bow of this odd, awkward bloke with a ridiculous haircut. That’s who he is, that’s what he does.