Nigel Kennedy’s Brand New Bag

If you haven’t heard of Nigel Kennedy, it is possible that you have been hiding under a rock.

Kennedy, an English violinist, has spent the past few decades embracing classical and jazz music and finding different ways to blend these two genre.

And if being a brilliant violinist wasn’t enough, he’s recently managed to put together his very own orchestra of young musicians, who are as comfortable playing jazz music as they are playing classical.

The Orchestra of Life debuted on the 29th of May to a packed audience at the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre in London.

The antics of Nigel Kennedy

The man himself was jovial, humourous and played the violin with ease.

Kennedy played with the audience, spoke in Polish and reminisced about the difficulties of his days as a busker and a student.

His orchestra, which spent the first part of the evening playing some of Bach’s most famous pieces like his Violin Concerto in E Major, didn’t break a sweat.

Perfectly named, The Orchestra of Life, kept up with Kennedy’s sweeping playful gestures as he kissed them, joked about their nicknames to the audience, and praised them consistently.  It became almost impossible not to want to be a part of their happy little family.

Yet, there were times when it seemed as if the orchestra’s ability to play some of Bach’s most complex pieces were the only reason the well-known compositions were chosen.  Nigel’s rendition of Bach’s works did not reverberate through the audience, chilling the blood.

It did, however, place The Orchestra of Life, as a serious contender in the world of classical music.

The dessert was better than the meal

Before the classical segment was over, the orchestra performed one of Kennedy’s composed works entitled ‘Hills of Saturn K’.

A mixture of jazz and classical music combined, its Birtwistlian influences were the perfect segue into the works of Duke Ellington.  And this more than anything else is where Nigel Kennedy’s Orchestra of Life’s talents really lay.

The improvisational nature of jazz fits Kennedy like a well-oiled glove.  If he seemed at ease with Bach’s pieces, Ellington’s works were surely at home in the strings, horns, percussion and ivory keys that elegantly payed homage to them on stage.

Tomasz Grzegorski pushed notes out of a clarinet in a way that could only be described as a close encounter of the third kind.  It was a communication where the rest of the orchestra responded with sometimes jungle beat awareness, and other times, with the stillness of a lake at dawn.

The tinkling of the ivories by Piotr Wyleżoł only added to this presummer night’s dream like a trickling waterfall.

In the hands of this young orchestra, Ellington’s music gained a new vitality.  The juxtaposed notes seemed to fly through the air and meet with an unlikely partner.

And when this vibrant, edgy sound wasn’t begging the audience to jump out of their seats to dance, the rich, tones of a Harlem Night club emerged from cellos and violins harmonising on stage.

It was the mix of two genre that seized this night.  It was, as Simon Cowell is so fond of saying, making something old, current and new.

Some members of the orchestra were as skilled as Kennedy and made the performance extraordinary.  Sonja Schebeck’s duet with Kennedy was moving and flawless.  Marimba and vibraphone player Orphy Robinson was on fire.  And violinist Lizzie Ball seemed born with a violin in her hand.

If this Southbank Centre debut is evidence of what’s in store from the Orchestra of Life, then they are definitely here to stay.

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Follow the Elephants

Elephant Parade © Candice Elizabeth Ashby

The first time I ever saw an elephant face to trunk, I was about seven.

My parents had taken me to the zoo, and although I had seen elephants on television, nothing prepared me for the majestic, wrinkly-skinned pachyderm that stood before me.

And so, I did what any seven-year old would have done when confronted with such immense beauty.  I cried and ran behind my mother’s legs.

Yet, after receiving a lecture on the merits of not being a cry baby, I saddled that gentle grey giant and took the required family picture.

Today, it is sad to learn that elephants in Asia are in danger of being extinct.  But as luck would have it, there is one organisation that has decided to do something about it.

Enter the Elephant Parade

This month, Elephant Family, the only UK organisation dedicated solely to saving the Asian elephant, has launched London’s biggest ever outside art installation.

Artists, designers and donating organisations such as Diane von Furstenburg, Tommy Hilfilger and BFLS have each been chosen to design one baby elephant of the 260 plus that will be displayed around London.

The money that will be raised by this event, which will go on through to July when Sotheby’s will auction off the elephant art, will go to raising awareness of the elephants and creating ancient migratory routes between forests, which are dwindling in size due to industrial development.

The founders of Elephant Family are father and son team, Mike and Marc Spits.

To make donations to Elephant Family, click here.

In the Hands of Palestinian Women

Media as a form of resistance and change is on the rise in Palestine.

The Barbican in London
gave a film festival showing the works of leading Palestinian women filmmakers this past week.

The short documentaries showed the struggle that exists for women within Palestinian communities.

Masarat, for example, is a film of four shorts produced by Shashat that gives an intimate account of the daily hardships of women and how they are overcoming them.

One of the four shorts is called Pomegranate Seeds, a story about real life women, who out of fear remain silent while being physically or sexually abused by the men in their families.

Another is Far from Loneliness, which depicts the difficult lives of female farmers as they struggle to hold onto their lands in order to survive.  The other two shorts, Samia and First Love, have equally compelling subjects.

Beside the Masarat shorts, the festival showcased two other films.  138 Pounds in my Pocket is about a young teacher named Hind Al Husseini, who took in orphans after the Deir Yassin massacre.   Thorns and Silk are about women, who work with a true sense of pride in positions usually associated with men.

All the films have portrayed, in one form or another, the difficult lives that women in Palestine live, whether because of the occupation or due to the mistreatment of women in general.

Yet, these depictions of Palestinian women in their solitary and seemingly endless pain is not without signs of hope.

For one, this project seems a labour of love from the ever resistant movement for change and liberation.

It seems that once a Palestinian woman overcomes her own circumstance, she doesn’t just walk away from a world that must be sometimes filled with overwhelming and painful memories.

Instead, she returns to uplift other women and provide them with the sense of empowerment that was, at one time, denied them.

These films are the culmination of that uprising.  They seek to educate rather than entertain.  They promise hope.

The theatre at the Barbican was sadly not filled to capacity.  And there certainly wasn’t enough women of other cultures represented in the auditorium seats.

Yet there is no doubt that video media as a form of communication will continue to expand for Palestine, filming shots right through the immense walls that seek to hide the ugly truth of its occupation and male-dominated oppression.

If the fate of Palestine is left in the hands of its women, then they shall – indeed – overcome.