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.


One Response to Nigel Kennedy’s Brand New Bag

  1. Not quite sure what you mean about the Bach………..the Orchestra played well, but Nigel didn’t ? Anyway, your enjoyment of the Ellington seems to have made up for it ! The quotation from Simon Cowell says it all, doesn’t it ?

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