wed 17/07/2019

Prom 34: Nigel Kennedy, Palestine Strings, the Orchestra of Life | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 34: Nigel Kennedy, Palestine Strings, the Orchestra of Life

Prom 34: Nigel Kennedy, Palestine Strings, the Orchestra of Life

Nigel Kennedy wins the affection and applause of a packed Royal Albert Hall

The maverick fiddler creates his own World Music Photo credit/ copyright : BBC/Chris Christodoulou

There had been a buzz of anticipation about this late-night Prom by Nigel Kennedy, the Palestine Strings and his Orchestra of Life, and it was completely sold out. After a long association with Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and 2.4 million sales of the 1989 album, Nigel Kennedy doesn't seek or need either forgiveness or permission to open the doors of this music to other tendencies.

“Let's just do it” is the approach he defines in the programme, where he also praises the young players (their ages range from 12 to 23) of the Palestine Strings for the “rich, wholehearted and unique” spirit in which they play the music, and in which he thanks the players of his Orchestra of Life: “[they] have given me a new lease of life, without which I might have ceased playing the concerto repertoire completely.”

The concept is to perform the four Vivaldi concertos in sequence, but with frequent off-piste excursions into Arabic music and jazz. The most obvious jazz adventure of the night took Kennedy to the back of the stage to join the piano-bass-drums jazz trio of Gwilym Simcock, Yaron Stavi and Krysztof Dziedzic for Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing". There were also discrete episodes when a number of the Palestinians were highlighted as string soloists playing on Arabic scales, the most notable a poignant full-toned viola solo, and elsewhere there was a featured singer.

But the audience seemed to be repeatedly won over, and in many different ways. The juxtapositions felt natural and unforced, and Kennedy does make the peaceful co-existence of styles work. He has lost nothing of the art of floating a melody, of making a lyrical moment in a slow movement really tell, of pulling an audience's attention in, as he did in a dreamily slow largo in Winter. There is also an irresistible madcap temptation to stick in something which brings the rebellious smile, like a gratuitous knock-knock on the side of a conga dropped into the melody of the first movement of Autumn.

There was plenty of applause to salute the courage and the mere presence of the young Palestinians, all of them present and past members of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, their keffiyehs resplendently draped over their shoulders. Before they'd even played a note, they were cheered as heroes in a pep-rally moment at the start. Later, each one of their solo contributions was met with huge enthusiasm.

That warmth, that trust in the sincerity of Kennedy's motives were only jarred once, by a loud, single-word interjection by a solitary heckler, when Kennedy in his closing remarks dared to mention the word "apartheid" in his praise for the young Palestinians. With that one exception, this was a good, appreciative Proms audience. It gave rapt concentration in the quieter moments, and in the "correct" classical music places, the right jazz moments and the political junctures it showed its appreciation and lifted the occasion. When you're happy and you know it, that's what you do.

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