For his tour recreating Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Nigel Kennedy promised a clever re-imagining that combined classical elements with modern trends and electric guitar. In theory, it sounds creative and perhaps even genius, but in reality it felt underwhelming and disappointing and Kennedy failed to live up to his successful reputation. The evening ended as an epitome of why classical music ought to be revered for what it is, and not combined with modern musical phenomena. In fact, the whole evening would have been completely second-rate if it were not for the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra who saved the performance and deserve to take the limelight.
As for the music, it was generally of a very high standard. Kennedy is clearly a very accomplished player and is specifically impressive at moments where he plays extremely quickly. The first issue, though, is that some of his accompanying violinists were better, as were the orchestra as a whole. In some of the big opening pieces, which paid homage to Jarosław Śmietana, Stéphane Grappelli, Isaac Stern and Mark O’Connor, the performance was incredible but the orchestra outshone Kennedy. This was specifically true of the first and third pieces where the bass violinist and flautist respectively performed astonishing. Some breath-taking moments were produced in the first 45-minutes, but most of these owed to the talents of the Philharmonic Orchestra.
The performance started to become questionable as soon as Kennedy interacted with the audience. His speeches reminded me of that awkward uncle or grandad that drinks a bit too much at the annual News Years party. This made his general interaction with the audience seem rather forced, as his attempts at humour amassed hardly a single laugh. At one point he even realised himself somewhat sarcastically muttering, “I can see it’s time to go back to the music”. This was coupled with his annoying habit of naming everyone on stage for individual applause. While I’m sure they are all great talents, this felt like those fillers you find on most albums that are clearly placed there to fill ten minutes. The second half, however, also got off to a promising start, Kennedy’s adaptions of some of Vivaldi’s classics were well constructed and filled the Guildhall with a great sense of energy. The harmonisation of Kennedy with the orchestra was also impressive and made for some truly breathtaking ensemble moments.
Though his style and approach was somewhat poor, the overall performance (if having stopped here) would have achieved a fairly good review, equal to a solid three, potentially four, star review. But then the final 15 minutes occurred as Kennedy brought out a rock electric-violin, an electric guitar and drum-man and managed to nearly destroy the whole show. He then performed a rock version of Vivaldi, but it went from bad to worse. The violin did not work with the monotone drum beat and the electric guitar solo was boring and repetitive. What was worse is that the audio was too loud. Sounds just blurred together in some horrible mass and, worse of all, the impressive orchestra were completely over-powered and could not even be heard. It did not surprise me that several members of the audience left as, for an audience that was mainly of an older demographic, it was an unsuitable and disappointing end to the show. Kennedy clearly had a vision, and theoretically it could work, of combining modern rock with classical violin. In practice, however, it crumbled and left a very sour taste in the mouth. The evening as a whole was a rollercoaster of up and down moments. Overall, Kennedy was somewhat underwhelming, as the true star of the show became the Philharmonic Orchestra.