Unorthodox violinist is a study in opposites

March 22, 1991|By Peter M. Krask | Peter M. Krask,Evening Sun Staff

What's wrong with this picture? A young man, sporting a scruffy beard, spiked hair streaked with red highlights, wearing pink John Lennonesque spectacles, a ripped T-shirt, black jeans, pointy black boots, swathed in scarves and one dangling earring -- a silver violin -- says, "I've been playing the Bruch Violin Concerto since I was 12. It's one of my favorites."

If you're British violinist Nigel Kennedy, then there's nothing wrong with that unlikely picture. It's just another in a series of happy opposites that constitute one of the fast-rising musical talents working today.

Kennedy, who will play the Bruch G Minor Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony this evening, is a study in surprises. He greets a reporter with an elaborate soul handshake and a hearty, "Welcome mate. Let's talk. Shall we? By the way, have you eaten yet?" He pushes over some of his dinner, a salad and bacon-cheddar potato skins. "Sure you won't have some?"

"There really is an air of tradition when you play the violin. You've got to be grounded in the historical experience of it. Too many young players are over-intellectual about their playing. I try to keep my attention focused on communicating," he says.

Whatever his attention is focused on, it seems to be working. Critics and audiences cannot get enough of Kennedy's playing. His latest release of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," which he also conducts, has reached the double platinum sales level. Kennedy's recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto was named Record of the Year by Gramophone magazine in 1985 and was later voted best classical disc in the British Record Industry Awards.

Judging from the amount of media attention he has received -- a German television company is in town to film him for a documentary -- some would say that Kennedy's career resembles a rock star's more than a classical violinist. In fact, Kennedy does play in a rock band, the London Wasp Factory. He has also played on the albums of Paul McCartney, Kate Bush and Talk Talk.

Kennedy describes himself as "a musician who plays classical music quite a lot of the time, but also represents my own likings in music. There are fewer kinds of music that I don't like.''

He continues, "I'm pleased to have a career now because it means I can buy a violin and live in a place with more than one room. But you can't take the music for granted.

"The best audience I've played for was in a pub in Dublin, elbow to elbow with people and mugs of Guinness. I was playing with a local violinist, and the audience was so quiet you really could've heard a pin drop.''

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