Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Kennedy kicks up a fuss…

Mon Aug 15 2011

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Today our live film performance of Der Rosenkavalier goes to @Konzerthauswien, in the city where the film was shot… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…

Kennedy kicks up a fuss...

Nigel Kennedy has kicked off quite a debate this weekend, with an article in The Observer picking up on some programme notes by him from a recent performance of Bach. In it, he criticises modern-day performances of the composers music, and period-performance in particular, stating:

“Even the description of oneself as being ‘authentic’ is unbelievably arrogant – and, in the case of so-called ‘period’ performance, misguided. How can music … be authentic if it is stripped of passion and made into an exercise of painfully self-conscious technique?

Read the full article here

Obviously we’d take issue with this. And from a personal point of view I’d probably add that period-performance and ‘dry’ academicism are not the same thing – an academic or historically informed approach does not mean a passion-less performance. But anyway, what do you think? Does he have a point?

William Norris, Communications Director


  • Well, he has a point if he reminds us that REAL performance comes ‘from the heart’ — or rather, from the whole of us, including our unconscious — and is not guaranteed by ‘correct performance practice’.

    But equally, ‘heartfelt’ performance that relies on instincts more appropriate to later music can significantly limit the power and beauty of baroque and classical music.

    I’d say that the best period performers have taken the trouble — and continue to take the trouble — to ‘grow new hearts’; so that their still heartfelt performances may reflect their deepest imaginings of the possibilities of the music they play.


    Tony Pay Mon Aug 15 2011
  • Just to add to that a little bit: Nigel shows that he understands about ‘different hearts’ when he complains about overly-virtuoso performances of Bach. (And of course, he has his own ‘jazz heart’, which he’s spent years developing.)

    I suppose that he hasn’t immersed himself in the best period performances sufficiently to be able to recognise them as expressive in their own right. So to him, they seem “stripped of passion and made into an exercise of painfully self-conscious technique.”

    But all is not lost. He’s a sufficiently intelligent musician that he could still develop his own ‘third heart’…:-)

    Tony Pay Mon Aug 15 2011
  • I love Nigel Kennedy for his passion, and there’s nothing wrong with shaking up, the more pompous, intellectually rarified end of the classical world. All good music should be aimed at everyone, and you don’t need a university education and a Radio 3 announcer voice to love it. All classical music was pop music when it was written, even on those occasions when it was bankrolled by the patronage of princes.

    But nobody should pay too much attention to the details of what he says when he shoots from the hip like this. In particular, though it may apply to some period performances, it most definitely does not to yourselves. I remember watching the 2009 revival of Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne, and the way you urged the performers on, especially in those fantastic dance routines. That wasn’t really an orchestra, it was more more a baroque’n roll band. In fact I only really started to love Handel after hearing your performances.

    The only reason to use period instruments is to make the music fresher and more alive. It’s not an academic exercise for classical music geeks. And that is exactly why I love your work. Keep fighting the good fight.

    James Tue Aug 16 2011
  • It’s worth remembering that Nigel is primarily a PERFORMER, not primarily a listener.

    Performers have highly developed instincts about the music they play. Those instincts, nurtured over many years, may well be initially at odds with versions of the same pieces approached from a different stylistic viewpoint.

    That’s what makes learning to play in a different style initially intellectually and emotionally challenging, even though for us it is ultimately rewarding. An excellent player with different instincts may well begin by hearing the style as simply wrong, or unmusical. Further, it may seem to offer them little possibility of individual expression, as they have come to understand it.

    Fortunately, listeners don’t have to confront those challenges to the same extent. Instead, they hear the music as excitingly fresh — especially when we manage to get close to our objective: namely, having the music do what it was designed to do as an expression of aliveness.

    Tony Pay Wed Aug 17 2011