Four seasons and a display

Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications

QPAC, Concert Hall

February 2

At 60 years of age now, iconic violinist Nigel Kennedy is still as rock star as ever in his sensibilities; not only does he appear on stage with trademark spiky hedgehog haircut and wearing fluro trainers, but he is 15 minutes late. He’s late returning from intermission too, but given his cheeky grin and absolute musical mastery, he is easily forgiven by those who have stayed for the long haul of his “Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications” QPAC show.

Charmingly, the night begins with a Stevie Wonder number in dedication to an audience muse. Then it is straight into “The Four Seasons”… the group of four violin concerti by famed baroque Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, each of which gives a musical expression to a season of the year. And from the first joyful strains of Spring (Concerto No 1 in E major), it is absolutely breathtaking in its capture of the freshness and beauty of the season. Indeed, in Kennedy’s hands, listeners can easily picture the beauty of the seasons changing with Vivaldi’s melody, through the languish and then frenzied storms of Summer and an initially evocative, later harsher Autumn to the textured music of Winter, with its cold and icy rain evocation through high-pitched string-plucking sounds.

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This is a truly masterful recital of some of the most descriptive music ever written, taking listeners through barely there sounds in final note lingers to foot stomping energy, especially in its inset of interesting interludes. With his international band of orchestral musicians in support, these transitions are seamless, despite the array of styles being presented. Most memorable is an energetic tribute to Stéphane Grappelli through share of his carefree ‘Swing 39’ and dedication of a theatrical ‘Kalinka’ Russian-flavoured number to the Red Army Choir who lost 64 members when their plane went down last year. There is even a witty flashback to a number from his early days… tuning up.

Act Two’s Dedications rises from resonate double bass sounds to an innovative full rock crescendo of drums and electric guitar, which is appropriate give the act’s later move to a thunderous Hendrix number. Kennedy uses both electric and acoustic violins in this Act, which serves as display of his amazing versatility as a musician. With a depth of sound matched by intensity of musicianship, at times the experience is more of a rock guitar sound than the sweet and concise tone of a violin, which is exactly the point for Kennedy is not one to be pigeonholed.

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Over a quarter of a century after release of his breakthrough recording of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”, one of the highest-selling classical releases of all time, Kennedy proves, in this exciting, new version of that masterpiece, how skilled a musician and how much of an engaging performer he still is. And judging by the merchandise queue as much as the ovation, Brisbane loves him for it. His Four Seasons may not be as academic as others, but it has a romantic lushness to be cherished.

“Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications” is an innovative and creative contemporary show, sure to transport audiences by its sheer beauty and thrill in the shared experience of live music that is so integral to our sense of shared humanity. Even without familiarity, its music serves to establish a deep resonance with its listeners. And should it send them back to the original with new ears, then that’s all part of the point.

Photos c/o Anna Kucera from the Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall show.

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