Tag Archives: live

Nigel Kennedy meets Bach and Gershwin in Athens

From child prodigy to -super- stardom

Born in 1956 into a family of distinguished musicians, Nigel Kennedy started out his remarkable career in music as a boy prodigy (he became a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music at the age of 7), and soon developed a highly individual style along with an unconventional approach that made him one of the truly unique -and controversial- violinists of his generation.

Yehudi Menuhin teaching young Nigel Kennedy

While still 16 years old, Kennedy was invited by legendary jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli to play with him at Carnegie Hall in New York (which he did, successfully, against the advice of his classical teachers). His debut record featured Elgar’s Violin Concerto, while his 1989 recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra became one of the best-selling classical recordings in history, with total sales of over three million units.

Fusing classical, jazz and rock

Over the last decades, Kennedy has made a name as one of classical music’s most (in)famous mavericks, regularly crossing over different music genres while developing his signature, unorthodox performing style and idiosyncratic playing. His tastes and influences vary from baroque and classical to jazz and rock (he has recorded an album with improvisational covers of Jimi Hendrix), and next to many of the world’s leading orchestras he has also collaborated with musicians such as Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, Robert Plant and The Who.

Regarding his departure from classical “orthodoxy” and standard practices,  Kennedy’s response has been revealing: ‘I suppose I took a bit of flak for taking the jazz attitude into the classical world. But so many people from the classical establishment are stuck in closets on top of their ivory towers.’

It was Kennedy’s acquaintance and apprenticeship with Grappelli that led him to a deeper appreciation and understanding of Gershwin’s music, which features in his latest album Kennedy Meets Gershwin.

A Greek premiere

Kennedy’s first live appearance in Greece took place earlier this week at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus stone theater in Athens. Together with his ensemble (Peter Adams – cello, Yaron Stavi – double bass, Rolf Bussalb – electric guitar, Howard Alden – guitar), the English violinist performed a varied program in front of a warm and enthusiastic crowd.

After opening the concert with an original and absolutely breathtaking interpretation of Bach’s fugue from the first violin sonata in G minor, the highly energetic Kennedy carried on with some recent works by “one of his favorite composers” (i.e. himself), before moving on to a selection from his new album featuring his refreshing and lively arrangements of Gershwin’s classics Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy & Bess.

Nigel Kennedy performing at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus theater in Athens

Kennedy’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and high spirits led to a prolonged (nearly 3-hour-long) concert full of pleasant musical surprises, including Kennedy’s piano playing and an absolutely thrilling performance of the popular Csárdás, showcasing his astonishing virtuosity, improvisational skills, and… sense of humor (there were several moments when his comments caused loud laughter across the theater).

Kennedy’s sensational performance closed with an electrifying rendition of Minor Swing by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli – indeed, a perfect ending to the evening and a testament to the musician’s ability to roam seamlessly through baroque, classical, gypsy, klezmer, and jazz music.

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A brief history of Greek rock: Spyridoula’s special birthday concert

Some forty years ago, in November 1977, the band Spyridoula is formed in Athens by brothers Nikos and Vasilis Spyropoulos. It was a decisive moment that would forever change the face of rock music in Greece.

Following in the footsteps of Greek rock bands with English lyrics that first emerged through the 1960s (such as MGC, Socrates Drank the Conium, and Aphrodite’s Child), Spyridoula started out with live gigs playing guitar-based rock and doing covers by American blues and rock bands such as The Doors and The Velvet Underground.

Their collaboration with legendary frontman, lyricist and composer Pavlos Sidiropoulos in the late 1970s resulted in the use of Greek lyrics, and their landmark debut album with Sidiropoulos as vocalist has been widely regarded as one of the most important rock albums with Greek lyrics ever recorded. In the ensuing decades, Spyridoula would further collaborate with several important Greek musicians and, despite many adversities, continue with both live performances and studio recording.

With a little help from its -many and distinguished- friends, the band celebrated its 40th birthday with a special live concert that took place at Gagarin 205 Live Music Space in central Athens.

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Featuring an epic set lasting nearly 4 (!) hours and spanning almost 4 decades of music, Spyridoula and their notable guests (including seminal figures of the Greek rock scene such as Dimitris Poulikakos and Giannis Aggelakas) gave a truly memorable appearance, effectively presenting the audience with a brief history of Greek rock from its early days to its current state. A history full of hopes and dreams, anger and pain, illusions and disenchantment – but, above all, full of music that reverberates across today’s empty streets and lonely hearts, forever shaking and moving us.

The Cinematic Orchestra in concert (Apolo, Barcelona)

I first got to know The Cinematic Orchestra through their album Man with a Movie Camera, which served as a soundtrack to a re-released version of the experimental 1929 silent documentary film of the same name by Soviet director Dziga Vertov.

Although they have been around since 1999, The Cinematic Orchestra have only released 3 studio albums (Motion – 1999, Every Day – 2002, Ma Fleur – 2007) next to other projects such as remixes, soundtracks, or live recordings.

I had the chance to watch the British nu-jazz/electronic band perform live in Barcelona’s Apolo venue, and it was quite an experience. Although their studio recordings are perfectly capable of creating a unique atmsophere and setting the mood, watching them on stage felt different and somewhat special.

Cinematic_Orchestra_Apolo

Led by founder Jason Swinscoe, the band was joined by a number of highly skilled instrumentalists including violinist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, saxophonist Tom Chant, drummer Luke Flowers, as well as vocalists Heidi Vogel and Larry Brown who added an ethereal tone to the performance. Next to more well-known and classic numbers, the setlist also included some pretty impressive new material (such as J Bird), which left me looking forward to their next album release.

The band’s way of combining live jazz improvisation with electronica was a pleasure to watch, and though the show could have been longer, it was nevertheless an excellent performance from a group of truly remarkable musicians.

[As a side note, since this was my first time at Apolo: at times the hall resembled a classroom where the kids had to be shushed by the teacher -in this case the artist- in order to make silence. Not sure yet if this is typical Barcelonan audience behavior, but I suspect so!]

Live, loud and underground

I have to admit I don’t go to concerts as often as I used to (or would like to, for that matter). But lately I’ve been trying to get back in touch with Amsterdam’s vibrant music scene. I’m not talking big names or venues here, but mostly intimate gigs of lesser-known local bands.

One such case is the blues/garage rock duo The Shady Greys. As both their name and songs suggest, their ‘grey’ sound lies somewhere in between The Black Keys and The White Stripes, marked by fuzzy guitar riffs and the use of the cajón.

I recently had the chance to meet and jam with them during a late night session in one of the city’s blues bars. In that same session I also bumped into a musician friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I was glad to hear that he’s busy doing gigs and playing guitar for The Crowns, an Amsterdam-based rock group built on the “foundations of Dutch liberty & freedom.”

More on the psychedelic side of things, The Full Wonka is another local band whose atmospheric, experimental sound produces a hypnotizing effect. Watching them live and listening to their tunes brings to mind bands like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Velvet Underground.

Only a fragment of Amsterdam’s alternative rock music scene, these bands nevertheless capture most of its essential qualities: energy, enthusiasm, spontaneity and -perhaps most importantly- genuine expression of feeling coupled with lots of fun.