Violinist Nigel Kennedy Joins Young Palestinian Musicians for an Exotic Version of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons

You’ve heard it in shop­ping malls. You’ve heard it in ele­va­tors. No doubt you’ve even heard it on the tele­phone, while wait­ing on hold. But you’ve nev­er heard Anto­nio Vivaldi’s The Four Sea­sons like this before.

On August 8, the flam­boy­ant British vio­lin­ist Nigel Kennedy and mem­bers of his Poland-based Orches­tra of Life joined with the Pales­tine Strings ensem­ble at the Roy­al Albert Hall in Lon­don for a very unortho­dox per­for­mance of the Baroque clas­sic for a BBC Proms broad­cast. With musi­cians drawn most­ly from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Pales­tine Strings is an orches­tra of the Edward Said Nation­al Con­ser­va­to­ry of Music, a school found­ed in the Israeli-occu­pied ter­ri­to­ries in 1993 and named in 2004 for Said, the influ­en­tial Pales­tin­ian-born writer, the­o­rist and music afi­ciona­do who died the pre­vi­ous year.

The 17 mem­bers of the Pales­tine Strings who trav­eled to Lon­don ranged from 13 to 23 years old. They wore black-and-white check­ered kef­fiyehs over their suits and dress­es as a show of nation­al pride. In the per­for­mance (shown above in its entire­ty), Kennedy and his col­lab­o­ra­tors fol­lowed the basic out­line of Vivaldi’s four-con­cer­to suite, but made fre­quent excur­sions into jazz and Ara­bic music. As Helen Wal­lace writes at BBC Music Mag­a­zine:

Into a basic rhythm sec­tion set-up — the irre­sistible bassist Yaron Stavi and Krzysztof Dziedz­ic on sub­tle per­cus­sion with­out drum kit, the gen­tly agile pianist Gwilym Sim­cock pro­vid­ing a per­fect con­tin­uo foil to Kennedy’s man­ic saw­ing — he wove spaces into which the young Pales­tin­ian soloists could stand and impro­vise in mes­meris­ing Ara­bic style. These were espe­cial­ly suc­cess­ful in the appre­hen­sive slow move­ment of Sum­mer, where the shep­herd boy fears the immi­nent storm: sin­u­ous, silky-toned melis­mas from vio­lin, vio­la and voice rang out, pro­ject­ing like melan­choly muezzin calls into the hall, and suit­ing per­fect­ly Vivaldi’s open struc­ture.

It was­n’t all good: “It Don’t Mean a Thing” cropped up in Sum­mer apro­pos of noth­ing, while Spring opened with infu­ri­at­ing, Shirley Bassey-style crescen­dos on the final notes of every phrase. Kennedy’s own solos were pret­ty rough at times. At one point in Autumn he lost the thread com­plete­ly and had to stop and ask the leader where they were. But he led the con­cer­tante episodes with such charm and wit, adding in birds at spring time, and deliv­er­ing Win­ter’s aria like the purest folk air, you had to for­give the excess­es.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Four­teen-Year-Old Girl’s Blis­ter­ing Heavy Met­al Per­for­mance of Vival­di

Edward Said Speaks Can­did­ly about Pol­i­tics, His Ill­ness, and His Lega­cy in His Final Inter­view (2003)

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