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Nigel Kennedy pulls out of Classic FM concert, accusing radio station of “musical segregation”

By | Published on Tuesday 21 September 2021

Nigel Kennedy

Violinist Nigel Kennedy has pulled out of a Classic FM concert at the Royal Albert Hall, taking place this week, after the station asked him not to perform a classical arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’. This amounts to “musical segregation”, he has declared, and made it “impossible” for him to play the show.

Speaking to The Guardian, Kennedy said: “This is musical segregation. If it was applied to people, it would be illegal. If that type of mentality is rampant in the arts, then we still haven’t fixed the problem of prejudice. This is much more serious than my feathers being a bit ruffled. Prejudice in music is completely dreadful”.

“They’re effectively saying that Hendrix is all right in the Marquee Club, but not in the Albert Hall”, he added. Hendrix himself actually played the Hall three times – although, admittedly, not to a Classic FM audience.

Kennedy was set to appear tomorrow evening, backed by Chineke, an orchestra of young black and ethnically diverse musicians, founded by double bass player Chi-chi Nwanoku. The violinist had planned to perform an arrangement of ‘Little Wing’ in the style of Ralph Vaughan Williams, but was seemingly told that that was “not suitable” for the Classic FM audience.

He was also set to perform his biggest hit, his version of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’. However, he told the newspaper that, he had been asked to perform it with a conductor, which is not how he likes to play the piece.

“My whole career has been about bringing down barriers”, Kennedy went on. “[Hendrix is] one of the foremost composers of the 20th century, along with Stravinsky and Duke Ellington … ‘Little Wing’ belonged much more in a classical music concert than my ‘Four Seasons’, where I’m quite likely to drag out an electric violin or get a massive group improvisation going on”.

“They were telling me that I had to do it with a conductor, which I’ve never done”, he continued. “The communication between myself and the orchestra is much better than having someone doing semaphore in between them and myself … I’ve got a name for Classic FM: Jurassic FM”.

Oh, sick burn. Kennedy did then admit that the orchestra themselves were also not entirely sold on his Hendrix plan, adding: “Chi-Chi and Chineke were saying ‘we want to be seen as a classical orchestra and maybe the Hendrix repertoire’s not right’. Classic FM were saying it’s not right for their audience … It was really made impossible for me to play”.

In a statement to The Guardian, Nwanoku said: “We had nothing to do with Nigel pulling out of this. It’s not up to us what we play in the Classic FM concert. It was decided by Classic FM, who rightly insist that repertoire played at their annual Royal Albert Hall concert is familiar to their loyal listeners”.

“They did not want Jimi Hendrix on Classic FM”, he added. “No blame should be laid at our feet. We were so keen to do the concert with Nigel and had agreed to his request not to have a conductor for ‘The Four Seasons’ and an extra rehearsal. We’re proud of our collaborations with other genres, including Carl Craig and Stormzy”.

Classic FM has not commented.

The show is still set to go ahead tomorrow night, and will include a rendition of ‘The Four Seasons’, performed by Camille and Julie Berthollet. Piano virtuoso Khatia Buniatishvili will also play Rachmaninov’s ‘Piano Concerto No 2’. Both will be backed by Chineke, who will also play pieces by Mozart, Grieg and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.