When he's not on tour, Nigel Kennedy spends his time in Krakow, the hometown of his young Polish wife. His Polish connections are influencing his musical outlook, and expanding his repertoire.
Fate may have played a hand in the making of Kennedy's latest recording entitled "Polish Spirit." Several years ago, after playing his first gig in Warsaw, a fan wandered up to the violinist and offered Kennedy the only previous recording of Emil Mlynarski's Violin Concerto No. 2.
As it turns out, this work is a significant piece that had been almost totally forgotten. Nigel Kennedy spent the next several years campaigning to record the concerto.
On his latest release with the Polish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Jacek Kaspszyk, Kennedy revives the "Polish Spirit" of that little-known concerto, and another by Mieczyslaw Karlowicz.
What first impressed Kennedy about the Poles was the way they make music. Kennedy found inspiration in their mix of imagination, skill, technique and perseverance. As Kennedy puts it, "You can be creative with these cats."
Kennedy has been the artistic director of the Polish Chamber Orchestra since 2002. When he introduced them to Mlynarski's concerto, he was surprised to learn they had never heard of it.
Emil Mlynarski was a violin virtuoso who traveled throughout Europe in the late 19th century. He returned to Warsaw and started organizing concerts in 1898.
Mlynarski's organizational and conducting skills led to posts at several important organizations including the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and Philadelphia's renowned Curtis Institute.
When he died in Poland in 1935, he was revered as one of Warsaw's musical founding fathers. But in a few short years, Mlynarski and his music were forgotten.
Kennedy's passionate performance demonstrates his deep commitment to this work. His lyrical style allows him to dig into the emotional content of the concerto, gradually moving the listener from pure ecstasy to a sense of longing and sorrow.
According to Kennedy, one of the most challenging aspects of this work is the fact that the orchestra is playing all the time. Normally, a composer might have fewer musicians play a quiet passage. In this concerto there are times when Mlynarski asks the entire orchestra to play very softly. Kennedy says that's difficult.
In this performance, the Polish Chamber Orchestra allows the music to just happen, making this an incredibly enjoyable listening experience.
Unlike Mlynarski, who lived a long productive life, his contemporary Mieczyslaw Karlowicz died tragically at age 33 in 1909. He was buried in an avalanche while skiing in his beloved Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. Those same mountains inspired Karlowicz's Violin Concerto in A.
This work reflects the musical vibrancy of Poland during the late Romantic era. The musical vision of Warsaw was too limited for Karlowicz. At age 21, he went to Berlin in search of fresh ideas, such as those of Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and Wagner. His new violin concerto, which triumphed at its premiere in Berlin, spawned from those ideas.
This work reflects the restless spirit of the composer. Kennedy's solo violin line sounds edgy and percussive. The overall temperament of the piece shifts quickly, almost like the turbulent emotions of an opera.
Polish conductor Jacek Kaspszyk has extensive opera credentials. He handles the mood swings of the concerto eloquently, creating a journey for the listener.
Nigel Kennedy's vision has revived a lost part of the "Polish Spirit." That vision has become reality with the help of Polish conductor Jacek Kaspszyk and the 70 members of the Polish Chamber Orchestra.
For Poland, this recording is a national treasure. For the lover of classical music it offers music that's refreshing and genuinely unique.