Nigel Kennedy may be the strangest-looking creature ever to walk out on stage at Meyerhoff Hall.
The young British violinist, who played Bruch's G Minor Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony and conductor Christopher Seaman last night, dressed like someone who had flunked out of clown school for breaking the dress code: He was wearing saddle shoes three sizes too large for him, baggy polka-dot pants and a blouson shirt, open to midchest, sequined with violins. With his spiked hair, Kennedy looks like a punk, but he plays like an angel -- albeit sometimes a fallen one.
His performance -- with Seaman and the orchestra giving him a spirited accompaniment -- was passionate, dramatic and deeply felt. Unlike some other violinists of his generation, Kennedy did not try to freight the Bruch with weighty philosophical baggage. The playing was dreamy, keening and fiery as the piece demanded. But while it was individual -- the final movement was absolutely demonic -- it was never idiosyncratic. Partly because the playing was so thrilling and partly because Kennedy cuts so unusual a figure and addresses the audience so charmingly (if unintelligibly) in his cockney accent, the audience went berserk with joy.
The violinist did something unheard in recent years at BSO concerts: He gave two encores. He coaxed the reluctant Bob Barney, the orchestra's principal bass, into joining him for a performance of Milt Jackson's jazz standard, "Bag's Groove," in which Kennedy called out the chords to the courageous but nevertheless frightened bass player. Then he played the first movement of Bach's E Major Partita at something like the speed of light. It was not always in tune -- at such a tempo, that would have been impossible -- but like everything else he did, it was exciting and musical. Kennedy is fun to look at, but he's so good that you forget his appearance the moment he tucks his fiddle under his chin.
The program also included Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky," in which the orchestra was joined by the mezzo-soprano Christine Cairns and the BSO chorus, and Peter Maxwell Davies' "An Orkney Wedding," in which the bagpipe soloist was Nancy Crutcher Tunnicliffe.
HD. Kennedy takes BSO concert from strange to sublime