Posted by: Lister | July 25, 2007

Nigel Kennedy in East Jerusalem

…But not in Israel. Punk rebel with a classical cause.

When the lights went down at the “Tombs of the Kings” archaeological site, on East Jerusalem’s Salah a-Din Street last Sunday, the starry sky and a crescent moon briefly illuminated the vast crowd. Five musicians and a sound technician took to the enormous, equipment-packed stage of the Yabous Productions Jerusalem Festival. Violinist Nigel Kennedy introduced them as “Robert de Niro, Andre Agassi, Dracula, Sean Penn and my second wife,” before announcing their distinctly Polish real names. After a short pronouncement of solidarity with a Palestinian audience that included many Israelis, he raised an electric violin. The first notes of jazz, which emerged from an instrument consisting of little more than a metal frame with strings, promised two hours of tremendous pleasure for the crowd.

I wasn’t aware of Kennedy’s Jazz roots. But he studied with Stephane Grappelli. Can’t get better than that!

Many at New York’s Juilliard School, where Kennedy was a student of acclaimed violin teacher Dorothy DeLay, predicted he would fail his studies because he ignored the institution’s orders that he not play jazz with Stephane Grappelli in Carnegie Hall.

“I stood backstage with a bottle of whiskey,” he once said in an interview, “and I didn’t know what to do. Then I said, ‘Hell, I’m not willing to live my life regretting that I didn’t play with Grappelli in Carnegie Hall.’ So I went on stage and did it.”

And the politics…

Orchestras and festivals in Israel have attempted to book you for a long time, without success, and now you have come to perform in East Jerusalem.

“It’s no coincidence. I became aware of the Palestinian story while I was a student in New York. My girlfriend then was Palestinian, and, through her, I began to familiarize myself with and understand the problem even before the [separation] wall and the other atrocities. She had to return home every year or she would lose her citizenship, and, like it was for all of us students, that wasn’t exactly her thing. Then I understood that it was simply a way to harass the Palestinians and prevent them from studying.

“And today, I was really shocked when I saw the wall here. It’s a new type of apartheid, barbaric behavior. How can you impose collective punishment and divide people from one another? We are all residents of the same planet. I would think that the world learned something from South Africa. And the world should boycott a nation that didn’t learn. That’s why I won’t perform in your country.

“The concert tonight is very emotional,” he adds, “because I am performing for people who are imprisoned, to give them two hours of fun and show them that the world has not forgotten about them.”

I’m not sure how many in Gaza heard him.
Via JSF.

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