How Nigel Kennedy changed classical music forever

3 September 2014, 16:11

If it wasn't for a spiky-haired Nigel Kennedy’s 1989 recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, you and I might not be listening to Classic FM today. Here's why I think one album changed the classical world forever.

It's a bold statement, I know, but think about this: in 1989, the classical world was marking the end of an era with the death of Herbert von Karajan. Then Kennedy burst onto the scene and launched a new one. He was the polar opposite to every expectation we had of classical musicians: scruffy, cheeky, spiky-haired, foot-stamping, ‘Mockney’ speaking; he called us ‘cats’ and ‘monsters’!

Agreed, The Four Seasons was the first time that a classical artist had been given the full pop marketing treatment. There was a promotional ‘single’, billboard posters, TV and radio commercials. But there was more to this phenomenon than marketing - Kennedy is a brilliant violinist and performer.

His full throttle version of Vivaldi sold more than three million copies worldwide, held onto the No.1 spot in the classical chart for more than a year, and entered the record books as the best-selling classical recording ever.

I'd spent my youth playing in bands and I vividly recall hearing Kennedy's album for the first time and thinking 'This guy knows how to let rip!' I'd never heard baroque that sounded like rock before - and Kennedy looked the part too. If you need a reminder, join me on Classic FM Drive after 6pm to hear a track from the classic recording. 

And I'd say that Classic FM, launched three years later, probably would not have had such a phenomenal launch and success if it weren’t for Kennedy. He, along with the arrival of the Three Tenors the following year, demystified classical music, showing that it wasn’t just for a knowledgeable elite. He didn’t dumb it down and he didn’t ‘cross-over’, he just put it out there. And in doing so he laid the foundations for the next 25 years and a public who had been awakened to the joy of classical music.

What did Nigel Kennedy’s recording of The Four Seasons mean to you? Tell me what you think below.