'Apartheid' says Nigel Kennedy at Proms. Not in BBC's recording.

August 19, 2013
Sarah Benton

The news from Tom Suarez of the BBC’s excision of the ‘A’ word is followed by three different reviews of the Prom concert. Hear what Kennedy actually said (item 1,  and click here)[removed by ? since first posting]

Nigel Kennedy with members of the Palestine Strings, ‘their keffiyehs resplendently draped over their shoulders’ – see item 3. Photo by Chris Christodoulou/ BBC

BBC to censor violinist Nigel Kennedy’s statement about Israeli apartheid from TV broadcast

By Tom Suarez, Mondoweiss
August 16, 2013

The BBC has confirmed that it will censor a statement made by violinist Nigel Kennedy from its television broadcast of his performance with the Palestine Strings at a prestigious music festival last week. In his statement at the Proms, Mr. Kennedy used the word “apartheid” to describe the world in which his Palestinian colleagues live.

Click here for a recording of the actual statement the BBC is excising from its broadcast[1]. The following is a transcript:

It’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from the experience of this night of music, that giving equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for amazing things to happen.

[Huge applause]

According to The Jewish Chronicle[2], BBC governor Baroness Deech called for an apology from Mr. Kennedy and said that “the remark was offensive and untrue. There is no apartheid in Israel.” Not only is there no apartheid in Israel, she claimed, but nor is there any in Gaza or the West Bank. (She made no mention of East Jerusalem.)

In fact, nearly all aspects of Apartheid, as defined by the UN, apply to Israel in all four of its guises: domestically, its military occupation of the West Bank, its military ‘annexation’ of East Jerusalem, and its siege of Gaza.

This legal definition includes [3]:

• Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;

• Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognised trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;

• Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person;

• The infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

• Arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;

• Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;

• Inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.

1. The volume of Mr. Kennedy’s voice has been raised slightly for clarity.

2. Marcus Dysch, “BBC to cut Kennedy slur from Proms broadcast”, The Jerusalem Chronicle Online, August 16, 2013.

3. Source: UN, International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Bold emphasis added.

Nigel Kennedy on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with members of the Palestine Strings and his Orchestra of Life. Photo by Chris Christodoulou, BBC.

BBC festival features Palestine Strings and condemnation of apartheid to jubilant applause

By Tom Suarez, Mondoweiss
August 11, 2013

On August 8, seventeen young Palestinian musicians put Palestine on the ‘map’ of one of the world’s most prestigious international music festivals, the BBC Proms. Aged twelve to twenty-three years, they are members of the Palestinian Strings, a brainchild of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, Palestine’s preeminent music institution.

Their appearance at the Proms was a collaboration with the renowned violinist Nigel Kennedy and several members of his Orchestra of Life. Kennedy, well-known for his musical interests beyond the confines of standard Western practice, first learned of the Palestinian musicians from a Youtube video.

The entire concert was based [on] Antonio Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. The works’ programmatic character, combined with the improvisatory tradition of eighteenth century Italy, allowed Kennedy the wide artistic freedom that is his hallmark, and the combined ensemble widened this far beyond anything ever anticipated by the ‘red monk’ of Venice.

Vivaldi always the point of departure, the evening drifted into jazz ‘Seasons’ with Kennedy and his OoL, and micro-tonal Arabic “Seasons” with members of the Palestine Strings on violin, viola, and even voice. The result, as described by the reviewer for The Independent[1], was that “each movement became the framework on which free improvisations would be hung, some comic, some strange, some hauntingly beautiful.”

Palestinian flags unfurled at the Proms, August 8th, 2013 Photo by Amira Aziza

Mr. Kennedy is the most high-profile classical artist to date to boycott Israel because of its expropriation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.[2] At last Thursday night’s concert he did something even more courageous: On the stage of London’s Royal Albert Hall, to a capacity audience of about five and a half thousand people, plus as many as two million listening live on BBC Radio 3, he invoked the taboo ‘A’ word—Apartheid—to describe the world where his young on-stage colleagues live. Nor did the BBC, at [the time of] writing, excise the comment from its week-long online audio of the concert, and the recorded concert will be broadcast on BBC television to a viewership in the millions.[3]

Kennedy’s statement roused the audience like a boy pointing out that the Emperor is naked or that there is a colossal elephant in the room. The hall broke into jubilant applause and a few ‘prommers’ (audience members attending with inexpensive standing room tickets) unfurled Palestinian flags. That was the overwhelming impression from our seats high in the gods; but one reviewer did witness some displeasure[4]:

A petulant voice behind me asked, ‘Why do we have to bring politics into this?’, another barked ‘Right, let’s leave now’. I’m glad its owner was persuaded by his children to stay because I cannot imagine he could have remained untouched by the encore, a performance of the slow movement of Vivaldi’s A minor Double Concerto by Kennedy and 15-year-old Palestinian violinist Mostafa Saad, whose eloquence cast a spell on the hall.

‘Politics’, indeed, is ever-present in the lives of the young Palestinian musicians. They did not ask ‘to bring politics into this’, but rather it is foisted upon every aspect of their lives. As one reviewer wrote:[5]

Watching the students playing around backstage, before performing with utter professionalism before their 6,000-strong audience, it is hard to imagine the difficulties they face when rehearsing in Palestine, and impossible to disentangle the ensemble’s existence from the politics surrounding it.

Kennedy is the protégé of the late Yehudi Menuhin, whose father, the intellectual Moshe Menuhin, was among the most articulate of early anti-Zionists. Moshe’s Decadence of Judaism in Our Time[6] is a meticulously documented exposé of Zionism, written from first-hand experience.

When in 1897 the first Zionist Congress met in Basel, the BBC Proms concert series was already in its third season. Today, as the United States fuels the ‘peace process’ to further extend Israel’s sixty-five year lease on impunity, the Palestine Strings have not only made a refreshing artistic contribution, but their very presence on this high-profile London stage has reminded Britain that they still live and die under the catastrophe it set in motion nearly a century ago.

1. Michael Church, Prom 34 – Kennedy, Palestine Strings, Orchestra of Life, The Independent, August 9, 2013.[In fact,
Classical review: Proms 33 and 34: Nigel Kennedy Orientalises Vivaldi and Mitsuko Uchida casts spells with Beethoven

2. Kennedy stated this on-the-record as early as 2007. See e.g., Noam Ben Zeev, Punk rebel with a classical cause, Haaretz, July 24, 2007.

3. According to the BBC, the Proms are heard on the radio by as many as two million people, on television by as many as fifteen million.

4. Helen Wallace, Proms Diary: Nigel Kennedy and the Orchestra of Life, in classical-music.com, the official website of BBC Music Magazine, August 9, 2013.

5. Gemma Champ, Palestine Strings strike a political chord at London Proms, in The National, August 11, 2013

6. Yehudi Menuhin’s father, Moshe Menuhin, attended the nationalistic Hebrew Gymnasia Herzlia in Jaffa as a youth, and lived through the rise of Zionism and the establishment of the Israeli state. There are two editions of his Decadence of Judaism in Our Time: the first was in 1965, published by Exposition Press; the second, which includes a new section on the 1967 war, was published in 1969 by The Institute for Palestine Studies.

Prom 34: Nigel Kennedy, Palestine Strings, the Orchestra of Life

Nigel Kennedy wins the affection and applause of a packed Royal Albert Hall

By Sebastian Scotney, the artsdesk.com
August 09, 2013

There had been a buzz of anticipation about this late-night Prom by Nigel Kennedy, the Palestine Strings and his Orchestra of Life, and it was completely sold out. After a long association with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and 2.4 million sales of the 1989 album, Nigel Kennedy doesn’t seek or need either forgiveness or permission to open the doors of this music to other tendencies.

“Let’s just do it” is the approach he defines in the programme, where he also praises the young players (their ages range from 12 to 23) of the Palestine Strings for the “rich, wholehearted and unique” spirit in which they play the music, and in which he thanks the players of his Orchestra of Life: “[they] have given me a new lease of life, without which I might have ceased playing the concerto repertoire completely.”

The concept is to perform the four Vivaldi concertos in sequence, but with frequent off-piste excursions into Arabic music and jazz. The most obvious jazz adventure of the night took Kennedy to the back of the stage to join the piano-bass-drums jazz trio of Gwilym Simcock, Yaron Stavi and Krysztof Dziedzic for Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing”. There were also discrete episodes when a number of the Palestinians were highlighted as string soloists playing on Arabic scales, the most notable a poignant full-toned viola solo, and elsewhere there was a featured singer.

But the audience seemed to be repeatedly won over, and in many different ways. The juxtapositions felt natural and unforced, and Kennedy does make the peaceful co-existence of styles work. He has lost nothing of the art of floating a melody, of making a lyrical moment in a slow movement really tell, of pulling an audience’s attention in, as he did in a dreamily slow largo in Winter. There is also an irresistible madcap temptation to stick in something which brings the rebellious smile, like a gratuitous knock-knock on the side of a conga dropped into the melody of the first movement of Autumn.

There was plenty of applause to salute the courage and the mere presence of the young Palestinians, all of them present and past members of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, their keffiyehs resplendently draped over their shoulders. Before they’d even played a note, they were cheered as heroes in a pep-rally moment at the start. Later, each one of their solo contributions was met with huge enthusiasm.

That warmth, that trust in the sincerity of Kennedy’s motives were only jarred once, by a loud, single-word interjection by a solitary heckler, when Kennedy in his closing remarks dared to mention the word “apartheid” in his praise for the young Palestinians. With that one exception, this was a good, appreciative Proms audience. It gave rapt concentration in the quieter moments, and in the “correct” classical music places, the right jazz moments and the political junctures it showed its appreciation and lifted the occasion. When you’re happy and you know it, that’s what you do.

Kennedy has recorded The Four Seasons for release on Sony Classical next year
Prom 34 will be broadcast on BBC Four on Friday 23 August at 7.30pm

Proms Diary: Nigel Kennedy and the Orchestra of Life

Anger and passion fuelled a rich reimagining of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

By Helen Wallace, Classical-music.com
August 09, 2013

If you’d told me in 1989, when Nigel Kennedy released his first recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, that he’d still be packing out the Royal Albert Hall 24 years later with the same programme I wouldn’t have believed it. Surely our Nigel couldn’t, like Morrissey or Mick Jagger, become a perpetual rebel, adopted by successive generations? This young audience proved me wrong. The supply of talented violinists hasn’t exactly dried up, many of whom have thrown away the rule book in more innovative ways. So what’s his secret?

Alongside a distinctive musical voice, it must be his anger. Anger fuels his performances. You can feel it in his dynamism, hear it in his stamping foot, read it in the garbled but furiously defensive preface he provided in the programme, peppered with ‘Don’t be silly’, ‘Let’s forget it’ and a rejection of the ‘completely useless aping of archaic performance practices’. It’s that provocative, adolescent wilfulness, his refusal to be controlled, combined with his brand of fiery musicality, that still appeals. Other super talents are so reasonable, so polished, so laid-back. Here, he’ll always be a prodigal son.

Years ago he found his true musical home in Poland, where his Orchestra of Life is based. The Poles clearly recognise and admire a fighting spirit, warming to his passion while we Brits grumble over his annoying mannerisms, unreliability, rehearsal demands, jazzy back-sliding. So, too, do the young Palestinian Strings, who joined the Orchestra of Life, an ensemble of students as young as 12 from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. This proved a brave and illuminating idea, and lent an unusually rich colour to Vivaldi’s concertos.

Into a basic rhythm section set-up – the irresistible bassist Yaron Stavi with Krzysztof Dziedzic on subtle percussion without drum kit, and the gently agile pianist Gwilym Simcock providing a perfect continuo foil to Kennedy’s manic sawing – he wove spaces into which the young Palestinian soloists could stand and improvise in mesmerising Arabic style. These were especially successful in the apprehensive slow movement of Summer, where the shepherd boy fears the imminent storm: sinuous, silky-toned melismas from violin, viola and voice rang out, projecting like melancholy muezzin calls into the hall, and suiting perfectly Vivaldi’s open structure.

It wasn’t all good: ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ cropped up in Summer apropos of nothing, while Spring opened with infuriating, Shirley Bassey-style crescendos on the final notes of every phrase. Kennedy’s own solos were pretty rough at times. At one point in Autumn he lost the thread completely and had to stop and ask the leader where they were. But he led the concertante episodes with such charm and wit, adding in birds at spring time, and delivering Winter’s aria like the purest folk air, you had to forgive the excesses.

Palestinian flags were waving in the audience as he turned to speak of the need to end apartheid. A petulant voice behind me asked, ‘Why do we have to bring politics into this?’, another barked ‘Right, let’s leave now’. I’m glad its owner was persuaded by his children to stay because I cannot imagine he could have remained untouched by the encore, a performance of the slow movement of Vivaldi’s A minor Double Concerto by Kennedy and 15-year-old Palestinian violinist Mostafa Saad, whose eloquence cast a spell on the hall. Roll on the album…

This Prom will be broadcast on BBC Four on 23 August 2013, and the radio broadcast can be heard again on the iPlayer website here.

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