Nigel Kennedy blasts Classic FM ‘censorship’

Nigel Kennedy blasts Classic FM ‘censorship’


norman lebrecht

September 20, 2021

The veteran controversialist has pulled out of a Royal Albert Hall concert this week with the Chineke orchestra after Classic FM, the broadcast partner, allegedly objected to him playing Jimi Hendrix.

Kennedy said: ‘Kennedy said: ‘Chi-Chi and Chineke! were saying we want to be seen as a classical orchestra and maybe the Hendrix repertoires not right. Classic FM were saying it’s not right for their audience.’

Chi-Chi Nwanoku said: ‘We had nothing to do with Nigel pulling out of this. It’s not up to us what we play in the Classic FM concert. It was decided by Classic FM, who rightly insist that repertoire played at their annual Royal Albert Hall concert is familiar to their loyal listeners. They did not want Jimi Hendrix on Classic FM. No blame should be laid at our feet.’

Full report here.


  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    He should have slipped some J.H. in as an encore

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    More info in The Guardian
    “According to Kennedy, he finally decided to pull out after being told that he would not receive adequate rehearsal time, alongside Classic FM telling him how to perform The Four Seasons.

    He said: “They were telling me that I had to do it with a conductor, which I’ve never done. The communication between myself and the orchestra is much better than having someone doing semaphore in between them and myself …

    “The Berliner Philharmoniker, the best orchestra in the world, never asked me to have a conductor and they never asked me not to rehearse. They take a joy in rehearsing in order to get deeper into the music … I’ve got a name for Classic FM: Jurassic FM.”

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I don’t think Kennedy is the sharpest tool in the shed. And he’s not bitter and twisted. Or anything.

      • Nijinsky says:

        Sousa naught a form, I’m disappointed you haven’t mentioned the left, or even anything about Phillip, or John….

        What’s with the bleak remarks!?

  • Jeremy Wardle says:

    From Chichi’s Wiki (of course she’s going to take the side of Classic FM):

    “She presented a 6-part radio show on Classic FM in October 2020 called Chi-chi’s Classical Champions, a programme highlighting the music of contemporary and historical composers of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse heritage.”

  • Dragonetti says:

    Why would anyone there want to hear it? It’s for a specialist, limited audience.
    I once had a terrible experience in the dentist’s chair involving this. My dentist, a keen listener and amateur player, had me already numbed and mouth full of suction when he cheerily stated how impressed he was with Nige’s Hendrix album. My gargled response of terror was taken as enthusiasm and into the CD player it went.
    The root canal helped to take away the pain but I was mentally scarred.
    Of course Classic fm wouldn’t want it at that gig. Get real for goodness sake.

    • True North says:

      I agree, but I wouldn’t be any more enthusiastic about him playing a “classical” program like the Four Seasons … recently saw his rather odd and quite off-putting rendition of it on YouTube.

  • Gerry McDonald says:

    Don’t really understand the “humble beginnings” bit!

    • Helen says:

      He was rescued from Dickensian squalor and forced to attend the Yehudi Menuhin School for the Underprivileged at the age of 7.

  • Jeremy Wardle says:

    It’s ironic given that ChiChi wants to promote black (sorry, ‘Black’) composers but is on the side of there not being Hendrix

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “People of color” if you don’t mind! That phrase has a gravitas and self-actualizing sanctimony we must be at pains to always use.

    • Chi Chi la rue says:

      Chi chi just wants to win. Regardless of who she treads on

    • BRUCEB says:

      And if she had advocated for Hendrix being on the program, how would you have opined about the appropriateness of his music for the occasion, vs. forcing it down the audience’s throats? Just curious.

  • Rich C. says:

    Is that a West Ham or an Aston Villa shirt?

    • Steve says:

      It’s a Villa shirt. He is quite vocal about his enthusiasm for them. I think it’s part of his deconstruction of his growing up in a middle class family in Brighton.

  • Matthew says:

    Hang on. Is this the same Classic FM who released an album on their own label of favourite pop songs cast in a ‘classical style’? And who gave it an awful lot of (unwelcome) airplay. Coldplay, Sting, Bowie etc.

  • Jonathan says:

    From the full article, it seems as much about the conductor and rehearsal issues, which Chineke! are disputing, as the repertoire, and he has only chosen to drag the latter up after being dissatisfied with the other issues.

    The Classic FM Live concerts attract a certain clientele, and they expect to hear certain well-known pieces. It’s not my cup of tea, but if that’s what people want and pay for, why should they have to listen to something they may not care for at the whim of one of the performers? The Classic FM station itself is a little different, and I’m fairly certain I’ve heard Kennedy’s Hendrix arrangements played on there before. I’d also make the point that if they want to broaden the repertoire at the concert, there are plenty of composers who are rarely if ever heard on Classic FM, without having to stray into crossover territory.

    I’m amazed at the people on Twitter and elsewhere defending Kennedy over this. If any other white performer had treated an orchestra of predominantly black players like this, the headlines and comments would be quite different.

    • Mystic Chord says:

      How has Nigel treated the orchestra badly? You’re trying to dredge up an alternative story that isn’t there.

      • Jonathan says:

        He claimed they insisted he play the Vivaldi with a conductor, rather than directing from the violin, and that they didn’t want to provide sufficient rehearsals. The orchestra claim they had offered to let him direct and an extra rehearsal. At that point, he already knew the programme for the concert, so that can’t be the primary reason he pulled out. Normally, a soloist wouldn’t have to do much to an orchestra of black musicians to receive widespead condemnation (“Star soloist snubs black orchestra” or whatever) but different standards seem to apply here.

      • Patrick Gillot says:

        Yes he did, calling their conductor à sémaphore etc.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Well done Classic FM.

    The Villa shirt Kennedy wears following Agbonlahor’s retirement is presumably Cash?

  • Rachelle Goldberg says:

    What about a medley with variations of Aston Villa fans songs?

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Is cos he ain’t Black, innit? If ‘e was Black he could appropriate Hendrix OK, am I right? White ‘omeboyz can dig Hendrix, too, am I right?

  • M McAlpine says:

    The man is a brilliant violinist but in other ways a bit of an idiot with his fake working class accent which he acquired approaching middle age. He should realise people want to hear him play what they want. What a load of humbug.

  • obviously... says:

    Why are so many white fragility links posted on this page?

  • MER says:

    One wonders if the issue was the specific arrangement in question rather than the actual music of the one of a kind Jimi Hendrix, a brief yet indelible comet flaming across the sky lighting our collective creative consciousness.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Kennedy and the Classic FM station both have the right to choose, though these will be mutually exclusive.

    I don’t see the problem here, unless Kennedy simply wants everything his own way!!

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Whenever I think of Nigel Kennedy or “The Nige,” I remember back to how I learned the word “wanker” through an article about him. This was probably ca. 1990, and I think it was Musical America (or maybe an earlier mag that the eventual owner of MA published). It quoted some industry insider saying that The Nige was, well, basically a bit of a wanker.

    This was right after he’d made the switch from competent, clean-cut young violinist to his eccentric persona, variations of which he’s cultivated ever since. If one can tune out his shenanigans to get media attention and listen to his recordings, he had enough innate talent that he could have forgone the….shenanigans.

    • Allen says:

      I thought it was the UK disc jockey John Peel who called him a “wanker”.

      I might be wrong. On the other hand, the opinion wasn’t exactly unique.

  • Peter Osborne says:

    Classic FM. For people who are not really keen on classical music per se, only sound bites! And Chi Chi has to agree with them as they sponsor her beloved Chineke orchestra. Yet she isn’t accepting of Hendrix. Methinks double standards here – he was a musician who just got on with it, without being woke or any of those PC trivialities.

  • Stweart says:

    Don’t worry Chi Chi nobody DARE lay blame at your feet !!!

  • I didn’t know Classic FM was anything more than a fake internet radio station playing old CDs and posting click-bait lists.


  • Herbie G says:

    Nigel and Chi Chi are two of a kind.

    Nigel was a well-spoken, well-groomed member of a musical family who had the benefit of having his undoubted musical talent nurtured at the Yehudi Menuhin School. Presumably at the behest of a manager who wanted to find a Unique Selling Point for his client, he was transmogrified into an abrasive foul-mouthed punk to achieve notoriety, which undoubtedly helped his career along. But predictably his appeal on that basis was ephemeral and his career foundered; one hardly ever hears of him these days. If he had lived a generation or two earlier and if a film were to be made about his life, then Charlie Chaplin would have played him to perfection – a sad, superannuated punk playing in a night club who, in three months, would qualify for a state pension and a Freedom Pass. Sadly, an excellent technique and an invented persona are useless in a world where genius trumps all. Grumiaux, the Oistrakhs, Szeryng, Perlman, Gitlis, Heifetz, Menuhin, Ferras, Kogan, Martzy and Neveu will all be remembered for generations for their recordings long after those who heard them live will have gone from this earth. They never needed to re-invent themselves. Will Kennedy be among that stellar crowd? I doubt it.

    Chi Chi never needed any disguise; she quietly followed her profession first as an athlete and then as a performing musician. She never affected a false accent nor did she sport any fancy dress. She founded Chineke!, claimed to be the ‘first majority-Black and ethnically diverse orchestra’. (Yes, I find that hard to grapple with too!) So far, so good. But she then espoused the cause of BLM, an avowedly Marxist organisation that supports de-funding the police and indulges in violence; not only the vandalising of public property such as statues and street signs but also the torching of private property – buildings and vehicles, for example. I seem to recollect that Hitler’s henchmen did exactly the same thing.

    For good measure, she tried to have ‘Rule, Britannia’ banned from the Proms; the supine and woke BBC were about to appease her supporters but caved in after storms of protest. But despite all that, Chi Chi Nwanoku has accepted an OBE. YES, CHI CHI HAS ACCEPTED AN ORDER OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE – and that soubriquet is boldly emblazoned on the strapline of her website!

    Both Kennedy and Chi Chi are accomplished musicians but both have adorned themselves with ill-fitting extra-musical paraphernalia. They deserve each other.

  • CYM says:

    Looking at Nigel’s outfit, he looks like a lumberjack wood cabinet maker, working for a Parisian luthier.

  • Emil says:

    Once again for the people in the back: a commercial radio deciding to play what it’s audience expects is not “censorship”, it’s called ‘market incentives.’
    No one – not even Classic FM – is required to pay for what Nigel Kennedy wants to play. He’s free to perform for whoever wants to listen to it.
    Now, is Classic FM right, or is this a bad decision? Well that’s another debate, but it’s not censorship even if they were wrong. It’s just bad market decisions.

    • Jim C. says:

      The Four Seasons? How boring. Kennedy wanted to swing the place a bit.

      Egads, the song’s a good one and it’s 50 years old. Who’d be outraged by it? The old ladies in the audience all made out to it when they were teenagers.

  • Jim C. says:

    Oh come on. Everybody in their audience knows Little Wing. They all listened to it. They all grew up with it.

    For chrisakes, the song’s over 50 years old.

  • Jim C. says:

    Really though, don’t you kind of know what you’re getting when you bring in Nigel Kennedy?

    This is like inviting in Glenn Gould and then not letting him sit in his little chair. Just don’t use him.

    Oh, that acid rock! They should have let them do the song. C-C comes across so priggish about it, as do the rest.

  • Mystic Chord says:

    I can imagine what might happen if young Nigel cranked out some Hendrix at the Albert. Many years ago I went to said venue for a Harry Connick Jnr concert with my wife and it would be fair to say that most were there to listen to him perform the kind of crooning and easy listening that had rocketed him to fame at that time. Jnr turned up with a really tight band of (black) funk musicians and you can guess the rest – after just a few songs the audience started to slowly dwindle. Then the floodgates opened. I guess they felt it wasn’t what they paid for. Alternatively you could say they had a closed mind to new experiences and didn’t want to give him a chance. It was a rather surreal experience and somewhat painful watching him try to carry on regardless. Like the band playing on at the Titanic.