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The Independent Culture
One of the many memorable aspects of the EMI Centenary concert at Birmingham's Symphony Hall was Nigel Kennedy's warm-up chat to the audience before he and Simon Rattle gave a brilliant reading of Elgar's violin concerto. Kennedy, adopting the chirpy cockney accent that has come as a complete shock to his mother, said he wanted to test the acoustics but there weren't enough bald heads in the audience. In music-hall style he then looked a bit harder and found some, then talked about the concerto, and played and described a couple of bonus pieces of Bach he was throwing in.

This is a break with classical music practice. Some traditions are sacrosanct. You cough but don't clap between movements, for instance. A particularly rasping cough shows detailed musical knowledge. A mute soloist is another musical tradition. But Kennedy's repartee, which must equate to Al Jolson suddenly speaking on screen after years of silent films, may catch on. The Academy of St Martin-in-the Fields, the orchestra that took Kennedy to a concert in Hong Kong last month, is now thinking of asking other of its soloists to chat to the paying punters.

Of course, just as some of the beauty queens of the silent movies destroyed a million fantasies with a high-pitched shriek, so some of the great soloists whose playing can move you to tears could be inarticulate. The last thing one wants to hear from a maestro is a pop star banality of the "I like this, hope you do too" variety. Silence can build its own mystique.

Graham Sheffield, director of arts at the Barbican Centre, has made efforts to change the experience of the classical concerts and has introduced interviews with composers of new works on stage before the work is performed so that the audience can put a face to the piece. "It reduces the fear factor," he says. "I'd like to encourage more soloists to talk to the audience but you can't force people to do it." Instead, he is planning related art exhibitions for audiences to look at in the interval. Why do I have a strange feeling that Nigel has been taking up painting during his lengthy sabbatical?

The Victoria and Albert Museum may charge for admission, the Tate Gallery may be free. But when it comes to parties, the V&A scores full marks for egalitarianism. Their summer party last Wednesday in the gorgeous Victorian gardens, accompanied by jazz band, buffet and drinks and sunshine, was attended by 1,500 people, free to Friends of the V&A, just pounds 3 for members of the public. The Tate and the National Theatre have had pounds 300-a-head fundraising bashes this summer. And no one can dispute that the revenue raised is sorely needed. But it's good to see an arts institution remembering its regular patrons when it's party time.

Radio 1 organised a reunion picture of its first DJs (those that are still alive) yesterday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the station this summer. But I found when I was researching my new biography of Radio 1 stalwart Kenny Everett that not all the broadcasters had the happy memories that will be fed us this summer. Most of the ex-pirate radio DJs were amazed to find they now had to have producers; Ed Stewart had a pencil thrown at his nose for forgetting to give his producer a name check; and Everett himself was hauled over the coals many times for exposing the restrictive practices of the Musicians Union. "You can't have the Northern Dance Orchestra playing The Beatles," he wailed on the air. "They don't sound like The Beatles. Worse, they sound like the Northern Dance Orchestra."

The NDO were not at yesterday's photocall.