How We Met: Dora Holzhandler and Nigel Kennedy - Profiles - People - The Independent

How We Met: Dora Holzhandler and Nigel Kennedy

'She's been to our rehearsals. It doesn’t flummox her that it can get out of hand'

Nigel Kennedy, 56

After making his recording debut in 1984 with Elgar's Violin Concerto, it was Kennedy's recording of Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons' with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1989 that catapulted him to fame, with the album selling more than two million copies. Kennedy has since expanded his repertoire to include jazz. He lives in London with his wife.

I was looking a bit morosely in the window of what used to be my local Oddbins in Belsize Village [in north London], as it was now an art gallery. The owner came out and said, "Are you that violinist? I have this painter I'm displaying who loves to hear you playing."

So I walked in and was confronted by this amazing naive art: Dora's use of colour was vivid and there was some of her Jewish culture in some of the pieces. I fell in love with the innocence of her work.

Sometimes people become more closed off as they get older. So it was a surprise to meet someone of advanced years who was so young in spirit. She's the archetypal hippie. She's always saying, "Yeah man!" and her daughter still lives on a retreat in San Francisco.

Dora's been to my house to watch some of our chaotic rehearsals and it didn't flummox her that sometimes they get a bit out of hand with all the drinking. She's at home with it all, as she's very understanding of the people around her.

My house is filled with instruments: trumpets, guitars, saxophones, all kinds of violins. Her home is like that, too – her pictures are everywhere. Every surface is covered with something; even the telephone is splattered with paint.

We both feel lucky to be involved in an artistic endeavour as there's always something new that stops us losing enthusiasm for what life has to offer.

She's been asking me to play Vivaldi for her for quite a while. But I was reluctant. In my life I've played all kinds music and Vivaldi is like one small part of it. So for people to just concentrate on the one per cent of my work feels strange. But in the end, I played it to her, and seeing her enthusiasm, it felt worth it.

In fact, I think The Four Seasons could be an interesting subject for her to take on visually; to represent the four seasons with four pictures, using the same scene each time. She'd do it brilliantly.

Dora Holzhandler, 85

The London-based painter's naive work is permeated by her childhood memories and Jewish roots. Her pieces are on show in the Museum of Modern Art in Glasgow, and the Jewish Museum, London.

I had an exhibition last year and the gallery was near Nigel's house in north London. In the planning stages the lady who runs the gallery told me how Nigel passes by sometimes and I said, "Oh, that's wonderful."

I've always loved hearing his playing on the radio, The Four Seasons in particular. I love it so much I've actually made it one of my "Desert Island Discs", as I'm going to be appearing on that [Radio 4] show. Yes, he's an accomplished violinist, but there's something extra there: I've always felt that he has played from the heart.

So the gallerist invited him to my private view. On the night I didn't think he was going to turn up, then just before it closed, lo and behold, he appeared. We hugged and he told me how much he loved my work, and he's been a great friend ever since.

He has this cute haircut and style: he likes to be hip. But don't get me on this subject – I didn't miss the 1960s, you know. He always says things like, "Yeah man, far out." That's hippie language and I love it, though I'm not a hippie.

He asked me to do his portrait, though he said, "I can't sit still!" I said to him that it doesn't matter. I don't need people to sit for me, as I paint from memory. People say my painting has a certain childlike quality to it. Well, Nigel has a childlike face, so I think it fits well.

I went to rehearsals at his house to do some sketches. He was practising with his group he's doing a tour with, playing some classical music as well as jazz. I'm not into jazz but it was very good, as he makes everything sound wonderful.

The day I finished the portrait, I went to his flat to show it to him and he seemed really pleased. I asked, "Would you play Four Seasons for me?" The moment felt nice, but it was only when I look back on it that I realise how extraordinary it was. He's such a wonderful man but he'll go down in history as a very great musician.

Poland is a common ground for us. My parents came from Poland and he's married to a Polish lady. They've got a flat in Krakow and we've talked about the fact I might be having an exhibition there and he might give a concert; it would be great to do that together.

A selection of Holzhandler's paintings are at Goldmark gallery, Rutland (doraholzhandler.co.uk). Kennedy's UK tour starts on 24 April in Edinburgh (0844 249 1000, eventim.co.uk). His new album, 'Recital', is out on Sony Classical

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