Violinist Nigel Kennedy’s unorthodox appearance (punk hair and high-tops) and irreverent approach to the classical literature (outrageous tempi, unexpected phrasing) have cemented his reputation as the reigning enfant terrible of concert music; this program, presented by Chamber Music Chicago, certainly won’t dent his image. Kennedy will conduct the 34-piece Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons; each movement, though, will be followed by a jazz improvisation based upon it, performed by Kennedy and three others–two of whom are members of the orchestra. Kennedy’s musicianship is above reproach, and he has the visionary nature needed to not only think this up but also pull it off. And certainly there are precedents for this type of thing: “jazz” recordings by such classical stalwarts as Yehudi Menuhin and Itzhak Perlman, and also the consciously classics-rooted improvisations by such jazz musicians as John Lewis, Lalo Schifrin, and most recently pianist Fred Hersch (who, in a project strikingly similar to Kennedy’s, has begun a series of jazz fantasies based on classical works). Kennedy himself has recorded half an album of Ellington works; unlike most of his contemporaries, he seems to realize that a serious 20th-century musician’s education is incomplete without some understanding and appreciation of jazz. But the sturdiest precedent lies with, of all people, Vivaldi; he and his fellow Baroques routinely used improvisation (the jazzman’s staple) as a performance technique. Tuesday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 242-6237 or 663-1628.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steve Rapport.