Lauri Kennedy (1896-1985)
Lauri Kennedy is the patriarch of one of classical music’s great performing families. The grandfather of solo violinist Nigel Kennedy and the father of Royal Philharmonic and Sydney Symphony principal ’cellist John Kennedy, Lauri’s own career saw him travel the world to great acclaim.
Born Irvine Robert Laurie (Lauri) Kennedy in Randwick, Sydney, in 1896, Lauri showed a remarkable talent both in music and in flamboyant performance from an early age. At the age of ten he began performing with his family as part of the Kennedy Concert Company, a troupe of talented singers, musicians and comedians who toured Australasia, South-East Asia, India and South Africa with a mixture of “serious” music, light classics and musical comedy sketches.
Despite virtually no formal training beforehand, Lauri was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music and studied under Herbert Walenn, whose other pupils include Zara Nelsova, William Pleeth and Sir John Barbirolli. (Lauri would later return to the RAM as a teacher.)
Further studies in Vienna led to Lauri’s professorial appointment in 1916 at Melbourne’s Albert Street Conservatorium, where fellow teacher Dame Nellie Melba suggested he pursue further study in New York. He and his wife, pianist Dorothy McBride, toured in the 1920s accompanying Irish tenor John McCormack and Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, two of the most famous figures in the world at that time. He recorded with McCormack and toured both with Dame Melba and with her coloratura rival, Luisa Tetrazzini.
In 1930 he was appointed the inaugural principal ’cellist of the newly-formed BBC Symphony Orchestra under Adrian Boult. Later in the decade he led the ’cellos of the London Philharmonic and the Royal Opera House Orchestra, before touring Australia with Dorothy in 1938 and returning to New York.
His lush, singing tone was particularly favoured by Arturo Toscanini, who appointed him to the New York Philharmonic in the 1920s and to the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1938, and who insisted he deputise for the BBC Symphony’s principal ’cello whenever Toscanini led the orchestra.
Photograph (above) from the private collection of Anthony Dempster.
Moving to Los Angeles, Lauri led the ’cellos of the LA Philharmonic and recorded session work for Hollywood soundtracks, including the Disney feature Fantasia under Leopold Stokowski. War and weariness of travel led Lauri and Dorothy to return to Australia, where they bought and ran Fotheringham’s Hotel in Taree.
Lauri continued to tour as a soloist for the ABC and taught generations of students, including Australian Cello Awards Adjudication Chairman John Painter AM. After Dorothy’s death in 1972, Lauri returned to California and lived with his eldest son, David. He died in 1985 in Sacramento. Lauri’s instrument, a 1713 Grancino, was bequeathed to his granddaughter Laurien, teacher and 1978 ABC Young Performers Award winner.
Photograph (above) used with permission of the National Library of Australia, thanks to Judy Dempster. Photographs (below) from the private collection of Anthony Dempster.
'Hotel for Musicians'
Sydney Morning Herald, 1945
War and weariness of travel led Lauri and Dorothy to return to Australia, where they bought and ran Fotheringham’s Hotel in Taree, NSW.
Lauri continued to tour as a soloist for the ABC and taught generations of students, including Australian Cello Awards Adjudication Chairman John Painter AM.
After Dorothy’s death in 1972, Lauri returned to California and lived with his eldest son, David.
Press clipping used with permission of the National Library of Australia, thanks to Judy Dempster.
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