Monday, September 5, 2016

Sergio Mims: Jessica Duchen: Chineke! Riding high at the RFH [Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, England, Sunday, September 4, 2016]

JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello), Kevin John Edusei 
(conductor) and the Chineke! Orchestra. 
Photo: Belinda Lawley/Southbank Centre

Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

Photo: Belinda Lawley/Southbank Centre

Chi-chi Nwanoku, MBE, is a Double Bassist who
Established the Chineke! Foundation, and
is Founder of the Chineke! Orchestra

Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799)
was an Afro-French Composer, Conductor and 
Violinist who is featured at

Sergio Mims writes:

Here's a rave review of yesterday's Chineke! Orchestra concert at the Royal Festival Hall

Monday, September 05, 2016

Chineke! Riding high at the RFH [Royal Festival Hall]

Jessica Duchen

It's hard enough to put an ordinary orchestra together... so just imagine the effort involved in assembling the magnificent crew that took the stage at the Royal Festival Hall last night for the climax of the Southbank's Africa Utopia festival. Chineke! - the brainchild of double-bass suprema Chi-chi Nwanoku - is Europe's first all-BME symphony orchestra and is designed a) to celebrate the talent of its members and b) to show the rest of us that not all faces on the concert platform need to be white or Far Eastern. The atmosphere of the RFH's foyers, too, was transformed; warm, relaxed, smiley people of every shape, size and colour were there, enjoying the festive programming, foyer events and the food market outside, and the hall itself was packed.

The Chineke! players come from all over the world. They range from young students of the Purcell School and Birmingham Conservatoire to such luminaries as leader Ann-Estelle Médouze, concertmaster of the Orchestre Nationale de l'Ile de France, the lead trumpet of the Met in New York, the violist of the Fine Arts Quartet, the stupendous flautist Eric Lamb, British cellist and educator Desmond Neysmith, principal second violin Samson Diamond who started with Buskaid in Soweto, and of course Chi-chi herself. Charlotte Barbour-Condini, a BBC Young Musician finalist as a recorder player, is here playing the violin.

Several members of the multitalented Kanneh-Mason family are aboard too, including the current Young Musician of the Year, Sheku the cellist; when he wasn't out front, making his RFH debut in the Haydn Cello Concerto, he was back in the middle of the cello section, giving his all.

Despite this disparate nature, even if the ensemble can't always be perfect, there were moments of absolute magic where a section began to play virtually as one instrument, notably the first violins. The conductor, Kevin John Edusei, a young competition winner and now chief conductor of the Münchner Symphoniker, offered clarity, swing and masses of positive and unifying energy.

The evening got off to a flying start with Sibelius's Finlandia. Odd choice? Not so: along came the chorus of Cape Town Opera, which has been performing its Mandela Trilogy in the festival and, ranked up the aisles, they transformed the big tune into a stirring anthem with nice, up-to-the-minute, inclusive words. It would be easy to pick holes in that idea (the cited flora sounded a tad Alpine) - but my goodness, I was right in among them in an aisle seat, and my own background is South African; my late parents left in the '50s and my father refused to go back until Apartheid was brought down, and I thought of how much this evening would have meant to them, and I cried.

Next, a transformation to the 18th century: the three-part Overture to L'amant anonyme by Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges: expert violinist, fencer and favourite of Marie-Antoinette. It's a piece of much charm and the Chineke strings, with Isata Kanneh-Mason at the harpsichord, brought it lilt, warmth and bounce.

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