Monday, September 14, 2015

Sergio A. Mims: Very few concerts can be considered historical and groundbreaking, but such was the case with the premiere of the Chineke! Orchestra Sunday

Chi-chi Nwanoku

Sergio A. Mims writes from London, where he attended Saturday's final rehearsal and Sunday's debut performance of Chineke! Orchestra, founded by double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku:

There are many great concerts but very few can be considered great but also historical and groundbreaking as well. But such was the case with the premiere concert of the Chineke! Orchestra at the Southbank Centre in London Sunday night.
Conceived by the esteemed double bass musican Chi-chi Nwanoku just six months ago, she pulled off the Herculean efforts to creating an orchestra of 60 orchestral and freelance professional musicians made up from black, Asian and people of color from 28 countries around the world led by the remarkable Wayne Marshall, the chief conductor of the WDR Radio Orchestra Cologne in a program of Samuel Coleridge- Taylor, contemporary composer Phiilp Herbert, and standard repertoire of Brahms and Beethoven.
From the very moment the players took their positions on the stage it was very clear to everyone in audience from their energy and confidence that this was going to be a special evening. Despite the fact that most of the players had met for the first time only less then a week earlier, days of hard work in marathonrehearsal sessions led by Marshall, the players played with a solidness of tone style, assuredness and professsionalism that would easily rival many of the world's leading orchestras.
With the vibrant and incredibly talented violinist Tai 
Murray as the orchestra's concertmaster, the concert 
began with an electric performance of Coleridge-Taylor's 
rarely heard or performed Ballade for Orchestra Op 33. 
The work with its unexpected shifts of tones and 
syncopations and vibrant orchestral colors was a rousing 
opener for the concert.
It was followed by a searingly poignant performance for 
18 string players of Philip Herbert's haunting and beautiful 
Elegy: In Memorium - Stephen Lawrence who was 
obviously deeply moved by the audience's warm reception 
when Marshall bought him up to the take his bow.
The final two works, Brahms Variations of a Theme by Haydn and Beethoven Symphony No. 7, were compelling, exciting, edge-of-seats performances with Marshall and the orchestra brought out the grand majesty of Brahm's work without ever once becoming pompous, which is a trap many conductors fall into while the Beethoven symphony was propulsive and energetic but with subtle nuances in the work brought out by maestro Marshall that are usually overlooked.
But it was more than just a concert, it was something else. A look into the future of things yet to come, the sight of seeing musicians of color of every shade with every conceivable hairstyle playing with an authority and solid professionalism was groundbreaking that anticipates of things to come. Regular symphony concerts with the all or nearly all white players will never be looked at the same way again. Things are changing and for the better.
The sold-out concert hall leaped to its feet several times with ovations and as a surprise encore the orchestra once again played the Ballade to an enthusiastic reception. Both Marshall, who reportedly has agreed to become the Chineke! permanent music director and Nwanoku spoke as well to the audience about the importance of the concert and what it means to the future of classical music and of the need of diversity in order for this music to survive as well as to erase barriers of what is possible
I would be also remiss if I did not mention the earlier afternoon performance of the Chineke! Junior Orchestra 
made up of some of the most talented young musicians of 
African heritage from across the country aged 11 – 17 who 
performed  movements 1, 2 and 4 from Schubert’s 
Symphony No. 5 conducted by Marshall. Despite their 
young age, the players played with an excellence and true 
mastery that belied their ages. The capacity audience for 
the free concert were enraptured by the performance and 
the young musicians and gave them a warm and genuinely 
enthusiastic response.

It was a great day being totally immersed in great music 
performed by great musicians and that changed how music 
will be looked at from now and in the future.


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