Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Award-Winning Pianist Rebeca Omordia Explores Her African Heritage on "Ekele: Piano Music by African Composers" on the Heritage Label




Rebeca Omordia, a prize-winning classical pianist, explores the music of her Nigerian heritage on her new CD 'Ekele, Piano Music by African Composers' (HTGCD 188), featuring music of a number of composers from Nigeria, both living and recent, whose music has remained largely unknown in the West. This collection showcases the works of Ayo Bankole, Fred Onovwerosuoke and Christian Onyeji, and is designed to bring this music to a wider audience.

Rebeca Omordia was born in Romania to a Romanian mother and a Nigerian father and is a great advocate of Nigerian classical music. She graduated from the National Music University in Bucharest and was awarded scholarships to study at Birmingham Conservatoire and later at Trinity College of Music. She won international competitions in Romania and Hungary and was awarded the Delius prize in 2009, which led to a collaboration with Julian Lloyd Webber, playing with him at Wigmore Hall and King’s Place and on Radio 3. She plays regularly with the leading Romanian Orchestras and has performed in the UK with such artists as Raphael Wallfisch, Chi-Chi Nwanoku, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Mark Bebbington.

The CD opens with the remarkable Second Piano Sonata of Ayo Bankole, subtitled ‘The Passion’ which is clearly inspired by the last days of Christ. Despite his tragic murder at only 41, and that of his wife, Bankole was able to leave a notable body of music, including two piano sonatas, of which ‘The Passion’ is particularly impressive, clearly showing his Christian inspiration.

In great contrast in terms of scale and inspiration, are two much lighter suites by Bankole, of which the better-known is the African Suite, dating originally from 1957. This is followed by The Nigerian Suite in which the section entitled ‘Variations for Little Ayo’ was written for the composer’s son, Ayo Junior, now an established composer in his own right. Ayo Jnr’s sister, Femi, was the inspiration and dedicatee of ‘Ya Orule (Borrow a Roof!).

Ayo Bankole’s example led the way for later composers such as Fred Onovwerosuoke, now known internationally from his chant ‘Bolingo’ used in the 2006 film The Good Shepherd, with Robert de Niro. His ‘24 Studies in African Rhythms’ is arguably the most important work by a black Africa composer for solo piano to have appeared in recent decades.

The youngest of the three composers on this disc is the Igbo musician Christian Onyeji, who has studied and worked almost entirely within the African continent, and the three final pieces are characteristic works of the South African Batswana tribe - ‘Echoes of Traditional Life’, the shorter study ‘Ekele’ (‘Greeting’), and the composer’s own solo piano transcription of his choral piece ‘Ekele Diri Chineke’ (‘Thanks be to God’), which has achieved a notable measure of popularity throughout Africa in both its original and transcribed versions.

Antony Barlow, Arts Publicity

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