Chineke! Orchestra: Coleridge-Taylor, Price and Simon at Queen Elizabeth Hall
A cold Thursday evening gained some warmth as Chineke!, on the eve of their first tour of North America, performed a programme to amaze with passion, joy and pyrotechnics. Founded eight years ago by doublebass player Chi-chi Nwanoku CBE, Europe’s first Black-majority orchestra has gained a dedicated following and critical acclaim, showcasing music that until recent years has largely been ignored, as well as new Black composers.
American composer Carlos Simon was inspired by a passage from Virgil’s Iliad for the evening’s first piece, Fate Now Conquers – a passage that Beethoven copied into a journal entry in 1815: “… But Fate now conquers; I am hers; and yet not she shall share in my renown; that life is left to every noble spirit. And that some great deed shall beget that all lives shall inherit.” Using the harmonic structure from the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony, Simon has composed a piece that is caught between optimism and oppression, reflecting the uncertainty of fate.
Composed in the year of his death, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto was performed exquisitely by former BBC New Generation Artist Elena Urioste, who brought out its delightful melodic invention with energy and charisma. Under American conductor Andrew Grams, the orchestra was flexible and adaptable in support.
After the interval was Florence Price’s Symphony No 1, finished in 1932 and the first work by an African-American woman to be performed by a major symphony orchestra. Price, shunned by the racist American music scene of her lifetime, is now rightly enjoying a revival. This was the highlight of the evening: lyrical, conjuring parts of Dvóřak, spirituals, and with an expansiveness and imagination. In particular the second movement dazzled, with a spiritual played by the brass, a virtuosic passage for the first violins, and rich, colourful harmony. The third movement takes the form of a juba dance (originally brought to the USA by enslaved West Africans, and characterised by syncopated rhythms).
All in all, a wonderful start to the coming tour.
For further information and future events visit Chineke!’s website here.