Double-bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku, founder of the black and minority ethnic Orchestra Chineke!
Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian
Sergio A. Mims forwards this article:
Thursday 31 August 2017
Royal Albert Hall, LondonA stellar performance by Renée Fleming and the first appearance at the Albert Hall by the BAME Chineke! Orchestra made Proms 61 and 62 a privilege to attend
Inevitably, the Proms that always command most critical attention and shift most tickets are those that involve premieres, rarities, outsize pieces and, of course, stars. That’s the way of the world. But such special occasions shouldn’t be permitted to eclipse the others. As Esa-Pekka Salonen once wisely said in an interview, it can be just as rewarding simply to give – and to listen to – a really good concert, too.
Salonen’s fellow Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo can always be relied on for really good concerts – it’s partly why he is making four appearances in this year’s Proms, including the last night. And Renée Fleming is of course, by any measure, a star. But the most striking thing about Wednesday’s early evening Prom by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra was not just Fleming’s excellence but the fact that Oramo and the Swedes had arrived with a really imaginative programme and delivered an exceptionally well made concert.
An hour and a bit later, a very different orchestra and a very different audience assembled for arguably one of the most important concerts that the Proms have ever hosted. Founded by the double-bass player Chi-Chi Nwanoku, Chineke! is an orchestra that aims to create opportunities for mainly black and minority ethnic professional musicians.
There was a palpable sense of occasion as well as excitement. Given the late-night billing and an audience needing to get late buses and tubes home, Chineke! and conductor Kevin John Edusei opted for a programme of miniatures. The most important of these was Hannah Kendall’s BBC-commissioned world premiere The Spark Catchers, rhythmically incisive, the score dancing above a solemn chorale played by the horns. Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician prize, was supple and fluent on his lovely Amati instrument in Dvorak’s G minor Rondo and David Popper’s Lisztian pastiche Hungarian Rhapsody. Jeanine de Bique threw off two Handel arias and one by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges with winning panache.
Debuting less than two years ago, Chineke! now plays in many countries, but this was the orchestra’s first Prom, with all the exposure that entails. It was disappointing that such an important event for classical music in the UK was relegated to a late-night slot. In future years, they should surely get a mainstream date and the chance to play an extended programme. But at least this concert will be televised on BBC Four on 8 September.