In the Igbo language of Nigeria, Chinese means “the spirit of creation”. the Chineke! Foundation was created in the UK by bassist Chi-Chi Nwanoku OBE in 2015, and the group Chineke! Orchestra and Chineke! Chamber Ensemble was founded shortly thereafter.
In the program note of Chineke! The Chamber Ensemble’s two Adelaide Festival concerts, says Nwanoku, “[T]he need for an ensemble and orchestra like Chineke!, an orchestra comprised of predominantly black and ethnically diverse musicians, whose mission is to “champion change and celebrate diversity in classical music”, has been evident ever since. long in the industry.
In response to an invitation to perform at the Adelaide Festival, Chineke! commissioned new works from celebrated Indigenous Australian composers William Barton and Deborah Cheetham, whom Nwanoku describes as Australian national treasures. Chineke! Foundation thus recognized the importance of their music in the national and international landscape and underlined how music can tell a story.
The Ensemble’s March 17 program opened with one of Bohuslav Martinů’s last works, his three-movement Nonet No. 2, H374 (1959), for wind quintet, string trio and double bass. It is a complex and thoughtful work, and the lament-like andante second movement is particularly appealing. The final movement is a cascade of warm colors and pastoral-tinged instrumental texture.
Then we heard the Quintet in G Minor, Op. 39 (1924). In six movements, for violin, viola, double bass, clarinet and oboe, it is taken from his score for a chamber ballet and one can perhaps visualize the dance movements for which the ballet was written. The bass has a lead voice in this rather light piece, and Nwanoku relishes it. The Martinů and Prokofiev are beautiful works, little heard, and the Ensemble has demonstrated its technical excellence in these interpretations.
The upbeat wind quintet by African-American composer and performer Valerie Coleman (b. 1970) titled Red Clay and the Mississippi Delta (2009) infuses the classical form with elements of jazz, blues and brass band music, embodying the heterogeneous musical character of the American South. The complex interplay of instrumental voices in this delightful work evokes lively conversation. Coleman is an important figure in American musical composition, and this performance is a welcome introduction to his work for Adelaide audiences.
The premiere of William Barton (born in 1981) The Motherland Uprising was eagerly awaited. Barton’s pioneering use of the didgeridoo with classical ensembles established a unique musical language that continues to evolve, and this work is a major addition to literature. Barton was joined by all ten members of Chineke! Chamber Ensemble — strings, winds and piano — and he alternately sang and played on various didgeridoos. His writing for the ensemble gave each instrument its own voice and he weaved the instrumental forces into combinations that created wonderful textures and sonorities. The form of the work symbolized the coming together of the ethnic identities of all the performers, reflecting Chineke!’s fundamental principle of unity in diversity.
The British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), of English and Sierra Leonean descent and named after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was a musical prodigy, and his Nonet in F minor, Op. 2 (1894) for strings, winds and piano was written at age 18, shortly after entering the Royal College of Music on a violin scholarship. This ambitious nonet is symphonic in its scale, complexity and orchestral color, and its gracefully upbeat tonality provided a fine conclusion to Chineke!’s first concert.
The Ensemble’s March 18 concert opened with African-American composer William Grant Still (1895-1978) Folk Suite No. 1 (1962), an arrangement of folk songs for piano, flute and strings that blended other musical traditions into the ensemble’s broad cultural palette. Like Coleridge-Taylor, Still was a groundbreaking and inspiring figure as a black composer, and one would assume that Valerie Coleman’s work builds on Still’s accomplishments.
Nonet in E flat major, op. 139 (1884) is a cheerful and uplifting piece and makes an interesting comparison with the nonets of Martinů and Coleridge-Taylor. Rheinberger’s nonet is introduced quietly by the strings, establishing the intimate character of a string quartet, and while the entry of the wind instruments quickly adds body and complexity to the sound, the work retains a more intimate than Coleridge-Taylor’s expansive nonet. Rheinberger’s work appeared just ten years before Coleridge-Taylor’s but seems to characterize a much earlier musical era.
Deborah Cheetham (born 1964) Ngarrgooroon is the sixth and most recent work in a series of compositions that Cheetham calls woven song series. In the program note, Cheetham says the work is inspired by the language, art and culture of Gija’s lead artist, Patrick Mung Mung, and that she conducted the Chineke! The strings and winds of the Ensemble in its interpretation of this melodious work. Ngarrgooroon opens with a seductive flute solo and the flute and horn voices return throughout.
To complete his second concert, Chineke! gave a triumphant interpretation of the legendary Piano Quintet in A major by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), D. 667, Trout. Responding to enthusiastic cheers from the audience, the Ensemble then gave a humorous encore of jazz and rock arrangements of fragments of Troutreminding us how fun music can be.
The substantial and musically diverse two-concert program of Chineke! explored a range of chamber music spanning 200 years. Importantly, by bringing together several pioneering figures and many cultural traditions, he demonstrated the power of music to affirm ethnic identity, promote cultural awareness and bring communities together.