Chineke! was ahead of the game. When it was created in 2015, the idea of an orchestra comprised of mostly black, Asian and ethnic minority actors was hailed as a hugely welcome move to encourage greater diversity, but few could have predicted how the issue would take shape. take center stage five years later.
Over the past 12 months, not only players of various racial origins, but also songwriters have been in the spotlight. American orchestras, in particular, played a lot of previously neglected music composed by African Americans in the first half of the 20th century.
Two of the favorites are William Grant Still (1895-1978) and Florence Price (1887-1953). In shorter works or longer individual movements, we’ve heard how striking their music can be, but in their last concert Chineke !, an associated orchestra at London’s Southbank Center, did the job right and performed complete symphonies of each.
Still was a pioneer, and his Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American,” was the first large-scale work by an African-American composer to be performed by a large orchestra when it premiered in 1931. Performed with enthusiasm here under the direction of conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren, it has presented itself as a bold, wholehearted and popular centerpiece, drawing inspiration from the melodic rhythms and progressions of the blues in much the same way as Dvořák was inspired by Native American music in his “New World” Symphony. generation earlier.
Most of Price’s music that has been performed over the past year has suggested an American follower of Brahms, but his Symphony No. 3 is something else. Given its premiere only two years after Still’s 1933 symphony, it was, she says, “a symphony in which I tried to portray a sample of black life and psychology as they are today.” ‘hui’. The mixture of sources is more subtle, and although its structure and sense of proportion are rather unbalanced, the content is still engaging, and the ambiance and feelings have an enveloping warmth.
These two uplifting symphonies beg to be performed alongside the much better known music of Gershwin and Copland, if we are to have a full picture of American culture in the mid-20th century. In the meantime, 19-year-old pianist Amiri Harewood has brought confidence and a touch of grandiosity to Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Although limited in numbers by coronavirus restrictions, the public made up for it with their enthusiasm. Chineke! is not just about working for BAME players. It also creates a more diverse audience and that, in the end, can prove to be even more valuable.