Aaron Azunda Akugbo was the featured soloist at this musical extravaganza

By: Sep. 04, 2023
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Review: PROM 61 – CHINEKE! PERFORMS BEETHOVEN'S FOURTH SYMPHONY, Royal Albert Hall Founded in 2015, the Chineke! Orchestra made its Proms debut in the 2017 season and has been a regular feature of various festivals and concert series ever since; it is currently a resident orchestra at the Southbank Centre. Chineke!’s motto (“Championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music”) is reflected in both the make-up of their orchestra and the variety of compositions featured in this Prom - from Valerie Coleman all the way back to Joseph Haydn.

Coleman’s Seven O’Clock Shout opened the concert; the piece was inspired by the bizarre ritual of banging pots and pans in support of frontline workers at the height of the pandemic. Reading the programme note ahead of hearing the piece, I must admit that I was rather cynical about what we were potentially going to hear, however for the most part it contains beautiful melodies for strings and woodwind that do evoke feelings of hope and togetherness. 

The ‘pan-banging’ section is fairly brief (although obviously easier on the ears than the real thing!), which can only be a good thing - it’s probably too soon to start faithfully re-creating something from what was a traumatic time for many.

This year’s Samuel Coleridge-Taylor thread continued with a performance of Four Novelletten for string orchestra, Op. 52, a four-movement suite for strings, tambourine and triangle. Across the movements it creates a feel of various dances (from the tarantella to the waltz); a turn-of-the-century piece, it often seems as if it could easily have been the product of an earlier musical era, however you do hear strains of modernism starting to creep through in places.

Photo credit: Mark Allen

The first half of the concert was brought to a close with Aaron Azunda Akugbo front and centre. He has often played amongst Chineke!’s ranks, but on this occasion took the lead in Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat major - familiar to anyone who has watched South Korean TV programmes Squid Game or Janghak Quiz.

There is a recognisably late 18th century feel to the strings, however it is clear from the off that the trumpet is the star of the show - and I’ve never seen anyone play the trumpet with such passion and flair before, particularly in a classical piece such as this. Akugbo is a singular talent, and clearly loves to play. The fact that he was playing from memory gave it that extra bit of dynamism, really adding to the performance.

The rest of the audience evidently thought so too, as a rapturous reception tempted him back on for an encore, performing Florence Price’s Adoration - a piece written for organ, but here arranged for trumpet and strings. A soothing way to take us into the interval.

The second half opened with Sinfonietta No. 1 for strings - Rondo by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. This composition for string orchestra begins ablaze with drama, transitioning into something cooler and more controlled, before reigniting for the final furlong. A really engaging performance and a very welcome Proms debut for this composer.

The culmination of the evening came with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60. conducted from memory by Anthony Parnther. This piece was written during a very productive period in the composer’s career, in and around the time he was also working on what would eventually become his fifth symphony. It is a challenging piece, for sure, but that made it all the more rewarding to hear performed - especially with Chineke!’s particular brand of verve and energy. Joshua Elmore and Daria Phillips on bassoon deserve specific credit for some sublime work in the fourth movement.

Amidst the persistent whiteness of classical music (both in audiences and orchestras), it was very encouraging to be part of a more diverse group for this exceptional Prom. This top class musicianship and irresistible blend of works both old and new will surely serve to inspire for generations to come.

The Proms are at the Royal Albert Hall until 9 September

Photo credit: Olivia Da Costa



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