Fate Now Conquers: Kanneh-Mason/Chineke!/Edusei review – fine sounds of celebration

Royal Festival Hall, London
Chineke! Orchestra had the deserved honour of welcoming audiences back to the venue, with work inspired by BLM protests and a swashbuckling finale

It had been 439 days, we were told, since the Royal Festival Hall last opened its doors to a public audience. Whatever the disappointments of such a long period of closure, the mood as the players of Chineke! Orchestra took to the stage was celebratory. That this ensemble was chosen to be first back shows how far it has come in its six-year existence. There were cheers as Chineke!’s founder Chi-chi Nwanoku was presented with Making Music’s Sir Charles Groves prize, and more of them at the mention of that organisation’s campaign for amateur choirs to be allowed to rehearse together again.

There is indeed always campaigning to be done in the music world – but at least Chineke!’s work as an amplifier for composers of colour is bearing fruit. This concert began with two works written last year. The first, a UK premiere, was Fate Now Conquers by Carlos Simon, a breezy, motoring overture with the harmonies of the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 as its jumping-off point. Desmond Neysmith made something lovely of the cello solo at its centre.

Yomi Sode performs Remnants with Chineke! Orchestra.
Yomi Sode performs Remnants with Chineke! Orchestra. Photograph: Mark Allan

The second, Remnants – streamed in a Chineke! concert last autumn but now being performed in front of an audience for the first time – was inspired by something that happened right outside the Southbank Centre: the image of Patrick Hutchinson, grim-faced and determined, carrying a counterprotester to safety during last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. James B Wilson’s music is essentially a frame for words delivered by the poet Yomi Sode – a brief, portentous prelude, an even briefer ending hinting at catharsis, and between them some drones supporting Sode’s words of anger and reflection.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Chineke! Orchestra.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Chineke! Orchestra on 28 May. Photograph: Mark Allan

It’s a powerfully direct work. Perhaps only Chineke! would programme it right next to Dvořák’s beloved, super-romantic Cello Concerto, and that’s greatly to this ensemble’s credit. In the Dvořák, the soloist was Sheku Kanneh-Mason, his playing expansive and lyrical for the most part yet especially striking in the moments of greatest tenderness; the ending was beautifully handled. Socially distanced layouts are no friend to nuanced orchestral balance, but the conductor, Kevin John Edusei, kept the orchestra supportive even if the blending was a little blunt, and they sounded vibrant in Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 1911 Othello Suite, a work full of easy, swashbuckling tunefulness from a composer finally getting the recognition he deserves.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Chineke! Orchestra/Heyward review – spirited and stylish performances
Jonathon Heyward inspired poised playing while the 2016 BBC Young Musician winner Sheku Kanneh-Mason was a fearless and expressive soloist

Rian Evans

24, Apr, 2017 @1:28 PM

Article image
Sheku Kanneh-Mason: ‘I’ve always felt that I fitted in’
The 2016 BBC Young Musician winner on diversity, Britain’s Got Talent, and why he picked up the cello in the first place

Isa Jaward

20, Nov, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Sheku Kanneh-Mason: 'Classical music isn't elitist – the problem is it's expensive'
This year’s BBC Young Musician winner has had to balance revising for exams with preparing for his Royal Festival Hall concerto debut. And then there’s finding time to beat his brother at football ...

Tom Service

01, Sep, 2016 @12:16 PM

Article image
Young Musician winner Sheku Kanneh-Mason is just what classical music needs | Chi-chi Nwanoku
The comprehensively educated black cellist shows that classical music doesn’t have to be the preserve of a tiny elite. It should be placed back at the heart of education

Chi-chi Nwanoku

17, May, 2016 @9:50 AM

Article image
RSPO/Oramo/Chineke!/Edusei review – rounded, exquisite, played to perfection
A stellar performance by Renée Fleming and the first appearance by the BAME Chineke! Orchestra made Proms 61 and 62 a privilege to attend

Martin Kettle

31, Aug, 2017 @1:49 PM

Article image
The Kanneh-Mason Family review – varied programme gives each sibling a chance to shine
Seven musical marvels delivered a warm informal show, attended both in person and virtually, in which cellist Sheku and pianist Isata provided particular highlights

Erica Jeal

23, Oct, 2020 @12:06 PM

Article image
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the royal wedding cellist, and other young musicians on a life-changing day
One overslept, one played in cowboy boots and one’s next gig is the royal wedding … five past winners of BBC Young Musician relive the thrill of the competition

Interviews by Imogen Tilden

19, May, 2018 @12:03 PM

Article image
Chineke! Orchestra review – broadening horizons
A spirited revival for the work of an African American composer of the 30s; and a turbulent Avril Coleridge-Taylor

Fiona Maddocks

03, Oct, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason; Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy review – sky-high thinking
Two world-class duos performed intimate recitals in the setting sun as this trailblazing venue came into its own

Fiona Maddocks

22, Aug, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
The week in classical: Unclassified Live; Orpheus and Eurydice; Isata Kanneh-Mason – review
Radio 3’s late-night show took to the stage in a vibrant, mind-expanding evening, while Wayne McGregor’s ENO debut is all about the dance

Stephen Pritchard

05, Oct, 2019 @11:00 AM