Adelaide Festival 2022 Review: Chineke! Chamber Ensemble

Who: Chineke! Chamber Ensemble

Where: Adelaide Town Hall

When: 16-17 March 2022

Details: Here

Chineke! Chamber Ensemble, image courtesy of Adelaide Festival

This Adelaide Festival season, Chineke! Chamber Ensemble makes their Australian premiere at the Adelaide Town Hall. Ten principal players made the trek over, and made a point to state that this is “the most south part of the world that they have ever performed“.

The double bass player Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, formed this group in 2015 to provide career opportunities for young Black and ethnically diverse musicians predominantly from the United Kingdom and Europe. Nwanoku highlighted to the audience that as a musical group, they embark on a mission to exemplify “unity through diversity” and to “champion change and celebrate diversity in classical music,” which is also illustrated in the symbolism of their ensemble logo. 

This Adelaide Festival season they have two performances with two separate programs, I was privy to witnessing Program 1 with a special Australian Commission from William Barton, who himself appears with Chineke! in the world premiere of his composition, Rising of the Mother Country, alongside other pieces including Bohuslav Martinu’s Nonet No.2, Sergei Prokofiev’s Quintet in G minor,  Valeria Coleman’s Red Clay and Mississippi Delta and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Nonet in F minor.

Chineke! is composed of ten principal players; four strings, four woodwinds, a horn and piano that appear variously combined throughout the program. The incredibly dynamic and diverse program provided plenty of moments for individual soloists to showcase their talent and music virtuoso, each portraying their own distinctiveness.

Nwanoku is the stand out performer, for she, like her instrument, anchors this remarkable group of musicians. She plays as if with a burning purpose, and I was continually in awe with the way she articulated the clarity and tone of the notes despite the double bass being such a low and droning instrument that often gets lost in the undertones of orchestras.

The commitment and palpable joy of Chineke! is evident in their playing. The way they create undulating waves of infectious momentum, and paradoxically capable of the most delicate and meticulous pizzicato. In addition, the musicality of each member is evident through their seamless transitions between instruments allowing sounds to melt upon one another to create a cohesive continuation of song, as well as their ability to be in unified synchronisation through rapidly articulated runs.

William Barton, image courtesy of Adelaide Festival

I must detail how William Barton’s didgeridoo playing and vocals in the Rising of the Mother Country created a beautiful overarching tune that intricately weaved throughout the foundation that the ensemble had laid. This piece transcends my previous perception of orchestral music, so innovative was Barton’s layering of voice and the didgeridoo that the innate nature of the instrument helped conjure a spiritual presence to the song, which is also a direct reflection of Barton’s brilliant musicality.

Furthermore, credit to Nwanoku for founding a group of such outstanding musicians, who in this space are not only talented musicians, but also speak for something greater through their culturally diverse representation. Nwanoku’s remarks to the audience about wanting to pay respect to Australian history and culture in the performance speaks volumes about the genuine nature of her broader mission and garnered my respect for her approach in music. 

This group’s kind and personable presentation, as well as the sincerity of joy and emotion in their playing is a highlight. I hope to see Chineke! continue to carve a special niche for themselves both inside and outside the classical mainstream. Indeed, performing all the way in Australia is truly a testament to how far they have come in their journey (both literally and figuratively!). I’m keen to see what comes next.

4/5 stars

– by Rachel Wong

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