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PREVIEW | Stewart Goodyear To Perform With London’s Chineke! Orchestra On Their First North American Tour

By Anya Wassenberg on March 2, 2023

Chineke! Orchestra (Photo courtesy of the RCM)
Chineke! Orchestra (Photo courtesy of the RCM)

Pianist and composer Stewart Goodyear will be performing one of his own works with the Chineke! Orchestra as they make their debut tour on North American soil. The Toronto performance at Koerner Hall will take place on March 18.

Their Toronto date is just one in the orchestra’s first North American tour. Through March, the tour will take them to Ottawa’s National Arts Center on March 16 just before Toronto’s RCM, and then Jordan Hall in Boston. The orchestra will continue to Lincoln Center in New York City, with Principal Clarinet of the New York Philharmonic Anthony McGill replacing Goodyear as soloist. Violinist Elena Urioste then joins the orchestra as soloist for concerts in Mechanics Hall in Worcester, and Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, before the orchestra heads back to the UK.

Chineke! Orchestra

Chineke! Is Europe’s first majority Black and ethnically diverse orchestra, headquartered at London’s Southbank Centre. Originally scheduled for 2020, just as the pandemic hit, their debut on this side of the Atlantic is long overdue.

“Chineke! is thrilled to be able to finally make its North American debut!” double-bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku CBE, the orchestra’s founder and artistic director told the BBC. “We’ve been looking forward to this tour for years, and it will be a privilege for us to perform this repertoire for audiences in both Canada and the States. We’re proud of what we’ve created and built with this ensemble and can’t wait to share it beyond Europe!”

The orchestra was founded by Chi-chi Nwanoku, CBE, a virtuoso at the double bass and professor at the Royal Academy of Music, in 2015 with a view to creating opportunities in classical music for emerging Black and other ethnically diverse artists, drawing from the UK and Europe. When she first set out to assemble the orchestra, however, Nwanoku had a challenging time locating Black classical musicians, who, like other artists, often branch out in other genres when opportunities are slim.

It was founded with the motto: ‘Championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music’. Along with the professional orchestra, which draws together musicians from across the continent several times a year, the Chineke! Foundation supports the Chineke! Junior Orchestra.

Award-winning American conductor Andrew Grams will lead the performances. He just wrapped up an 8-year stint as music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and has guest conducted the Chicago Symphony, Detroit Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, and the Houston Symphony.

The Program

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Othello Suite

Born in London in 1875, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s mother was English, and his father born in Sierra Leone.

He began his study of the violin early, and landed an admission to the Royal College of music at just 15 years of age. He became a composer in the face of the racism that was a given in European society of the day. After touring in America, he became inspired by African American spirituals, as well as the Black musicians he met there. He was a well known activist as well as composer.

His Othello Suite was written as incidental music for a production of the Shakespearean tragedy that was staged at His Majesty’s Theatre in London in 1912.

Florence Price: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor

When Price’s first Symphony premiered in Chicago in 1933, it was the first time that a major American orchestra performed work by a Black woman composer. Florence Price was a music teacher, organist and pianist as well as a composer of classical music. She studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, and began composing in 1927.

Price had won the Rodman Wanamaker Competition with her Symphony No.1, which got media attention — and that of Frederick Stock, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He went on to give the work its premiere in June 1933.

Despite the positive media attention, the work fell into obscurity after her death in 1953 until relatively recently.

Stewart Goodyear (Photo courtesy of the RCM)
Stewart Goodyear (Photo courtesy of the RCM)

Stewart Goodyear: Callaloo — Caribbean Suite for Piano and Orchestra

Goodyear is the RCM’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence. We asked the pianist and composer for his thoughts on the piece and upcoming performance.

“One can say that Callaloo is my soul food…a dish from the Caribbean composed of taro leaves, coconut milk and spices from different cultures deliciously blended together. I grew up in a city where the population was what one would call a “callaloo”, composed of people of various backgrounds and religions blending together to create an authentic urban flavour. The people of Trinidad, where half my family is from, call their community a “callaloo” nation, and they celebrate their history and present every February with Carnival, a festival of different sounds and traditions. Calypso, a blend of jazz, African and French influences, is the heart of Trinidad.

“My suite for piano and orchestra, aptly enough titled Callaloo, was composed in 2016, two years after my first Carnival in Trinidad. At that festival, I was exposed to gorgeous Calypso music for two weeks straight, riveted every second. The instrumentation of the suite is almost identical to the symphony orchestra version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with bongo taking the place of the banjo. My Callaloo is a blend of Calypso and Lisztian pianism.

“The first movement, Panorama, is a high-spirited medley of three different melodic and rhythmic ideas. At Carnival, Panorama is a competition between different steel pan groups, each one giving their best arrangements and medley of the 3 top Calypso songs of the year. The most successful medley wins the prize. For this movement, I wrote my own three themes, but bringing elements that would be familiar to Calypso lovers. The movement uses all the instruments except the horns.

“The second movement, Mento, is a mid-tempo homage to the Jamaican folk song, with a middle section in 3/4 time inspired by Afro-Cuban music. This movement uses only solo piano, horns and strings.”

The third movement from Stewart Goodyear’s Callaloo. Recorded on Orchid Classics by Chineke! Orchestra, and conducted by Wayne Marshall.

“The third movement, Afterglow, is a slow-tempo mento, made famous in the Western world by artists like Harry Belafonte. This movement uses solo piano, the lower strings, flutes, clarinets and bassoons, and the percussion section. The atmosphere is that of a siesta, and the colour is that of a golden sunset.

“The fourth movement is a solo cadenza for solo piano, starting calm and gradually building up to a frenzy before the last movement, Soca.

“Soca, is the huge finale of Carnival, and is inspired by the Mas, a parade of soca bands and DJs with the costumed participants dancing in the streets to the music played. Everyone comes out to see and participate in the Mas, so it was only appropriate for me to use all the orchestral forces! If you listen closely, there is also a “sampling” of my piano sonata in this movement.

“The world premiere of this work, with Kristjan Jarvi conducting the MDR Symphony Orchestra, was in Leipzig, a city that I learned has an underground fan base of Calypso. The response from the audience was electrifying…. They cheered and whooped, whistled and stamped. It was the response I hoped and composed for!

“I have performed Callaloo numerous times with the Chineke! Orchestra. We have recorded it commercially for Orchid Classics back in 2018, and we have performed it on a UK tour in 2019. It is such an honour and privilege to bring this work to Canada and the US. Callaloo will have its Ottawa, Toronto and Boston debut this month, and to have these amazing and wonderful musicians with me when we perform it is a dream come true!”

Tickets to the Toronto concert are on sale here.

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