PROM 61: CHINEKE! PERFORMS BEETHOVEN’S NINTH SYMPHONY | London, Royal Albert Hall

Chineke! Orchestra is Europe’s first majority Black and ethnically diverse orchestra, founded in 2015 and already a Proms favourite. But this is the first time the Proms has hosted Chineke! Voices, boosted up to a two hundred-strong ensemble by singers from half a dozen other choirs, including the London Symphony Chorus and the ZO! Gospel Choir; all off-book. The sound they made for the traditional annual performance of Beethoven’s choral Ninth Symphony (1824) truly blew us all away (despite some moments of tuning issues in the upper registers).

It was also a privilege to hear award-winning American bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green, straight from the New York Metropolitan Opera, in his Proms debut. His powerful, theatrical voice made the final movement’s solo booming declaration of joy one of the highlights of the entire concert.

Conducted by Kevin John Edusei, the Chineke! Orchestra did not seem to match the fire of the singers. In fact, the Symphony’s calmer, elegiac third movement seemed to be where the ensemble shone brightest, with beautiful solos from woodwind. Although, the heart-stopping timpani outbursts of the second movement (Jauvon Gilliam) were the loudest you’ll have ever heard, and the horn section always brought the bombast.

In the first half we heard George Walker’s brief song cycle Lilacs (1995), the first time a composer of African descent won the Pulitzer Prize for music. The ensemble’s play-through seemed cold and mechanical (under-rehearsed?), though American soprano Nicole Cabell was able to bring out more of the piece’s quiet emotions.

Tickets for all 72 Proms are available from just £7.12 on the BBC Proms 2022 website.

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