Blog – A Return to Live Music!

I can’t be the only one excited about the return of opportunities to get out and experience cultural events again. As our own Head Out Not Home gears up for its triumphant return in July, it’s just one of the signs of the Arts springing back to life in our fair city. As I write this, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival is in full swing, after a year’s absence. And just recently, Norwich Theatre has announced it’s summer Interlude program.

Excitingly, fresh from their participation in the Theatre’s digital stage Live from The Royal online performance project, Sistema in Norwich’s own Rojas Quartet is taking to the Interlude stage in August with an exciting programme of chamber music by South American composers. Anyone who caught the livestream of their performance would no doubt be enthused at the idea of seeing the quartet perform live and for those who missed it, this is the perfect opportunity to see what you missed!

I’ve yet to make it to a live event, but I have ventured back to the cinema for the first time in months. I was particularly blown away last week by Judas and the Black Messiah, a compelling, dramatic telling of the murder of Fred Hampton, deputy chairman of the Black Panthers, by the Chicago Police. Fifty years on, 25th May 2021 marks a year since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer.

All this has me thinking more about inclusion and diversity within the arts, particularly classical music. It’s easy to see classical music to be the archetypal white art form, so it’s important that we insure other voices are heard too, whether that’s the wonderful playing of musicians like the Kanneh-Masons or composers like Florence Price.

Born in 1887 in Arkansas, Price was the first African-American woman to be recognised as a symphonic composer and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in 1933. The piece in question, her First Symphony, was performed last year by the Chineke! Orchestra, Chi-chi Nwanoku’s majority-Black and ethnically diverse orchestra, at the Festival Hall in London and you can see the performance here.

Then there’s Britain’s own Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, born in London in 1875, whose cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast is probably his best known work, though I would point you to this rather wonderful recording of his Deep River. Much like Bartok did with Hungarian music, Coleridge-Taylor sought to draw from traditional African music and integrate it into the classical tradition.

And to bring us right up to date, here’s an interview with Errollyn Wallen and a recital of her mesmerising Cello Concerto. In 1998, Wallen was the first black female composer to have a piece performed at the Proms, a full 65 years after Price’s Symphonic debut with the CSO. One could ask questions about the time it takes for non-white, non-male voices to be heard, but I think to seek out and celebrate their music, to broaden our own horizons, is a great way to move the debate forward.