Chi-chi Nwanoku: 'All of a sudden there was a complete power cut, not once, but three times!'

This article is from 2021

Chi-chi Nwanoku

Chi-chi Nwanoku / credit: Eric Richmond

Chineke! founder and artistic director Chi-chi Nwanoku continues our Q&A series about the joys of Edinburgh's festival season

As the countdown moves even quicker towards Edinburgh festival season, our collaboration with the Edinburgh International Festival continues as we give you another weekly Q&A interview. Today, we present Chi-chi Nwanoku, founder and artistic/executive director of Chineke!, a foundation created to provide career opportunities for Black and ethnically diverse classical musicians in the UK and across Europe. Here, Chi-chi tells us about memories of Edinburghs past, featuring the time she got a little carried away at the Usher Hall, and performing with a mezzo-soprano superstar who soldiered on through the pain.

What are your first festival memories of Edinburgh?

I have incredible memories of playing with the Cambridge University group back in 1978. As a student it was my first time in Scotland and it felt surreal, heady, and exciting.

What is your all-time favourite memory of Edinburgh during August?

Sitting in the choir seats as the LSO played Verdi's Requiem conducted by Claudio Abbado. My boyfriend was in the orchestra and got me a seat squeezed up next to the chorus. At the end, when Abbado raised everyone to their feet I leapt up as well (before quickly sitting down again) as I had been swept into the performance as though I was also playing!

Can you name one person you met in Edinburgh during festival-time who truly inspired you?

Joyce DiDonato with her stoic 'the show must go on' approach. I was involved in a concert performance with her, with Vladimir Jurowski conducting. She had recently broken her leg, so was hobbling on and off the stage with a walking stick. Then all of a sudden there was a complete power cut, not once, but three times!

If you could curate your own festival line-up for a day, who would you include? Anyone can be on there, dead or alive.

Maya Angelou reciting her poem 'Still I Rise'; Maria Callas singing 'Casta Diva'; Beethoven conducting the first performance of his Symphony No 9; the first performance of William Dawson's one and only symphony; seeing Florence B Price perform her Piano Concerto, and hearing the Wanamaker prize-winning performance of her first symphony.

What would you change to improve Edinburgh during August?

Accommodation for the performers so that it feels more professional rather than like student digs.

How does Edinburgh compare to other arts festivals across the world?

Edinburgh stands out due to the multi-faceted activities both at the Fringe and in the International Festival with all its artistic forms of performance. There literally is something for everyone.

Part of The List's My Perfect Festival series, created in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Festival. Read more about other people's festival experiences here.