Chineke! Orchestra & William Eddins (5 stars)

Chineke! Orchestra & William Eddins

Andrea Baker with the Chineke! Orchestra / Picture: Ryan Buchanan

An Edinburgh International Festival triumph as the pioneering Chineke! Orchestra help produce a night of vibrant force and intimate artistry

To take on the mighty Jessye Norman's cantata commission composed by Judith Weir and premiered at New York's Carnegie Hall in 2000, is no mean feat. That Scottish-based mezzo-soprano Andrea Baker performed it with the commanding assurance heard at Edinburgh Academy – with its composer in attendance – is tribute not only to her own emotionally absorbing conception of woman.life.song but the role played by the phenomenal Chineke! Orchestra and their conductor William Eddins.

A relatively young orchestra, founded in 2015 by double-bass player Chi-chi Nwanoku to provide career opportunities for black and minority ethnic classical musicians, their sound is clean, clear and infused with a vibrant force of compelling energy that underpinned Weir's score in all its shifts of tone and colour. A song cycle in seven sections with texts by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the music traces a woman's life from youth to old age. Together, the combination of Baker and the orchestra brought out the intimacy, light delicacy and finesse of Weir's settings, the gently tinkling percussion and acoustic guitar giving fresh instrumental textures, while the second section, 'Breasts!! Song Of The Innocent Wild-Child', was characterful and humorous.

Opening the concert was the world premiere of Ayanna Witter-Johnson's Blush, an attractive new piece that looks to the ups and downs of young love for its inspiration. Using lots of percussion, its rhythmic pulse swung from lively and open to darker hues, presumably indicative of when things are not going so well with a romance. As the concert ended, it was clear that Edinburgh Academy had just hosted an evening that worked wonderfully at every level, with Baker and Chineke! Orchestra totally nailing a piece that fitted perfectly into this year's somewhat unconventional Festival.

Chineke! Orchestra & William Eddins performed at Edinburgh Academy Junior School, Tuesday 17 August; the concert is online at eif.co.uk/at-home, Sunday 22 August–Sunday 20 February.

AT HOME: Chineke! Orchestra & William Eddins

  • 5 stars

The Chineke! Orchestra joins dynamic mezzo soprano Andrea Baker in a filmed performance of the trailblazing song cycle woman.life.song, featuring influences of pop, blues and jazz. Since its founding in 2015, Chineke! has become one of the UK’s most exciting musical ensembles, celebrating diversity and championing change…