Chi-chi Nwanoku: Chineke!


The aim of Chineke! is to champion change and celebrate diversity in classical music, and we aim to be a catalyst for change in the industry.  The Chineke! Foundation is a non-profit organisation which has been established to provide career opportunities for young Black and minority ethnic (BME) classical musicians in Europe.

Chi-chi4The idea is to bring together and showcase the wealth of talent among these under-represented performers. We aim to raise awareness and level the playing field and if we can alter the status quo at the same time it will go some way towards changing perceptions. On all sides.

A significant inspiration for me was the Sphinx Organisation, created by violinist Aaron Dworkin nineteen years ago, to help young African American and Latino musicians in the USA. My lightbulb moment happened during the concert given by the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra at the Southbank Centre. Seeing the looks of incredulity on faces of people in the audience, that having a classical music stage filled mostly with faces of colour was a novelty touched a nerve. I left the concert that day knowing I had to do something to change this response… and the idea of Chineke! was born.

My next task was to sound people out and I was overwhelmed by the enormous and immediate support from across the classical music industry and government. I received offers of collaboration, rehearsal space, office space, music parts and concerts. There was a unanimous sense that it was about time for something like this and a sense of palpable relief that I was up for running the gauntlet. At the offer of a launch concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in a matter of months (!) I had a massive job of raising a lot of money to pull it off. Along with ‘in-kind’ help I raised just over £100,000 towards our costs.

It took a while to arrive at the name of the foundation, but it literally came to me in the middle of the night when I sat bolt upright and said it. In the Igbo language Chineke is an exclamation, mostly meaning “Wonderful!”. Breaking it down, ‘Chi’ means God, in the sense of each person’s unique guardian from the cradle to the coffin and ‘neke’ means creation, and the word together sums up the ‘spirit of creation of all good things in the world’. It was a no-brainer, the sentiment was spot on, so I think the name chose the foundation!

Choosing players for the Chineke! orchestra was the next mission, and would have been quicker to have held auditions, but I was not sure if I was allowed to advertise for such an orchestra! So it was a case of writing and speaking to a lot of people for recommendations that I followed up, by either going to their concerts, listening to recordings, youtube, speaking to old teachers etc, everything! The main age-range is between twenty and forty; some are older and a few still in their teens. The cultural mix is wonderful, ranging from Bangladeshi, Indian, Mauritian, Sri Lankan, Iranian, Caribbean, African. When we met for our first rehearsal I was overwhelmed by the intoxicating mix, so we bought a huge map of the world and drew a line from our roots to London. Out of the 62 musicians we were 31 nationalities, so had come from virtually everywhere!

Wayne Marshall (principal conductor of the WDR Funkhausorchester Cologne) conducted our inaugural concert. Born in Oldham to parents from Barbados Wayne is one of the world’s leading organ soloists. Violinist Tai Murray lead the orchestra and with the calibre of players including violinist Samson Diamond and contrabassoonist Margaret Cookhorn, we were in excellent hands.

Sir Simon Rattle wrote us a supportive endorsement: “Chineke! is not only an exciting idea but a profoundly necessary one. The kind of idea which is so obvious that you wonder why it is not already in place. The kind of idea which could deepen and enrich classical music in the UK for generations. What a thrilling prospect!”

Chi-chi Nwanoku MBE

Written as part of Ensemble Philharmonic

Clare Stevens: Essential Marketing Tips


It’s neClare Stevens2ver too late to learn another essential skill for the professional musician: how to deal with concert promoters. Whether you are taking part in a fund-raising concert in a village church or making your debut at the Wigmore Hall, it will be somebody’s job to market the event and to make all the practical arrangements. To do that they will need help from you – and they may need it much sooner than you expect.

Let’s say you’ve been booked for a date in February 2017 – more than a year away, so no need to think about it for months, you might imagine. But the concert may be part of a 2016/17 season with a booking brochure that is published in April or May. This means it will need to go to the printer in March, and the marketing manager for the series will need to start collating all the lists of artists, repertoire information, and images in January at the latest. Uploading it all to the venue’s website in time for the season launch is another lengthy task which will need to be started early in the year.

Then there’s the concert programme – again possibly spanning a season in one glossy brochure, but even if it’s just a sheet of A4 paper that can be printed off on the day, someone will need all the details of what you’re going to perform, a biography and a photo.

The same information may be needed for press releases, ideally with some sort of thread or ‘hook’ that can turn a list of pieces and performers into an interesting story that will catch the attention of a journalist and then engage their readers – your potential audience.

And of course there’s social media. The marketing team for your concert should be keen to build up a buzz about it, but that’s a two-way process that works best if you’re also using your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts to interact and update your friends and followers about the forthcoming gig.

All this may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many musicians and even some artists’ agents seem unprepared to meet the needs of the organisations that have booked them.

Most frustrating of all are the students and young performers who don’t reply to emails requesting photographs, biographies and repertoire details, nor to follow-up emails, answerphone messages or texts. They may have been given an opportunity to perform at a prestigious venue as a result of winning a scholarship award or prize – a vital showcase at an early stage of their career. The essential quid pro quo is that they have the necessary promotional materials ready; that they check emails and voicemail and respond promptly to requests, even if they are in the middle of exams or on the road giving performances.

Providing downloadable resources from a website is a very user-friendly option and these days that’s fairly easy to do, though it has to be kept up to date.  But if you’re not ready to set up your own website, it’s fine to have an information pack ready on your laptop to send out to promoters or press. You’ll need long and short versions of your biography – bearing in mind that ‘short’ really does mean just a couple of hundred words – and a sequence of high-resolution photos.

Ah yes – photos. For the performer, these are not an indulgence but an essential tool of the trade. If you can possibly afford it, a session with a professional photographer is a worthwhile investment, and may not cost as much as you think. But modern digital cameras and even phone cameras will produce publishable results if the correct settings are used – there’s no excuse for providing a fuzzy shot taken from five rows back as you took your bow at your prizewinning concert. You might get away with it at postage-stamp size in a printed brochure, but it will almost certainly be published online as well and you’ll look as though you’ve been photographed in the Hall of Mirrors at a funfair.

Lastly, I’d like to make a plea to established artists and their agents to have new photos taken more frequently, and to include a wider variety of shots in each session. It’s bad enough to see the same images cropping up in the brochures of every festival and concert hall for a year – even worse to request an image for a new brochure and receive the same shot that was supplied the year before. Photos should be labelled with the artist’s name and a photographer’s credit so that the recipient can easily file them – having to rename endless downloads of ‘P00065341.jpg’ is the sort of chore hard-pressed administrators could certainly do without.

Clare Stevens

Written as part of Ensemble Philharmonic

Lines and Spaces

Pianist Richard Uttley talks about his new RPS Commission which he premieres at this years Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

As part of the Philip Langridge Mentoring Scheme, through which I was mentored by Rolf Hind, the Royal Philharmonic Society were able to commission a new piece for me. I took the opportunity to ask Naomi Pinnock to write me something. I’d wanted to ask her for a solo piano piece since hearing her arresting, beautiful and dramatic Sting Quartet No.2 performed by the Arditti Quartet at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival back in 2012.

Naomi’s new piece is a sequence of miniatures entitled Lines and Spaces, inspired by the work of Agnes Martin (who was the subject of a recent retrospective at Tate Modern). I will give the premiere as part of my recital at hcmf// on Saturday 21 November, and will also play it in the Bridgewater Hall on 6 January 2016.

Read Richard’s full blog post