There is plenty for fans of classical music to cheer about this weekend as the Nairobi Orchestra returns to the stage with two concerts at the Braeburn Theatre.
The highlight of the performances will be the premiere of “Concerto for Tuba” by music teacher and composer Njane Mugambi.
The idea of composing a substantive work for tuba started in 2007.
The main themes were composed at first as the work evolved from a sonata (a musical composition of two to four movements usually for a solo instrument or a small ensemble) to a full-fledged concerto.
The writing stopped for a few years until tuba player Jennifer Wanjala expressed an interest in premiering a new piece for her instrument. As Mugambi has done with his previous compositions, the “Concerto for Tuba” provides a perspective of Kenyan music interpreted in a classical music setting.
It is composed of three movements, a relaxed rhythmic opening by percussion and strings accompanied by echoing refrains of the wind instruments.
The second movement consists of a multi-part harmony while the tuba sets an energetic mood to the third section complete with call-response passages in the style of folk music.
According to Mugambi, the inspiration from the piece is drawn from the rich diverse Kenyan cultures, past and present.
The performance also features “Finlandia” by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
This is a symphonic poem written in 1899 and revised the following year. Most people even with a superficial knowledge of classical music recognise the melody of this music.
It was originally written as a protest against censorship by the Russian Empire (for nearly the entire 1800s Finland was under the control of the Russians). It opens with a deep brass chords and the music quickly becomes passionate, loud and frantic as if to rally the Finns against the oppressors.
As it approaches the end, the orchestra calms and a popular section called the “Finlandia Hymn” comes on.
This is a quiet, divine hymn in prayer to God for deliverance. This inspiring melody grows until it becomes a triumphant conclusion.
Sibelius’s most famous work is powerfully patriotic, exciting and emotional, packed with grand melodies and dramatic explosions.
The composer gives each of the instrumental groups in the orchestra a chance to shine and the orchestra comes together in a spectacular powerhouse. The performance of the piece lasts up to nine minutes.
Another outstanding piece on the concert programme is “Danzon No. 2” by the Mexican composer Arturo Marquez.
This modern classic is named after the dance style ‘danzon’ (literally ‘big dance in Spanish), which originated in Cuba but has become popular in Mexico. It is often compared to that other famous urban Latin American dance rhythm, the tango.
Written for full orchestra, the piece features solos for clarinet, oboe, piano, violin, trumpet and flute. It begins with a nostalgic rendering of the dance with a clarinet solo played over piano and strings. Midway through, the music turns into a spirited dance as the solo trumpet lead the brass to an enthusiastic frenzy and a foot-stomping close.
“Danzon No. 2” premiered in 1994, performed by the Orchestra Filarmonica de la UNAM in Mexico City. Due to its popularity, it also often called the second national anthem of Mexico.
The final piece on the programme for the concert by the Nairobi Orchestra is “Pictures at an exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky.
This is a famous piece for piano written by the Russian composer in 1874 in honour of his painter friend Vladimir Hartmann, hence the title. It is most often played not its original piano version but in orchestra format. Mussorgsky composed a set of 10 piano pieces called “Pictures at an Exhibition” during a memorial exhibition of the painter’s works after his death.
Conductor of performance
He captured in music the sketches, watercolours and architectural designs that were shown at the exhibition. Mussorgsky also based a few sections of the music on canvasses that he had been shown privately by the artist.
The concerts by the Nairobi Orchestra take place on Saturday 17th June at 7pm and the next day at 3pm at the Braeburn Theatre, Nairobi. The conductor of the performance is Duncan Miano Wambugu.