Nairobi Orchestra to perform classics

Nairobi Orchestra
Nairobi Orchestra members during their March 2019 concert at Braeburn Theatre. The orchestra will be at the same venue for their concerts this weekend. PHOTO | COURTESY 

It is an exciting weekend for classical music lovers as the Nairobi Orchestra performs some of the best loved classical works from different eras of the music.

This second concert of the year by the Orchestra and at the Braeburn Theatre, the venue of their last performance in March. For the first time it will feature two Kenyan soloists, David Ralak and Jason Rae with Bernadette Muthoni leading the orchestra.

The music ranges across the spectrum of classical music with the best works of the outstanding composers of genre.

The “Polovtsian Dance No 17” is a piece from an opera by Alexander Borodin who was one of the prominent composers dedicated to producing uniquely Russian classical music, rather than imitating Western European models. This piece was completed after the composer’s death in 1887 and first performed in St. Petersburg in 1890. The no. 17 refers to its place in the track number sequence in the opera “Prince Igor” if the opening Overture were not counted.

The “Polovtsian Dances” constitute the best known selections from Borodin’s opera and were originally part of Act II of the opera but are now often played as a stand-alone concert piece.


“Dance No. 17” also titled “Polovtsian Dance with Chorus” has become particularly famous with most of its themes incorporated into the 1953 musical “Kismet”

Music was only a hobby for the Russian physician and chemist who also devoted his energies to promoting women’s rights. In addition to the music he composed, his legacy includes a School of Medicine for Women, which he established in St. Petersburg in 1872.

The second piece on the concert program features two pieces, “Summer” and “Winter” from “The Four Seasons” the popular work by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi which gives musical expression to the seasons of the year. The Nairobi Orchestra will perform two of the four concertos with David Ralak, the widely experienced violinist, as soloist. Ralak also plays with the Kenya National Youth Orchestra and the Kenya Conservatoire of Music Orchestra. The violin concertos were published in 1725 with each separated into three movements, a slow tempo in between two faster ones. While “Winter” uses high strings to evoke icy rain, “Summer” is also known as “Storm” because of the thunderstorm in its final movement. Vivaldi’s original arrangement for solo violin with string quartet and continuous bass (basso continuo) helped define the modern form of concerto of a solo instrument and accompanying orchestra.

Another highly regarded young Kenyan musician, Jason Rae, who is also a brass instructor with the Safaricom Youth Orchestra, will play as soloist on the “Thoughts of Love” by American trombone virtuoso and bandleader Arthur Willard Pryor. It is a beautiful solo work for trombone featuring many fast scales, wide leaps and octave jumps. This is one of the most popular pieces out of more than 300 compositions including novelty tunes, ragtime pieces and operettas written by Pryor.

The piece was originally written as a waltz called “Love Thoughts” for John Philip Sousa’s band, in which Pryor was soloist and assistant conductor. Pryor later revised it into the beloved trombone solo known and loved the world over today.

The last piece on the concert program is “Symphony No. 104” which is the last of the twelve pieces composed in 1795 during Joseph Haydn’s two tours of London (the so called London Symphonies). It premiered to great acclaim at the King’s Theatre in London on 4 May 1795 directed by the Austrian composer. It made him the first great composer of symphonies with 12 magnificent pieces that were presented in London. There are four movements in the piece, which is written for a broad range of orchestral instruments, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and strings. This piece features an exuberant finale, which represents everything that is great about Haydn and the classical style that he created. It is a mixture of sophistication and wit that made him the most famous composer of the Classical period (1730 – 1820)

The conductors of the concerts that take place this Saturday and Sunday afternoon are Director of Music Peponi School, James Laight and Bill Rowe, head of Music Daystar University. “For many music teachers this is a busy time of the year with pupils sitting their examinations,” says Laight. “We are however delighted, that we can put on a while concert to entertain our audience.”