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Europe's first all non-white orchestra is changing the face of classical music

Meet Chi-chi Nwanoku, the powerhouse double bass player who has founded the Chineke! Orchestra. David Gutnick's documentary is called, "Every Shade on That Stage."
Chi-chi Nwanoku (David Gutnick)

When Chi-chi Nwanoku was a teenager, she had a dream: to represent Great Britain in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

She was one of the fastest 100-metre sprinters in England, despite being only five feet tall and weighing a little over 100 pounds. But at 18, a serious knee injury ended her competitive running days forever. She shifted gears. 

She had always loved classical music, and decided to learn to play the double bass. She had the chops. She received scholarships. And for the past 30 years, Chi-chi Nwanoku has made her living as a soloist and member of prestigious orchestras. 

A few years ago, she started chasing another dream: to change the face and colour of classical music.

This is the 21st century. It should not be a novelty to see people of colour playing Beethoven.- Chi-chi Nwanoku

She decided to form an orchestra of her own. She had just two criteria.

One, the musicians would be have to be world class.

And two, none of them could be white.

The Chineke! Orchestra's first concert in London was sold-out and got rave reviews. This summer they are touring Britain and will play the Royal Albert Hall in the prestigious BBC Proms

Desmond Neysmith, the principal cellist of the Chineke! Orchestra, says the magnitude of what they were creating didn't hit him until the rehearsals for their inaugural concert. 

Desmond Neysmith is the principal cellist of the Chineke! Orchestra.

"There was a moment when I looked up ... and I saw the faces — a sea of different shades of brown really — and I don't know how else to describe it," he says. 

"I freelance in all the major London symphony orchestras.... The vast majority of time, I am usually the only musician of colour in those ensembles."

Chineke!'s first CD recording will be released on July 7, and will contain recordings of Sibelius' Finlandia and Dvorak's Symphony No.9.

(Provided by Chineke! Orchestra)

And the Chineke! Orchestra has an offspring. A junior orchestra — for musicians aged 8 to 18 — has come together.

David Gutnick caught up with Chi-chi Nwanoku in the practice room of her home in London. His documentary is called "Every Shade on That Stage."

Click 'listen' above to hear the documentary. 


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