Allegro! Nairobi Orchestra Classical Perfomance

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Posted: November 14, 2019

Last Sunday, I attended a classical music concert performed by the Nairobi Orchestra and guests. The concert was at the Braeburn International School on Gitanga road.

FYI, the Nairobi Orchestra was founded in 1947 and is one of the oldest amateur orchestras in Africa.

The orchestra always welcomes new players, provided they meet an objective standard, for example ABRSM Grade 6 or above for strings (if you know, you know).

The organizers handed out a very informative program,  providing deets on the composers and the pieces that would be played. The guest conductor, Mr Kiggundu Musoke, gave a nice spoken introduction pointing out the meaning of various musical choices in the pieces.

The program consisted of four pieces: Mussorgsky – Night on the Bare Mountain; Fauré – Élégie; Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet; Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 1.

Dear reader, please know that my frame of reference for the pieces played consist of my memories of live performances and CDs by renowned orchestras, so what follows is just my dilletante view.

The Bare Mountain and Romeo and Juliet are quite ambitious choices for an amateur orchestra, as these pieces contain many dynamic passages that require the various sections of the orchestra to work very well both internally and together.

These passages did not always come off well; while there were some stand-out individual contributions, in my view the Violin 1 and 2 sections in particular would benefit from working on their unison and harmony. My compliments to the percussion section, especially the lady on timpani who demonstrated great timing, tempo, and volume control throughout.

The Élégie is a moving piece for cello, which in its plaintive passages explores shades of melancholy. It was played by Imani Ager, winner of the 2019 Young Musician of the Year Award for best Senior Soloist. Miss Ager delivered a concentrated performance of the work, which was greeted with an enthusiastic applause.  At just 17, Miss Ager is at the beginning of her career in music and I daresay we will hear more of her in the coming years.

After the intermission, the stage was set for Brahms’ famous First Piano Concerto, which saw its first performance in Kenya ever! The guest soloist was Marouan Benabdullah, a pianist of international stature who has performed with many well-known conductors and orchestras.

His command of the instrument was impressive, with even the most complicated passages flowing effortlessly from his powerful hands. After the strong final notes of the third movement, the audience exploded in applause, demanding that the soloist come back to take a second bow.  As an encore, Mr. Benabdullah played Black Earth, a beautiful and evocative piece by modern Turkish composer Fazil Say.

During some parts of the piece the pianist needs to reach into the grand piano to constrain the string which has the effect of making the piano sound like a traditional Turkish string instrument. It was a wonderful surprise ending of a nice afternoon of classical music.

To keep up to date with concerts and event agenda of the Nairobi Orchestra, please contact them at

*Pics: Courtesy

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