Classical music aficionados defied all odds to attend the second edition of Steinway Piano Concert Series, which was headlined by a Swiss soprano singer and A-listers of the local classical music scene, reports Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
Any lingering uncertainty about a successful concert ought to have been dispelled by now. For at about 6:20 pm, the Steinway’s Victoria Island-based showroom can almost boast of having a full house. Yet, the pre-concert anxieties seem justified. After all, it is a well-known fact that rain-drenched days and events like this do not normally consort so well together. And this fact, a traffic-prone city like Lagos corroborates so well.
So it happens that Steinway Piano Concert Series stomps into its second edition on a sure-footed note. Could there have been a better entrée than Francesco Paolo Tosti’s “La Serenata”? Or, perhaps, a better time to flaunt the tenor Joseph Oparamanuike’s vocal talents? That Oparamanuike is at home with this Italian, later British, composer’s work is obvious. Likewise, he leaves no one in doubt about his expertise when he subsequently takes “Vainement, Ma Bien-aimée” from Édouard-Victoire-Antoine Lalo’s notable composition for the stage, Le Roi d’Ys. For both performances, he is accompanied on the piano by one of the concert’s headliners, Nigeria’s most talented pianists, Tunde Sosan.
A brief reminder about Oparamanuike: his renown as one of Nigeria’s most talented tenors easily endears him to concert habitués. Not any time soon would his formal training as a chemical engineer stand in the way of his lustrous musical career. Recall that this is a career he owes so much to. And that includes, among other things, seeing him perform before Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during the 2014 Commonwealth Games as well as in several concerts, since 2012, in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, England, Scotland, China and Brazil.
As for Sosan, he is the MUSON Centre’s resident pianist. As the story goes, he owes so much about his musical career to the influences of his grandmother Arinola Sosan and his church organist and master of music at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, Mrs Tolu Obajimi. A graduate of physiotherapy at the Lagos University Teaching College of Medicine, he also holds a bachelor’s degree in music with a specialty in Piano and Organ performance of Trinity College of Music, Greenwich, England. He had in addition honed his skills under the tutelage of Raymond Banning, an ex professor of piano at the institution.
Back to the concert. A solemn note creeps into it with “Preghiera” (Prayer) in the Style of Padre Martini by Fritz Kreisler. Because it is a composition for violin and piano, this is a tailor-made opportunity for a re-enactment of the on-stage chemistry between the violinist Uche Nwamara and his elder brother Chijioke on the piano.
Of course, years of joint performances – which sometimes included their father, David Nwamara on the flute –had a lot to do with this chemistry. That both young talents took music lessons from Our Saviour’s Anglican Church’s music director/organist Theophilus Orkang might also explain a lot. Yet, one must not discountenance their early inclination to music, which was nurtured by their father, who even as an engineer founded Orpheus Company Limited, the one-stop venue for musical instruments. Besides, both brothers’ precocious predilection for music hints at pre-incarnation experiences.
As for Uche, not even the piano lessons taken at the age of six under Mrs Anna Ogunnaike could stop his switching over to the violin a year later. Thus, under the watchful eyes of Theophilus Orkang and Vania Sigridova, his budding musical skills blossomed. Chijioke, meanwhile, remained steadfast with piano and has since grown from strength to strength in the music world.
Tertiary education in the US might have seen the Nwamara duo temporarily part ways with Chijioke studying to become an economist and Uche later enrolling for a law degree from Harvard. Nonetheless, their taproots remained anchored in music.
This would explain Uche’s further tutelage under Zina Gendel at the Washington Conservatory, Washington, DC and the late Janet Packer at the Longy School of Music, Boston, Massachusetts as well as under Susie Meszaros of the Chillingrian String Quartet in London. Add to these his performance opportunities with groups like the Mount Vernon Symphony Orchestra and the Harvard Mozart Society Orchestra.
Besides his many performances back in Nigeria, he also doubles a classical music critic for THISDAY newspaper.
Back on the stage, the highly decorous audience watches Chijioke’s recital of Franz Schubert’s familiar “Impromptu Op. 142 No. 2”. Schubert’s “Impromptus”, by the way, consist of eight pieces for solo piano. Composed in 1827, they were published in two sets of four. While the first two pieces in the first set were published in his lifetime as Op. 90, the second set was published posthumously as Op. 142 in 1839 with a dedication added by the publisher to the prolific 19th-century Hungarian composer and virtuosic pianist Franz Liszt.
It is soon the turn of the promising soprano Foluso Nwamara, who – accompanied on the piano by Tunde Sosan – is set to burnish her concert credentials with her solo rendition of George Frederic Handel’s “Rejoice Greatly, Oh Daughter of Zion!” (from his Messiah).
The audience gets a full taste of Tunde Sosan’s musical skills, when he lunges into a solo recital of “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” (from Lyric Pieces Op. 65) by Edvard Hagerup Grieg, a Norwegian leading Romantic era composer and pianist.
The wedding mood lingers into the next performance as the concert’s main headliner, the Swiss-born soprano Teuta Nicolet, sings “Deh, Vieni Non Tarda” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. This, she follows up with “Quando Me’n Vo” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera in four acts, La Bohème.
Uche Nwamara’s return for a haunting recital of “Mitternachtsglocken” (Midnight Bells), Arr. for Violin and Piano from the Austrian composer of operas and operattas Richard Heuberger’s Der Opernball returns the audience briefly to enchanting world of the Romantic era with the accompaniment of Chijioke on the piano.
Joseph Oparamanuike follows up with “Si, Ritrovarla” from Gioachino Rossini’s operatic drama (dramma giocoso, literally: drama with jokes) La Cenerentola, which he prefaces with brief explanatory remarks. He is accompanied on the piano by Tunde Sosan, who stays back for a solo recital of Aldo López Gavilán’s “Pan con Timba”. Gavilán is known for fusing the academic elements with the most popular rhythms without losing his essence: being Cuban.
Next follows Joseph Oparmauinke’s anticipated duet with Teuta Nicolet. From “Lippen Schweigen” taken from an operetta by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár’s Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), they move on to “Solla Tomba” from La sonnambula, an opera semiseria in two acts, with music in the bel canto tradition by Vincenzo Bellini set to an Italian libretto by Felice Romani and first performed on March 6, 1831.
The concert, figuratively speaking, turns full cycle with Joseph Oparamauike concluding the evening performance with “My Way”,a song popularised by Frank Sinatra, but whose lyrics were written by Paul Anka and set to music based on the French song “Comme d’habitude” composed in 1967 by Claude François and Jacques Revaux, with lyrics by Claude François and Gilles Thibault.
By the way, Anka’s English lyrics are unrelated to the original French song, even when “My Way” is often quoted as the most covered song in history.
-This concert held on Saturday, May 30