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BBC FOUR: Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History

Presenters Lenny Henry and Suzy Klein (pictured top) celebrate the lives and works of Black classical composers and musicians across the centuries, whose stories have been forgotten and music neglected in the classical repertoire.

Black musicians have always composed and performed, played pivotal roles in their own times, and even helped shape and shift the course of musical history. In this documentary, Suzy Klein and Lenny Henry explore the lives and works of some of these remarkable men and women, people who achieved greatness despite the many hurdles that were placed in their way because of their race, and whose stories and compositions deserve a much wider audience.

The film includes special performances by Chineke! Orchestra: Europe’s first majority Black, Asian and minority ethnic orchestra, playing pieces by the composers the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Florence Price at the famous classical music venue St John’s Smith Square, London.

Along the way, Lenny will learn to dance to one of Ignatius Sancho’s minuets while Suzy plays it on a harpsichord, and he will sing Scott Joplin’s Ragtime classic Maple Leaf Rag with Suzy on piano.

Suzy meets star violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason, who plays from Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata, first performed by George Bridgetower; Lenny has a fencing lesson and learns how Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ mastery of that art informed his compositions for the violin, and rising star soprano Nadine Benjamin sings from Joplin’s opera Treemonisha and composer Shirley Thompson’s Psalm to Windrush.

The film features interviews with Chi-chi Nwanoku (founder and artistic director of Chineke!), Gillian Moore, Director of Music at London’s South Bank Centre; composer and pianist Julian Joseph; actor and author Paterson Joseph and Professor Shirley Thompson.

Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History is a Douglas Road Production. It was commissioned for BBC Arts and BBC Four by Jan Younghusband. Producer and director is Guy Evans. Executive Producers are Angela Ferreira and Liz Hartford. It airs 9pm Sunday 27th September on BBC Four.

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