A marvellous mix of Mzansi and Mozart

The vacuum created by the demise of Michael Blake’s New Music Indaba has prompted this year’s arrival at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown of exciting intercultural compositions as well as a plethora of South African works. The focus upon South African creativity and musicianship represents a maturing recognition of our own talents and abilities in the art music sphere.

Two intercultural music productions looming large in this year’s festival programme are The Songs of Madosini, an oratorio by Hans Huyssen, and 88 Tuned Drums: Facets of African Pianism, a recital of contemporary African-inspired piano music performed by the eminent concert pianist Jill Richards.

Huyssen’s oratorio incorporates traditional Xhosa bowed and wind instruments, blended with their string quartet and clarinet Western counterparts.

Richards’s piano recital includes works that have been inspired by the textures, timbres and polyrhythmic structures of African instrumental music performed on African xylophones, thumb pianos, plucked lutes and drum chimes. This composition concept, known as African pianism, is the focus of her recital, which features the music of eight African composers and promises to be as exciting as it is original.

Cantus Africana director Mokale Koapeng brings African choralism to the fore with a tribute to the music of Southern African composer John Mohapeloa, as well as a programme devoted to a wide range of South African choral styles incorporating the works of Kevin Volans, Stanley Glasser and Mzilikazi Khumalo, among others.

Koapeng’s two programmes are designed to highlight the depth of creativity within the African choral genre; a style of music-making that is integral to the musical expression of many within the broader South African community.

Clockwise is violin and harp duo Marc Uys and Jacqueline Kerrod, while the lieder tenor recitalist Nicholas Nicolaidis is accompanied by Anneke Lamont. Both collaborations include a strong proportion of South African art music juxtaposed with the music of well-known 20th-century and Romantic-era composers within their programming. It is a bold move that displays their confidence in the artistic worth of South African art music, as well as their belief in the creative expression of South African composers, something that ought to be applauded and supported by festival-goers.

Standard Bank Young Artist Award-winner Zanne Stapelberg will be participating in An African Celebration, a production that toasts the eclecticism of South African music. Do not miss her performance as an opera diva during the orchestral concert (conducted by Peter Valentovic), as Stapelberg is one of South Africa’s most consummate sopranos with a dazzling career in front of her.

Mexican visitors Na’rimbo will provide a toe-tapping Latin-American feel with their interesting stylistic fusion that foregrounds the marimba as the principal instrument of expression.

The Fringe art music scene is disappointingly sparse this year and lacks innovative programming, apart from Philip Burnett’s inclusion of some 20th-century repertoires in his organ recital. That leaves the Wits Choir, which might well be the only other source of much-needed vitality and innovation at this year’s Fringe.

This article was first published in Cue, the National Arts Festival newspaper

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