Jul 26

Foundation course a rousing success

Rapturous applause. That’s what greeted all four ensembles formed at the concerts that brought this year’s 42nd annual South African National Youth Foundation course in Cape Town to an end.

And some tears. For this is an annual get-together of old friends, and the start of many new friendships as youngsters between the ages of 13 and 25 come year after year to get expert tuition in orchestral instruments. This year, a record 270 young musicians registered for the event.

Ask anyone how he or she felt, and the words of warmth tumble out. Cellist John Minnaar, 21, of Bloemfontein leaves the course “in tears”, because he is leaving behind so many friends across the cultural spectrum, and he values the fact that the course allows this interaction. Minnaar, one of the many Tswana-speaking South Africans, has also grown with the course, becoming an instructor at the junior course held annually in Kimberley. Others spoke Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu, German, Korean and Mandarin as well as English and Afrikaans. All brought their own cultural norms and values with them and left with new, enriched perspectives on our diverse world.

After 10 days of concentrated rehearsals, the 270 young musicians surpassed all expectations in concert. One by one they took to the stage and the audience, many of whom had sat there from 2 pm until the final concert ended at 10 pm, sat riveted, while rain pattered down on to the roof of the Joseph Stone Cultural Centre in Athlone, Cape Town.

First, the reserve wind ensemble blew up a storm, followed by the rousing strains of Tchaikovsky played by the reserve symphony orchestra. Then it was time for the Sasol South African National Youth Wind Ensemble and the Sasol South African National Youth Symphony Orchestra. The next day, all four played again – at the Durbanville High School, St George’s Cathedral, and the Hugo Lambrechts Auditorium in Parow, and again the applause was deafening.

Not all the days were hard work – the traditional soccer game gave the reserve orchestras the edge over the nationals, and the chamber music evening exposed many other talents from stand-up comedy to breakdancing and ballroom dancing.

About 30 of the youngsters entered the second annual Ronnie and Rhona Lubner Competition, which was won by 18-year-old violinist Avigail Bushakevitz of George, with 13-year-old saxophonist Hamman Schoonwinkel of Cape’s northern areas the winner of the woodwind section. Avigail won the opportunity to perform as soloist with the Sasol South African National Youth Symphony Orchestra next year. Last year’s strings runner-up, Leana Alkema, was the soloist in the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto this year.

And then of course there were visits to the waterfront. But most of the time, the young musicians worked hard – they were tutored by some of South Africa’s leading teachers and orchestral players and they were drilled by their conductors, learning works not only new to them but in new to the repertoire.

Two works had their premieres here. Hans Huyssen was commissioned by the international broadcaster Deutsche Welle to write Proteus Variations, a symphonic celebration of our national flower, for the Sasol South African National Youth Orchestra, conducted again by Conrad van Alphen. Frigyes Hidas, a friend of the Sasol South African National Youth Wind Ensemble’s conductor Laszlo Marosi, wrote Pictures of South Africa exploring colours and contrasts from Cape Point and Table Mountain to the elephants of Addo.

Corvin Matei challenged his Reserve South African National Symphony Orchestra with Tchaikovsky, and Milton Pietersen’s South African National Youth Reserve Wind Ensemble played a number of rousing works. The national symphony was also conducted by the German maestro Peter Gülke in preparation for a second concert they will play in Bonn, where the orchestra has been invited to participate in the prestigious Beethoven festival in September, and then participate in a workshop-concert with Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt in Berlin. Conrad van Alphen will be on the podium in the first concert.

From across the course, the comments were great. As Obekeng Moatshe, a 17-year-old violist in the Sasol South African National Youth Symphony Orchestra summed it up: “Ke ratiles Sasol SANYO ya 2006 e be itmedisa thata.” That’s “I love the Sasol South African National Youth Orchestra. The course was wonderful”, in Tswana.

The 75 musicians of the Sasol South African National Youth Symphony Orchestra leave for Bonn on September 6, the day after their farewell concert at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg. In the Johannesburg and Bonn concerts, they will perform the Princess Magogo songs, sung by bass-baritone Abel Moeng, while in Johannesburg the Black Tie Ensemble’s Loveline Madumo will sing the aria, “Vissi d’Arte” from Tosca. This aria was sung in Cape Town by Nkosazana Dimade to a standing ovation. The audience was so appreciative that she was obliged to sing it again!