Jul 11

2008 concert a triumph

When the last bars of the encore, the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky, came to an end, so did this year’s Sasol National Youth Orchestra course in Johannesburg. Even while the adrenalin was flowing through the bodies of 120 young musicians, their conductors and coaches and the organizers, the sadness that accompanies the conclusion of a satisfying project affected everyone.

The course, which began on June 26 at the Linder Auditorium, Parktown, was the 43rd to be held. For the first time, both the Sasol National Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Sasol National Youth Wind Ensemble shared the stage, giving concertgoers a really good time.

Hungarian conductor and wind band specialist Laszlo Marosi and his tightly honed wind ensemble thrilled the audience, with each young musician almost a soloist within the band. Not for nothing did Marosi say that this band was one of the best he has ever had in his eight years of working with wind bands in this country. His programme of works by Hungarian composer Frigyes Hidas interspersed with several other works showed them at their best, and the musicians clearly loved it. Marosi, who teaches at the University of Central Florida, conducted the Wind Ensemble for the second time.

In the second half of the concert, it was time for the Symphony Orchestra to shine and Conrad van Alphen, conducting for the third year, again brought magic to the stage. In a sparkling programme of works by Glinka and Mussorgsky, the orchestra gave of its best, while in the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations it was a time to shine for Jacques-Pierre Malan, winner of last year’s Ronnie and Rhona Lubner competition for solo orchestral instruments. This appearance was part of the prize, and the young cellist imbued the work with freshness and energy, an accomplished interpretation.

Cost constraints meant cutting the course by a day, which in turn meant harder work for the players. Four sessions a day was the norm, but several days delivered a fifth rehearsal to ensure the end product was as good as it gets. As usual, the course started with sectional coaching by several of Johannesburg’s and Pretoria’s most accomplished professional musicians and teachers. This was when the seating was finalized. Although auditions had been held throughout the country earlier in May, changes always occur through the addition or departure of a few. And sickness takes its toll as well. Trips to doctors or the hospital are par for any course that brings a lot of people together in another climate, but this year through colds rather than fingers broken in soccer games.

But there was time to play, and one evening saw the traditional in-house concert where groups of friends and colleagues displayed their chamber music talents, break-dancing talents and most certainly their gift for comedy. The vibe throughout the course was one of energy and passion, one of commitment and laughter and always good music was the goal.

As always, it was a time to renew friendships and make new ones. For instance, Erik Albertyn who joined the SANYO board, was on course with executive director Faan Malan more than 20 years ago, and Conrad van Alphen was playing the double bass in the orchestra at the same time. Sadly, though, this is the last course that will be run by Faan and Kim Malan who feel the need to develop musicians in other ways after nine courses at both junior and senior level. They will be missed, but a new team will shortly be in place to take over the course and maintain an excellent relationship with the main sponsor, Sasol. Faan will remain chairman for several months and both, with logistics manager Lyn Klemp, will remain as consultants for as long as they are needed. As they say: “Having developed a junior course which is now entrenched in the music development scheme of South Africa, it’s time to move on.”

And the music will go on. Planning is already in place for the course in 2009, as well as the junior course later this year. In place on the board, too, is Laurie Wapenaar, who has been running the Orchestra Company in Johannesburg for years, helping young musicians achieve their classical music dreams.

For Sasol, the orchestra’s biggest and longest supporter, youth music is magical. As Andriesa Singleton, Sasol’s Group Sponsorship Manager, puts it: ‘We believe that our involvement with these orchestras contributes to nation building.’

And the youngsters benefit in immeasurable ways.

As concertmaster Jaco Cronje, who has been coming on course since 2002, says: “This is the best place to test yourself against your peers and this drives you to try for even higher standards and of course to learn from international conductors. It gave me the confidence to leave Bloemfontein and go to study with Jack de Wet in Cape Town and accept a scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. It has given me friendships that will last a lifetime.”