Mar 22

Eternal Themes of Struggle – Francois Lion-Cachet

As part of their summer course, the South African National Youth Orchestra is presenting works of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, and Matthijs van Dijk.

I talked to André Oosthuizen, assistant conductor of the orchestra, at Parktown Boys High during the orchestra’s training camp for their forthcoming performances in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

He explains why he thinks the selected works, with their origins in Europe, are relevant to contemporary South Africa.

“Classical music written by such masters will always be relevant,” says Oosthuizen, who believes that the works stood the test of time because of the eternal nature of the music’s themes.

“Tchaikovsky went through a difficult time when he wrote his fourth symphony. The piece deals with the theme of fate; he grappled with core aspects of his existence.”

Tchaikovsky, who was gay, married a woman mainly to satisfy his family. He thought he could maintain a facade, but it proved a complete fiasco.

“The music is about the struggle he has experienced in himself – I think it is relevant for South Africa because we’re also struggling, though it’s not always because of the same causes,” says Oosthuizen.

He is convinced that these themes come through in the music.

“The first movement is uncomfortable, a feeling that remains present throughout. The nature of the piece is dreamy, but if you listen carefully you will feel the discomfort in the tempo.”

Tchaikovsky described destiny as a fatal power that prevents one achieving the goal of true happiness. “There is nothing to be done but to submit to it and lament in vain,” he wrote.

Oosthuizen describes Matthijs van Dijk’s Dance, the work of a local composer, as the opposite of Tchaikovsky’s piece because of its light and playful nature.

In Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, Oosthuizen sees the value of old meeting new. The piece is based on the commedia dell’arte era that preceded its modern composer.

“It involves the mixing of periods by placing older music in a new context,” says Oosthuizen. He adds: “Stravinsky admitted that he could not write the music in the same way, but that he could only repeat it in his own accent.”

Oosthuizen is an alumnus of the National Youth Orchestra who played the flute, and now works as conductor of the NWU Symphony Orchestra and Wind Band, as well as co-conductor of the North West Youth Orchestra.