With the 13th Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival nearing its final hours, my impressions as a first-time visitor by far overshadowed any expectations I may have had – all due to the unique and boldly interactive nature of it. At times one felt like a runner on a fast moving treadmill. You are left breathless due to the fast pace, while just an hour or so later one is overwhelmed by a deeply considered and committed interpretation of a work which reaches the ear and enters the mind like it has never managed to do so before. This is the magic of music. It has an enormous potential to surprise anew and completely break away from your own previous conception of the same piece. During the past nine days one could also experience mentorship in action – not only during the masterclasses, but also in sectional rehearsals or for example when a conductor gives all his attention to an individual player to reach the ideal sound impression a solo should reflect. Mentorship coming towards young, impressionable musicians from a wide range of sources will give them the opportunity to select for themselves what exactly they need to enhance both their skills and musical growth. Openness from a pedagogue may widen his/her pupil’s breadth of vision to stimulate their search for more impulses, move them towards new boundaries or even a crossover process which might open up new horizons.

Last night the largest orchestra by far cramped themselves onto the stage of the Endler. The Festival Concert Orchestra (FCO, trained and conducted by Daniel Boico, brought us one of the most diverse and challenging programmes of the festival, reflecting some 150 years of Romantic and Modern Classic works, with some spicy jazz and minimal music added to the musical à la carte  menu. PAUL BOEKKOOI reports.

The SICMF’s Concert Orchestra is all about training and to give mostly younger musicians the exposure to the intricacies and specific demands of orchestral playing.  Another specific element regarding this type of orchestra, is that a number of musicians from other countries in Africa or elsewhere are invited and included. Some of them don’t have the opportunity to ever play in a full-sized orchestra. To include everyone or give each participant a chance to at least perform in some of the rehearsed repertoire, the numbers in many section of the orchestra can be far higher than is necessary for the works to be heard. It‘s very promising that there are string players in abundance, but the Festival Concert Orchestra of 2016 also included 21 flutes, 16 clarinets, 9 trombones and 8 trumpets!

In the second movement from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.2 in C minor, Opus 17, Andantino marziale, quasi moderato, Boico did far more than manage to keep the music interesting and flowing through his attention to detailed articulation, an orchestral sound which was kept sumptuous without overkill, as well as letting the music speak in its own voice, which in this case means that the particular Ukranian folk song which inspired Tchaikovsky, sounded like one.

From Gustav Holst’s suite The Planets two movements were chosen: Mars and Jupiter. The orchestra was much more at home in the former’s driven and continuous rhythmic onslaught on the senses, with some particular firm and often biting brass sounds and a string section which never needed to fear to be drowned by them. Jupiter, with its many tempo changes and sudden bolts of extrovert and quirky exclamations, resulted in some problems for the orchestra, mainly concerning intonation and a weaker rhythmic structure. This was a bit too difficult and overall perhaps also a too ambitious task for them.

Howard Hanson’s symphonies are just about never performed in South Africa – not even his so-called “Romantic” symphony.  It lives up to its nickname. The themes grow organically and are spread throughout the orchestral palette. There are some majestic utterances in the music and most of this two-movement work is both wholesomely and sumptuously orchestrated, but for modern, more sophisticated tastes and, judged against some European, Eastern European and Russian symphonies composed during the same period, a bit conventional and old-hat.

Three movements from Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 4, “Heroes” fully convinced this listener that a younger generation must have grown up with perhaps a better understanding and a clearer inclination towards minimalist structures. The FCO not only played it with technical mastery, but Boico kept the sound spectrum moving between the various forces. It was only in the Neuköln movement where the interest in the musical content waned somewhat.

Duke Ellington was featured in two movements from his Suite from his ballet “The River”: Meander and Riba. These brilliantly orchestrated pieces, done by Ron Collier, reflected the atmosphere, drive and impulse one associates with Ellington. Daniel Boico’s movements and perfect timing during this jazzy journey was contagious and the FCO responded with lots of flair. Here most of the brass soloists impressed with their authentic sounds.

Finally, the Elgar Pomp and Circumstance March, Opus 39 no. 4, had both the glorious old-world and colonial inflections in place, while the melodies soared and fully took us back to a hazy era in history when both soldiers and gentlemen were equally heroes. How things have changed… This performance reflected both the poignancy and pride of the era.


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