The razzmatazz of the SICMF evening concerts in the Endler hall may well transport a listener to the likes of the Wigmore or Carnegie halls, but when the rapturous applause bursts forth before the final chord is even played, one might have to rethink this – Wembley stadium perhaps? Wait till the packed house streams out of the hall and notice the racially mixed audience, and the occasion and location are unmistakable. This is the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival in the Western Cape, South Africa.
There are few places in the world that so called Western Classical chamber music is received so enthusiastically and this must in no small measure be attributed to the peoples involved.
For 10 days, every day, the longed for evening concert is preceded by a gruelling day of rehearsals, coaching sessions, public master classes, practising, two student concerts and a lecture interview. All of this is so that students from all walks of life in South Africa can get closer to the goal of becoming a professional musician.
A professional musician is not necessarily an A list soloist, but simply someone who earns a living as a musician. South Africa employs thousands of musicians in the various army and police bands, symphony orchestras, film music and freelance professions, and of course as teachers. For many a previously disadvantaged person in South Africa, music is a means to an end – a better life and a stepping stone into the world of the professional i.e. an acquired skill with which one can earn a living.
The SICMF teaches music as an acquired skill and discipline, and in particular with regard to social cohesion, uses chamber music with its unique propensity to stimulate and facilitate physical, intellectual and emotional artistic human interaction.
This year the SICMF is committed to around 100 bursaries for previously disadvantaged folk who cannot afford the R3 500 entry fee, a fee which is already several fold less than what a student would have to pay to attend a festival with the same faculty members in Europe or America.
Festival Director, Peter Martens, says, “It is heart-breaking to read the passionate motivation letters from bursary applicants, some of whom still live in townships and support siblings with their limited means and basic music making skills. If the Thundafund Campaign realises the +/- R250 000 needed for bursaries, I’ll sleep well again.”