MALCOLM DE ROUBAIX
I understand a blog to be one’s very personal views; sometimes a bit irrelevant, sometimes even irreverent… you don’t write things people already know, and you don’t necessarily write to plaster any egos. Not that I intend doing any ego bashing either! So here it is…
I have it on impeccable authority that the worst time of any SICMF is not the controlled chaos that precedes the first concert but the deathly silence that descends on the Endler/Conserve after the hustle and bustle of the last Sunday concert. The Monday-after is the one day you don’t want to be there…all that’s left hanging in the air are the golden threads (to paraphrase Tennyson) of memories of wonderful concerts, of old friendships re-acquainted, of new friendships made, a new generation of budding musicians ushered in… that by itself is wonderful, is it not? Just when we think South Africa is sinking into a quagmire of mediocrity it does just the opposite – rises like a Phoenix! Well, as far as chamber music is concerned, at least…
The world-wide musical family is just that – a very small and intimate family. And the SICMF has been an important facet of making Africa part of that family. Ex Africa semper aliquid novi, as the Roman ‘Papa’ Pliny (the Elder) said of us…something good for a change, though!
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I have been fortunate in having been able to attend each of the 15 SICMFs since its inception; in fact, I was present at the international student ensemble festival in Graz, Austria, where I think the idea of a local festival was born. My son was then an honours student and played the violin in the Conserve piano trio which had been invited to play at the Graz Festival…what an experience that was! By the way, Emile has since ‘graduated’ to the viola (I’m sure Xandi and Gareth will share my sentiments…!).
The SICMF is quite unique in bringing together some of the finest chamber musicians to a venue in the southern hemisphere; in fact, it ranks amongst the best international festivals of its kind. The unique qualities of the venue add to the success of the festival. We should thank the visionary university authorities of a few decades ago who created something which ranks amongst the best, and will never be repeated in South Africa, given the current climate. Yes, of course we need to balance this against the bad things done by the same authorities, like not allowing black students to attend their white university… but ambivalence is a fundamental human trait. We do good things and we do bad things…just not at the same time. But most of all we need to thank the vision and dedication of the people involved…Nina Schumann, Luis Maghãeles and more recently, Peter Martens, and a cohort of very able helpers and assistants….it is their unending hard work which has made the SICMF what it is today. I salute you!
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So, to quote the Romans again, quo vadis with the SICMF? Well, more of the same of course. But why rest on our laurels? What big next step can the SICMF take? Of course, it does not have to change anything… The programme changes annually, so there’s renewal in that, but if we would want to develop it, where to from here? Let’s do some out-of-the-box thinking…here are three quick ideas, by way of getting the discussion going:
• A tourist destination: Stellenbosch already is a very popular tourist destination. But I’m thinking beyond neck-wrenching camera toting busloads. What about creating the festival as a(n international) tourist destination in conjunction with the many guest houses and holiday apartments in the area? Why not bounce this idea off an entrepreneurial travel agent?
• Addition of an ensemble competition: the week preceding could for example be used as the preliminary rounds, and the first Friday evening (or the preceding Thursday) for the final round(s)…using some of the visiting artists as adjudicators.
• Alternatively, a compositional competition for new ensemble works could be slotted in. at the very least this will create some new publicity, never a bad thing!
Can I challenge you…what can you come up with?
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Have you ever thought how infinitely and fleetingly limited reality really is? Existence is limited to the infinitesimally short moment called ‘now’, which, while I write about it, has already been replaced by countless succeeding ‘new’ moments each of which lasts just as long (or short)? The future does not yet exist, and the past has ceased to exist in any way other than just as a memory…and yet the human mind has that uncanny ability to link the past, the momentary ‘now’ and the expected future into a continuum of experience and existence, without which we would be frozen in immobility! You would be scared to give a step if you could not be sure that your projected or imagined foothold would be there when you placed your foot onto it. (I suggest you pause for a moment to digest what I’ve just said…!).
For me dance is the art form most closely comparable to music. Music often accompanies dance, but I refer to the artistic movements of the body and compare these with the aural developments as a piece of music is played. In dance there is an evolution of movement; in music an evolution of sound. And common to both art forms is the absolute reliance on the ability of the human mind and body to produce a movie from staccato moments. The mind’s ability to phrase an idea, be it in dance or in music, absolutely staggers me. What is even more staggering is the incredible concurrence between the physics and physiology of sound, or, as Pythagoras discovered more than 2000 years ago, between music and numbers. And music and medicine. About Pythagoras: he might have pinched a few ideas from the Egyptians or Babylonians, where he lived respectively for 20 and 12 years…did you know he was a recluse, lived in a ‘compound’ with a chosen few (who were expected to be vegetarians, like him), surrounded by his common followers who were allowed to hear but not see him? Strange fellow!
Most of us attending music performances do so because of its entertainment value (entertainment in a wide sense of the word). There is some sort of magic that draws us to live performances. Have you experienced the feeling of calmness and serenity that descends upon you on hearing, say a slow movement from a Beethoven symphony, or Bach’s Cello suites? What you are experiencing is the therapeutic or healing properties of music. And this was discovered by the ancient Egyptians, and developed by Pythagoras way, way back in time. He believed music was a ‘holy science’, and should not be used for ‘mere entertainment’; music brings ‘harmony’ to existence; studying maths and music helps us to understand the structure of nature; caring and healing can be directed through music. To rephrase it: we are diminished if we are forced to live without music. Let the university authorities of the 21st century take note!
Music and sound therapists are the contemporary counterparts of Pythagoras and his great follower Plato. Plato had this to say about music:
Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.
Plato prescribed ‘music therapy’ for diverse conditions, and to be played in specific situations, like the Egyptians had been doing for a long time. There is ample current evidence of the positive effects of music in various conditions, e.g. stress related conditions. One of the more interesting is in stroke and other damage to the speech area of the brain. Contrary to speech, music is produced in both sides of the brain. Sometimes speech impairment after stroke can be overcome by singing the words, leading later to improved speech. There is also ample evidence that a positive mindset and lessening of stress affects brain function positively, and this has positive effects on immunity and the body’s general response to infections and other diseases (Google psycho-neuro-immunology).
So back to the SICMF; contemporary life is excessively stressful if nothing else. Part of the positive feeling we have after a concert is due to the unconscious stress relief we have experienced. And to get this therapy in mega-doses as we do during a festival like the SICMF is as good for the body as it is for the soul. Food for thought, not so?
Pity that more people don’t join us in this experience; pity, too, that we can’t have more of it!
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So what was special at the 2018 SICMF? Well, in short, everything… But I’ll mention a few moments that I felt were special. Like Coletti’s Moonlight Journey played by two superb viola players (violas of course; what else??!!). and in the programme notes this little gem: Coletti and Mrs Coletti played the early version of this at their 2006 wedding…that must be a first for various reasons. Firstly, imagine the newlyweds making this offering to themselves…and secondly, the viola isn’t usually associated with weddings, is it?
Another trivial gem from the notes: Why did Reingold Ernst Glier change his name to Reinhold Moritzevitch Glière, as mentioned (but misspelt?) in the program notes? Because he didn’t want to be labelled as a German, that’s why! But in Russia he was known as Reingold Glier. Bet you did not know that! Nor did I!
Another special moment: The first of the ‘7 Seascapes’ struck me because it was inspired by the great American poet Emily Dickinson whose writing I love. Here is the full verse:
Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses—past the headlands—
Into deep Eternity—
Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?
Dickinson’s poems are all untitled and are known by a chronological number and the first line of the poem. What makes this poem so poignant is the fact that she was very much of a recluse, had few friends, no romantic affiliations, and was hardly published in her lifetime. So one can perhaps understand her yearning for the exultation of discovery she so beautifully describes. And there is an inevitable touch of sadness in her loneliness. Such is life…
Two things struck me about the Festival Concert Orchestra’s programme. The first is the father-and-son combination of Xandi (conductor) and Pieter-Louis van Dijk (composer). I can think of no better way for a son to pay tribute to his father than just this – the son conducting the father’s music. The second thing was the narrator. I know Xola Ntshinga as a Supersport rugby anchorman; little did I know that as a boy he was a member of the Drakensberg Boys Choir. Boy, what a voice!
Almost finished. Just a comment about Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, again from the programme notes, in case you missed it. Apparently Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, the German-born cello professor at the Moscow Conservatory assisted PI in writing the work, but his influence seems to have been overbearing, which led PI to ‘wash his hands’ of it and declare: ‘The Devil take it! Let it stand as it is!’ Devil? Gosh, it sounds absolutely angelic to me!
So who were my favourite performers? On the male side, the perennial Ferdinand Steiner because of who he is; on the female side, Uxía Martínez Botana…because of who SHE is!
So, this is my tuppence worth…unabridged, irreverent and with great appreciation to each and every performer; you are all stars, all of you!