Even the soaking Cape rain could not dampen the enthusiasm of the participants on the second day of the 2019 Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival. Instead, the winter weather seemed to accentuate the warmth and intimacy of the various gatherings within the Konservatorium and the continuous flow of observation and practise, teaching and learning taking place amongst the students, Faculty members and curious audience.

Saturday afternoon saw two more Guest Ensemble Concerts; namely, the Royal Academy of Music Viola Class visiting from London, all of whom are studying with Juan-Miguel Hernandez, and the Port Elizabeth-based Aulos Wind Trio. The 3 pm public master class was led by Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro who later spoke to Luis Magalhães about his musical background and the lack of percussion’s aesthetic prejudice – “You just pick the sound you want!” How did he end up becoming a conductor? Carneiro joked that this was due to the assumption that, as a percussionist, he was able to beat time competently but confided that, “Conducting gave me a platform to pursue the music that I cannot play [as a percussionist].”

The second Faculty Concert comprised music by Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsakov. Mendelssohn wrote six four-movement string quartets during his final two decades; the first was written at the age of 18 in response Beethoven’s death and the last was written at the age of 38 – Mendelssohn’s own final year – after the death of his sister, Fanny. Despite the tragic bookending of these quartets, this String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2,was written under happier circumstances – Mendelssohn was on honeymoon and enjoying the height of his fame as a composer, and this quartet shows his own musical voice emerging with a clear confidence.

This confidence was shared by the total immersion exhibited by Faculty staff Madeline Adkins (violin 1), Marc Bouchkov (violin 2), Juan-Miguel Hernandez (viola) and David Cohen (cello), whose expressive mop of hair was a favourite focal point for the live-stream camera crew. After the buoyant first movement, the players gleefully passed around the descending motif in the shimmering second movement Scherzo. The third movement was a true Mendelssohnian “song without words” and exhibited sublime clarity of texture, with the inner voices spinning tenderly around one another, before yielding to the Presto agitato which was driven by a restless urgency.

During the interval, I had a chance to interview Johannesburg-born Faculty member Gareth Lubbe who was enjoying a well-deserved “night off” after his full participation in the previous night’s Faculty Concert. He described the ubiquity of overtones in musical cultures from around the world and suggested that musicians “calm down and listen” to become consciously aware of overtones and the way in which they colour the music. In case you missed it, visit our live-stream from Saturday evening to witness Lubbe’s incredible control of his overtone singing, as well as some other insights into his teaching philosophy.

The first significant contrast provided by the latter half of the Faculty Concert was the voice of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) who was a member of the Russian nationalist grouping “The Five” or “The Mighty Handful”, along with Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky and Borodin. Although Rimsky-Korsakov submitted this (now-much-loved) Quintet in B-flat major for piano, flute, clarinet, bassoon and hornfor a composition competition, it did not even receive an honourable mention at the time and hence was only published posthumously. 

This combination of instruments provided an enchanting sound palette compared to the string-dominated sound world that we have enjoyed so far at the SICMF. The first movement was somewhat academic compared to the last two; the composer himself wrote that this movement is “in the classic style of Beethoven” but its two themes were nevertheless satisfyingly well-contrasted. In the central Andante, the warm, nostalgia-drenched horn theme repeated its call against different harmonic backgrounds – now answered by the flute, then by the plaintive clarinet. The distinctive Russian flavour of the vivaciousRondo was clearly enjoyed by Faculty artists Demarre McGill (flute), Ferdinand Steiner (clarinet), Andrew Brady (bassoon), Geoffrey Pilkington (horn) and pianist Pieter Grobler. Each instrument was given its opportunity to shine with the short, cadenza-like passages provided by Rimsky-Korsakov towards the end of the movement.

What can you expect on this third day at the SICMF? The final two Guest Ensemble Concerts, featuring Pretoria-based UP4Strings and then MIAGI, take place in the Fismer Hall at 1 pm and 5 pm, respectively. It is a busy day for Gareth Lubbe who will be presenting a viola master class at 3 pm, after which he will be in conversation with Faculty violinist Marc Bouchkov at 7 pm in the Jannasch Hall.

Tonight’s Faculty Concert presents a musical marriage between France and Russia. The Quartet forbassoon, violin, viola and celloby Francois Devienne will be followed by Guillaume Connesson’s Double Quatuor – a South African premiere at this year’s SICMF. We will then hear Tchaikovsky’sPiano Trio in A minor, Op. 50; surprisingly, the only trio written by this favourite Russian composer. The Faculty Concert will, as usual, be live-streamed from 8 pm. Tickets for this performance and all other events are available from Computicket or at the door.


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