Duigan at the festival

2014-07-09 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG concert pianist Christopher Duigan is looking forward to seeing how his programme, which combines the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Abdullah Ibrahim, will be received at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this week.

“It’s hard to say anything new when you are playing classical music, but there is a similar sense behind these two composers,” Duigan says.

“Their music was part of a political upheaval during their lifetimes and they have both been the voice of change. I’m sure that it is going to be a big success.”

The pianist will be playing two different programmes, both titled Good Company, in the Rhodes chapel tomorrow and Saturday.

The first programme will include Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 8 in C Minor Op 13, Pathetique; Piano Sonata No 21 in C Major, Op 53, Waldstein; and Piano Sonata No 32 in C Minor, Op 111; and Ibrahim’s Chisa.

The second programme will include Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 14 in C Sharp Minor, Op 27, No 2, Moonlight; Piano Sonata No 26 in E Flat major, Op 81a, Les Adieux; and Piano Sonata No 23 in F Minor, Op 57, Appassionata; and Ibrahim’s The Mountain and Mannenburg.

While in Grahamstown this week, Duigan will also team up with long-time friend and collaborator, baritone Federico Freschi, to perform The Songs We Love, in the Rhodes chapel on Friday and Sunday.

The programme will include works by Mozart, Bizet, Handel, Rossini, Lerner and Loewe and Rogers and Hammerstein.

Back home, he’s looking to build on the success of his Music Revival series, which began in 1997 as intimate concerts in his home.

“The concerts I do at home are unique, there is always a good vibe and atmosphere,” Duigan says.

“Nowhere else in the world can you go into a musician’s home and enjoy a concert where the music is fantastic, the acoustics are fantastic and he cooks for you.”

But keeping the momentum going isn’t easy, he admits, adding: “It’s one thing to start a project like this, but another thing altogether to sustain it.”

What helps, he says, is the feedback he gets from the audience. “I live here, I’m part of the community and people can give me feedback about what they get out of the concerts. It is very affirming for me.”

In addition to the concerts he hosts at his home in Montgomery Road, Athlone, Duigan does monthly recitals at Amber Valley in Howick, where a new piano has been installed in the retirement complex’s auditorium.

He also performs regularly at St Agnes Church in Kloof, and is about to start doing recitals at the Church of the Ascension in Hilton. “And I really would love to find a regular venue in Durban or Umhlanga,” he says.

Duigan is also continuing his work with colleague Brad Glasspoole, to bring the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra to the city for regular concerts. “The KZN Philharmonic Orchestra won’t be doing a Concert in the Park this year, but there will be a Symphony in the City concert in either September or October, and I’m working with the orchestra and the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School to organise a special Christmas concert,” he says.

Duigan began piano studies with Anette Kerkovius in Pietermaritzburg at the age of seven, after she spotted him playing the piano at the family home. Kerkovius, who was teaching his sister at the time, was impressed and returned a month later to ask his parents if she could teach him. Duigan went on to study at the University of Natal with Isabella Stengel and the University of Cape Town with Lamar Crowson and Albie van Schalkwyk, graduating with an M. Mus (performance) in 1994, and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester with Brazilian virtuoso Arnaldo Cohen. While at the Royal Northern College of Music, he won first prize in its recital competition for pianists. He has also participated in master classes at Dartington Summer School with Stephen Kovacevich and at the Mozarteum, Salzburg.

In recent years, Duigan has been a featured soloist in several concerto performances in the Pietermaritzburg and Durban city halls with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra.

His CD recordings are frequently aired on ClassicFM and Fine Music Radio, and in 2010 he became one of only five pianists in South African history to be invited to be a Steinway Artist, joining an exclusive company of renowned international musicians.

A more recent challenge has been performing his own music. “As a classical musician I can play all these amazing songs, but that makes me not very different to other pianists.

“Composing, playing and performing your own music is very different and creates a unique space.”

This year is proving to be a great year for the pianist, who has performed with Spanish saxophonist David Salleras, guitarist James Grace and violinist Joanna Frankel. His collaboration with Salleras could lead to him performing in Barcelona. He’s also loving working with KZNPO concert master Frankel. “She is so dynamic, dedicated and passionate and so good at what she does,” he said.

“I have been lucky to have chance encounters with people who have become amazing friends and collaborators. I really believe the joy of music draws all these amazing people together.”

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