Music – Amazing Amadeus

2011-01-21 13:53

South Africa boasts a robust and vibrant tradition of choral music, and the 2011 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival will tap into the enduring appeal of this genre with a celebration of the human voice – ranging from a classical European perspective to a contemporary African vibe.

This is all part of a real effort to draw new audiences to the classics by making them contemporary and culturally relevant.

“Classical music is not well ­supported in the black community and we are trying to reach those audiences. The power of vocal ­music lies in the fact that it can be very emotional, and choral ­music in particular is very ­powerful. The human voice has a particularly emotive quality,” says Richard Cock, the festival’s musical director.

Taking place in various venues from January 27 to February 13, the festival is themed On the Wings of Song and features a ­diverse programme of sacred, ­popular and inspiring music.

Having started in 2006 to mark the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birth, the event has broadened its focus to include not only works by the Austrian master but a selection of opera and oratorio arias, recitals, chamber and symphony concerts, and even cabaret and folk songs to add a light-hearted flourish.

In an exciting development, for the first time the festival has ­commissioned a composer-in-residence, Mokale Koapeng, to create a new choral work to enrich the country’s classical music canon.

Titled Dipesalema Tsa Dafita, the piece will make its premiere at the festival alongside Mozart’s Requiem in D minor on Thursday – the day of Mozart’s 255th birthday.

This glorious double bill will be performed by four opera soloists and three choirs – Germany’s ­Schleswig-Holstein Festival Choir, the Chanticleer Singers and Michael Dingaan’s Chamber Choir of SA – accompanied by the ­Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, conducted by Cock and renowned choir director Rolf Beck.

The opening concert is one of many highlights this year, with ­another sure to be the choral ­concert on Saturday, February 5, at the Wits Great Hall, featuring works by Koapeng as well as other local composers. SDASA Chorale, the Soweto gospel group will ­perform under Koapeng’s baton.

Also, don’t miss the Melodi ­Music Ensemble under the direction of Nimrod Moloto performing excerpts from Mozart’s Magic Flute and Cosi Fan Tutte, as well as from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, on ­February 5 and 6.

The Music and Exile: Songs, Styles and Sub-texts Symposium hosted by the Goethe Institute on February 4 and 5 will explore the effect that cultural exchanges ­resulting from exile have on musical styles, particularly on jazz.

The inclusion of African choral music in the programme is not ­accidental, says festival artistic ­director Florian Uhlig.

“Although there is still a thread of Mozart running throughout the programme, it reflects Mozart’s ­curiosity as an artist. He appealed to everyone, and it is this universal integrated spirit that we want to celebrate... the various aspects of his creativity.”

Says Uhlig, Koapeng will play an active role in the festival, conducting, giving talks and leading a workshop for young composers. “Not just in South Africa but globally, the younger generation looks at the classics as the exclusive preserve of grown-up, wealthy white people.

“We have already starting seeing new faces and getting tremendous feedback at the festival, and we believe it has the potential to ­contribute to breaking up that common notion of classical music by means of collaborations, experimenting, using new venues and consciously trying to widen audiences.”

» The Festival runs from January 27 to February 13. Book at Computicket, visit Join Mozart Festival or call 011 447 9264

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