Singer to leader

2010-02-18 00:00

THE Friends of Music Association and the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic ­Orchestra will be honouring Bongani Tembe for his contribution to the ­performing arts in South Africa at ­tonight’s World Symphony Series Summer Season concert in the Durban City Hall.

The Friends of Music have commissioned sculptor Hannah Lurie to ­create a bronze bust of Tembe, which will be unveiled at the concert that starts at 7.30 pm and features ­acclaimed violinist, Benjamin Schmidt, and Thomas Sanderling conducting the KZNPO in an all-Beethoven programme.

Paying tribute to Tembe, Dr Vera Dubin of the Friends of Music, said: “I have worked closely with Bongani Tembe for many years. I have come to appreciate his dedication to music and to the arts as a whole. My committee and I decided it was appropriate that we showed our appreciation of Mr Tembe’s tireless efforts. Without him, Durban would not be the city it is, rich in the arts with the best orchestra in South Africa.”

Tembe became one of South ­Africa’s first black professional opera singers in January 1986, and the ­following year landed a principal role in the Napac production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman that became South Africa’s first full-length opera to be broadcast live on television.

He went on to obtain Bachelor and Masters music degrees from the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and has since excelled on both the opera and concert stage, appearing at the Alice Tully in New York, Beethoven Kammerhaus in Bonn, Petronas Philharmonic Hall in Kuala Lumpur and the Barbican in London.

In 1996 he was nominated for a Vita Award in the best male leading role category for his critically acclaimed portrayal of Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Tembe has also performed for many dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth II, King Goodwill Zwelithini and all of South Africa’s presidents since the first democratic elections in 1994.

His career as a singer has overlapped with his tenure at the KZNPO which began in 1994. As chief executive and artistic director, he has been credited with creating a strong business platform for the orchestra and helping to raise more than R200 million over the past 15 years, ensuring the orchestra’s survival and stability.

Commenting on the honour, Tembe said: “I am humbled by this honour. When I assumed leadership of the ­orchestra, then called the Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, the performing arts industry in South Africa was ­going through unprecedented challenges. But with the help of a devoted management team and accomplished musicians we turned things around for the better.

“We were committed to artistic and organisational excellence, and introduced a comprehensive community engagement programme. We also successfully positioned the orchestra as an essential resource that could be used effectively for nation-building by bringing people of diverse ethnic ­origins together through music.”

Tembe has championed the World Symphony Series which has brought musicians such as Zubin Mehta, Sir James Galway, Pinchas Zukerman, Shlomo Mintz, Lakshminarayana Subramaniam, Vadim Repin, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Tamas Vasary, Simon Estes, Elizabeth Connell and Katia Ricciarelli to Durban.

And, last year, he produced a national tour which starred superstar soprano Reneé Fleming, several South African choirs and the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by William Eddins.

Tickets for tonight’s concert are available at Computicket.

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