The perfect setting

2009-06-19 00:00

IT was around six years ago that ’Maritzburg’s entertainment impresario, Chris Hodgkins, first saw the potential for a concert in the Botanical Gardens.

“When I was walking the dogs in the gardens one Sunday morning the idea began to crystalise as I looked at the wonderful backdrop that could frame a 40-metre wide stage featuring a full philharmonic orchestra and soloists performing in the sunshine and warmth of a mid-winter afternoon,” he said.

That first idea led him to talk to KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (KZNPO) manager, Alasdair Muir, but it seemed disappointment was in store when he was told that the orchestra had taken Pietermaritzburg off its schedule, as they couldn’t get an audience of 150 people in the city.

Hodgkins was undeterred and on July 24, 2005, he staged the inaugural Concert in the Park. It was attended by 2 800 people, making it bigger than the annual Starlite Pops that had just reached its eighth year at the Durban Country Club.

The success of that first Concert in the Park was the catalyst for the formulation of a 10-year strategy for music in Pietermaritzburg which has allowed residents to enjoy Symphonies in the City, Ultimate Supper Theatre productions, the Queen Show, schools productions, and many other events.

“The criteria for creating a successful concert rests largely in the compilation of the programme and the choice of performers,” says Hodgkins. “Too many people have a negative perception of classical music. In fact many may well choose root-canal treatment over a symphony concert.

“What the majority of sceptics don’t realise is how much we are surrounded by classical music from advertisements to movies, TV promos and reality shows — take Paul Potts of Britain’s Got Talent fame who won by singing Nessun Dorma.”

Each year’s Concert in the Park programme is diverse, offering everything from pipe band music to traditional classics and modern contemporary songs.

These have, over the years, been performed by soloists such as Lauren Dasappa, Joseph Clark, Melanie Lowe, Heinz Winkler, Antony Stonier, Rowan Stewart, Christopher Duigan, Karren van Pletzen and many others; the Pietermaritzburg Caledonian Pipe Band; and students from Maritzburg College, Epworth, The Wykeham Collegiate and the KZN Youth Orchestra and Choir.

During the past six years, the Symphonies in the City have grown from strength to strength and continue to be sold out. The Last Night of Proms has become a regular feature on the musical calendar, and later this year ’Maritzburgers can look forward to the introduction of ballet, opera, a spectacular film harmonic concert, the return of Christmas Crackers, and a new arrangement of Sinatra and Friends.

Hodgkins is keen to point out that events like the fifth anniversary Concert in the Park would not be possible without the support of sponsors like Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the City of Pietermaritzburg and The Witness.

“The Coca-Cola KFC Concert in the Park is the single biggest outdoor event that the prestigious KZNPO participates in,” Hodgkins said. “It is one of those special days when people are able to enjoy quality time together, either as friends, colleagues or family with nothing else to do other than chill and relax in the wonderful ambiance of the Botanical Gardens listening to the best performers present outstanding performances.

“The really good news is that the fifth anniversary concert is only reaching the halfway mark of the musical plan. As they say in the classics the best is yet to come.”


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