Grahamstown offers huge musical variety

Johannesburg û The Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown over the past decades has developed into the single most important festival in the country.

More so currently, the festival, as to be expected of any festival worth its salt, has provided ample space for contemporary music. With composer Michael Blake in charge, contemporary music last year was given priority with a veritable mini festival for American composer John Cage. Strange as it may seem, but the Beethoven hall had been packed out for each of the many performances of his music.

This trend is to continue at this yearÆs festival with BlakeÆs second New Music Indaba again focusing on the 20th century. The outstanding British Fitzwilliam string quartet will perform the music of Shostakovich.

Postmodernist composers Stanley Glasser and Simon Phelelani Mnomiya will be in "action" at this year's festival as well as a performance of one of the most unusual compositions ever û Erik SatieÆs Vexations of eight hours long, also on the programme.

Music of no less than 25 South African composers will be heard during the festival. Musicians to perform include South African pianist Jill Richards and Christopher Duigan, avant-garde American pianist David Arden and the Prisoners of Strange.

Acclaimed contemporary composer Gyorgy LigetiÆs work will also be performed. Australian Percy Grainger will attend with two young video composers. In line with the contemporary milieu and the rediscovery of Piazzolla and the tango, ArgentineÆs Encuentros ensemble will entertain festival goers with their interpretation of classical and modern tangos.

Among the many attractions features Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam, well-known for its repertoire of music ranging over many centuries. The orchestra conducted by Peter Oundijian, boasts the services of two top soloists in tenor Deon van der Walt and French horn player Jonathan Williams.

The concerts will comprise music of well-known composers including Britten, Grieg, Mendelsohn and Mozart.

Baroque music as always has a spot at the Grahamstown festival. This year Ensemble Refugium is set to perform and quartet members Stefan Temmingh, Aninka Harms, Uwe Grosse and Hans Huyssen, based both in Cape Town and Munich, use authentic instruments for their performances focused on music of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Da Vinci TrioÆs programme will include well-known works. Its three South African members who currently live in London, include violinist Peter Carter, cellist Eric Martens and pianist Hanlie Martens and they perform music by Dvorak, Mozart, Schubert and Shostakovitch.

A brand new 21st century jazz opera, Love and Green Onions, based on Zakes MdaÆs novel Ways of Dying, is included in the vocal section. Jazz pianist Denzil Weale composed the music and Michael Williams wrote the text.

Jazz singer Gloria Bosman and the excellent Cape Town baritone Fikile Mvinjelwa will sing the lead roles. Bosman and Williams were previously honoured with Standard Bank's young artist festival musical awards, an honour bestowed on Mvinjelwa this year.

This smart young singer performed to acclaim in the premier of Roelf Temmingh and Michael WilliamsÆs Buchuland three years ago and in GershwinÆs Porgy and Bess and recently in Roodepoort as a soloist in BeethovenÆs Choral Symphony.

Jazz operas are few and far between, and this South African work follows on the gripping 1995 opera Blood on the Field by American jazz and classical trumpet player Wynton Marsalis.

Baritone John Fletcher caters to nostalgia with his programme Songs for All Time accompanied by Stephen Higgins and includes famous songs from musicals and opera arias he has performed to great acclaim in England.

As usual choirs will feature prominently. French chamber choir Musicatreize will be accommodated at the 2001 festival's Music Indaba. The choir comprising 16 voices performs 20th century music. Musicatreize, whose South African visit is sponsored by the French Institute in South Africa will combine with UP Chorale led by Mokale Koapeng in the first performance of three new works, commissioned by Samro.

The choir Joy of Africa presents a programme titled Liberation Songs. Three Eastern Cape choirs are to perform with the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra in the South African premier of Stanley GlasserÆs The Chameleon and the Lizard.

The Grahamstown music programme offers music to satisfy the tastes of even the most divergent musical interests.

Bookings for the music programme and main festival programme opens on Monday, May 14 at Computicket.

Enquiries: (011) 482 3671.

  • The Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is presented from Thursday June 29 to Saturday July 7.
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