Opening with the South African and US national anthems, the Minnesota Orchestra, members of the Minnesota Chorale and the Gauteng Choristers welcomed guests with their beautiful, soothing music at the iconic Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto on Friday night.
The melody was orchestrated by Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä. The combination of choral and orchestral music enthralled the audience.
South African soprano Goitsemang Lehobye then took to the stage to sing Harmonia Ubuntu, composed by Bongani Ndodana-Breen.
The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra is in South Africa on a five-city Music for Mandela tour, a musical exchange marking the centenary of former president Nelson Mandela’s birth. The tour covers Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Soweto and Durban.
“The collaboration with Minnesota is incredible,” said Ndodana-Breen.
“It is an act of wonderful cultural diplomacy. And the orchestra reaching out to us and sharing their music, culture and traditions is extraordinary. The fact that they came all the way here to Africa is amazing,” he said.
Gwen Pappas, spokesperson for the Minnesota Orchestra, added: “We wanted to bring together an American and South African choir. We were advised that the Gauteng Choristers were an outstanding South African ensemble and this has definitely proved to be the case. It was magic the first time that they performed with the Minnesota Chorale in rehearsal.”
Harmonia Ubuntu is the theme song for the tour. It defines the ideals espoused by Madiba.
“Mandela has left us an incredible legacy,” said Ndoda-Breen.
“He was an exemplar of ubuntu. He was one of the greatest beings of the 20th century. As the son of the soil of the Eastern Cape, nobody has promoted ubuntu and reconciliation more than he did. When I was writing Harmonia Ubuntu, which is focused on his words, I was very mindful of the weight and history that he carried.”
Lehobye, who is currently studying in the US, was equally enthusiastic about this first visit by a full US symphony orchestra to South Africa.
“Singing with the Minnesota Orchestra and performing Harmonia Ubuntu feels amazing. I feel blessed to have been chosen to sing the lead song. It has always been a dream of mine to bring the music home. And the fact that I did that with an orchestra from America and performed it in South Africa, felt amazing. It will make people understand what exactly this music is about,” said Lehobye.
The Minnesota Orchestra, in partnership with tour organiser Classical Movements, will collaborate with more than 800 South African musicians and 20 leading music organisations as part of their tour.
These include the Cape Music Institute, the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, the SA National Youth Orchestra and the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Wind Band, to name a few.
Members of the US orchestra were also treated to outstanding performances from the Clermont College Choir, Happy Sounds Youth Development, the KwaZulu-Natal Jazz Ensemble, the Gauteng Choristers and vocal ensemble 29:11.
The orchestra will also be participating in a series of cultural exchanges with local musicians through the Cape Music Institute, the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Wind Band, the SA National Youth Orchestra, the New Hope International Exchange and the University of Pretoria.
“Through Fulbright scholarships, the International Visitor Leadership Program and the OneBeat musical exchange programme, numerous South African musicians will be brought to the US to collaborate with their American counterparts and musicians from around the world,” said Pappas.
“The symbolism of these choirs joining voices to sing an African and Western repertoire speaks to the real point of the tour: bringing people from diverse cultures together through music.”