Osmo Vänskä conducts the Minnesota Orchestra (pic by Greg Helgeson)
South African music lovers will have the rare opportunity of hearing a leading symphony orchestra of the United States performing live in concert in various venues around our country, when the Grammy Award winning Minnesota Orchestra embarks on a whistle stop national tour between 10 and 18 August 2018.
Performing under the baton of its Music Director, the Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota’s tour marks the first-ever visit to South Africa by a professional U.S. orchestra. Undertaken in partnership with Classical Movements, one of the world’s leading specialist cultural organizational bodies, the tour takes place in honour of the centenary of Nelson Mandela.
An interview with Classical Movement’s South African-born, United States-based Senior Vice President, Johann van Zyl - during a final preparatory visit in advance of the tour - afforded enlightening background insights into the immense logistical considerations behind a tour of this nature. These would be daunting to most professional project managers, but are par for the course with his powerhouse organisation, which has a proud history of running global orchestral tours in accordance with its motto, ‘Moving the music, changing the world’.
Minnesota Orchestra SA tour organizer Johan van Zyl, Deputy Vice President of Classical Movement, photographed by Clinton Marius
The 90-plus body of Minnesota musicians kick off their tour in the Cape Town City Hall on Friday 10 August at 8pm. The second leg of their itinerary sees them performing in the Durban City Hall on Sunday 12 August at 5pm. This will be followed by three concerts in Gauteng: on Thursday 16 August at 7.30pm in the University of Pretoria’s Aula Theatre; on Friday August 17 at 7pm in the Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church in Soweto; and the Johannesburg City Hall on Saturday August 18 at 3pm.
“Meticulous advance planning has gone into every aspect of the tour, in order to minimize any possible error along the way,” explains Van Zyl. “For instance, immediately following our opening concert in Cape Town, the pressure will be on to transport the instruments of all 90 something musicians from Cape Town to Durban. This will mean two outsize pantechnicon carriers leaving the Mother City as soon as the concert has finished, and driving through the night in order to reach Durban by Sunday morning, and set up to rehearse for the evening’s KZN concert.”
A quiet sense of steady conviction emanates from Van Zyl as he talks about his company’s work. This is clearly informed by the knowledge that music is a universal language which connects people the world over. It soon becomes clear that one of the cornerstones of Classical Movement’s holistic modus operandi is Cultural diplomacy.
Candidly tagged on the company’s impressive website www.ClassicalMovements.com as ‘Difficult to define, easy to overlook…essential to do’, this speaks of 25 years of dedication to the cause of promoting music for the advancement of international communities. Engaging productively with government bodies and all manner of other role players - from fund-raisers, to educators, to cultural advisors, to high-level beurocrats. These are aspects that unremittingly form part of the organizational challenges of Classical Movement’s small but formidably effective administrative team, headed by Van Zyl’s wife, the company’s founder and President, Neeta Helms.
SA composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen pic by Anna Morris
Another aspect of its work ethic when planning an orchestral tour involves unstinting social responsibility to the communities with which it engages. In the case of the Minnesota tour, this typically will take the form of playing side-by-side with young musicians in each of the centres it will visit. Side-by-side rehearsals are a regular part of the Minnesota Orchestra’s engagement work with young musicians, offering an opportunity for students to play next to their professional counterparts, sharing a music stand and rehearsal experience together.
During the tour, Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra will engage in two side-by-side rehearsals with young musicians, the first in Cape Town with members of the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.
In Pretoria, Vänskä and the Orchestra will partner for an immersive residency with the South African National Youth Orchestra (SANYO). The residency will include a side-by-side rehearsal, master classes, shared dinner experience, as well as the opportunity for SANYO students to attend Orchestra rehearsals and concerts. The Orchestra will also partner with the University of Pretoria to offer exchanges and master classes with music students. The Orchestra will participate in a variety of additional education projects with the Cape Music Institute in Athlone, and it will engage with the KZN Youth Wind Band, which operates under the aegis of the Durban Music School, during the KZN leg of the tour.
Core repertoire to be performed during the Minnesota Orchestra’s South African tour will centre around Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, and the Beethoven Ninth in Soweto and Johannesburg. The latter magnum opus will be performed in collaboration with the Minnesota Chorale and the Gauteng Choristers, along with a quartet of South African soloists, including soprano Goitsemang Oniccah Lehobye, mezzo Minette du Toit-Pearce, tenor Siyabonga Maqungo and bass-baritone Njabulo Madlala.
Other works include, among others: Sibelius’s tone poem, En Saga; a piece specially commissioned as a tribute to Mandela by Classical Movements from South African composer, Bongani Ndodana-Breen, titled Harmonia Ubuntu, featuring soprano Goitsemang Oniccah Lehobye; and a surprise package of other works with a strong South African flavour.
Ticket prices range from R100 to R600 and bookings can be done through Computicket at www.computicket.com/music. For more information, visit www.minnesotaorchestra.org/satour.