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NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: MUSIC (article first published : 2008-04-2)

A super-abundance of world-class performers and a record number of premières are striking features of the Main Programme for the National Arts Festival which will take place in Grahamstown June 26 to July 5 2008.

“A gathering of all these incredible artists all in one place, at one time, for ten days,” said outgoing Festival Director Lynette Marais, “makes you aware of the richness of the talent in South Africa. Normally these performers are dispersed across the country and, increasingly, the world. But suddenly, at the Festival, they are all together here in Grahamstown.” At this huge annual cultural reunion, audiences catch up with the latest of the best and artists catch up with each other. “You saw it first at the Festival” is a slogan that has never been more apt than this year: every single one of the productions on the theatre programme is a South African première and there are seven world premières. The music programme features several major events that will probably never be repeated again with the same casts.

In the music category, the show-stopping extravaganza, An African Celebration tops the headlines. Directed by the First Lady of Fun, Janice Honeyman, superstars come together in tribute to the Standard Bank’s 25 years as a generous and constant partner/sponsor to the National Arts Festival. Janine Neethling is Musical Director for a line-up that includes Sibongile Khumalo, Themba Mkhize, the Bala Brothers, Sibongile Mngoma, Zanne Stapelberg (Young Artist Award-winner for Music 2008), the Debbie Rakusin Dance Company, Jannie Moolman and the Standard Bank Jazz Trio – Concord Nkabinde, Shannon Mowday and Mark Fransman, all Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winners for Jazz over the past three years.

A large section of the music programme is devoted to gems from the treasury of the mother continent. For Letta - Sound of a Rainbow celebrates Letta Mbulu’s life in song: featured artists include Sibongile Khumalo, Mimi Ntenjwa and music director/pianist Themba Mkhize.

The greatest living exponent of bow songs, Madosini Latozi Mpahleni performs Hans Huyssen’s The Songs of Madosini with the Amici String Quartet. For this event, traditional instruments such as uhadi, umrhube and isitolotolo augment a string quartet with clarinet.

In Umrhube – Indigenous Music, amaPondo men, abaThembu women and Ntonjana girls, accompanied by musicians playing traditional instruments, perform the different songs that have marked different activities and life-stages since pre-colonial times. Prayers, lullabies and rain songs, other songs for work, initiation, celebration and drinking. Under the baton of Mokale Koapeng, the 16-voice chamber choir, Cantus Africana, presents two concerts: one in honour of the great composer Joseph Pulumo Mohapeloa (1908-1982) and the second ranging through work by Mnomiya, Khumalo, Koapeng, Glasser and Volans.

African pianism and its history are introduced in a multi-faceted event which includes a talk by Nigerian Professor Christian Onyeji and a recital by pianist Jill Richards. She plays work by Akin Euba, Kevin Volans, Joshua Uzoigwe, and others. African traditions are at the root of many popular Latin American musical forms and, in their concert, The Johannesburg Guitar Quartet finds and accentuates the African rhythms in rumba, samba and milonga. Baroque and modern classics will also feature. Afro-Cuban rhythms, regional themes and jazz motifs fuse into the exciting Latin sounds Na’rimbo creates with marimba, sax, piano, drums, bass and vibraphone. This eight-strong Mexican group comes to the Festival courtesy of the Mexican Embassy. In addition, the music programme meets audience expectations of a full menu from the classical repertoire with some of the country’s finest performers. The annual Festival Orchestral Concert sees the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Peter Valentovic with soloist Zanne Stapelberg (Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner for Music 2008). They perform two hours of well-loved works by the likes of Mendelssohn, Mozart, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Strauss.

The Amici String Quartet – Suzanne Martens and Quentin Crida (violins), David Snaith (viola) and Peter Martens (cello) – is one of SA’s foremost chamber music ensembles. Their classical recital includes works by Haydn, Schostakovich and Dvořák (American Quartet). Strings star again as the Violin and Harp Duo, Marc Uys on violin and Jacqueline Kerrod on harp, present two programmes including works by John Cage, Camille Saint-Saëns, Paul Hanmer, Matthijs van Dijk and Braam du Toit.

The lyric tenor Nicholas Nicolaidis, accompanied by Anneke Lamont (piano), presents two Lieder Recitals. The first includes a Schumann song cycle; the second features pieces by Leonard Bernstein, Hendrik Hofmeyr and Princess Magogo.

Big music in a festive mood is promised by the Festival Gala Concert: a fun family event with Richard Cock conducting the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. They will bring alive light classical evergreens and reach a crashing finale with the great 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, complete with cannon!

It’s open season in this great annual jazz jamboree. Rising stars on the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival mingle with performers at their peak, like dynamic young pianist Mark Fransman (winner of the 2008 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz). South Africa’s best present once-off collaborations with their peers from Israel, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway, Britain and the USA. Where else but at the Festival could you hear diva Sibongile Khumalo in concert with Dutch piano maestro Mike Del Ferro? Or bassist extraordinaire Carlo Mombelli squaring up to avant gardeAustralian/German trombonist Adrian Mears? The programme includes a multi-nation play-off that could lift the roof. A number of top Eastern Cape jazz musicians will also feature.

The 34th anniversary of the National Arts Festival Grahamstown takes place from 26 June to 5 July 2008. It is proudly supported by The Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, SABC and The National Arts Council. For further information contact 046 603 1103 or visit the website www.nationalartsfestival.co.za

Further details are available in the free Festival Booking Kit, which will be available from selected Standard Bank branches and Computicket outlets nationwide from April 30. Booking opens on May 5.




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