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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

PHILIPP MAIER (article first published : 2002-12-29)

The publication of a letter that lays bare the unacceptable circumstances surrounding local orchestral culture, specifically the management of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, is long overdue.

Since being appointed musical and artistic director of the Durban City Orchestra (DCO) nearly two years ago, the team around me and I have managed to transform a learning and teaching body of musicians into a reputable orchestra. This year we have presented 16 concerts, mostly at Gateway Theatre of Shopping where we perform as the Gateway Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO), but also in Pietermaritzburg, and recently for about 3,500 people at Mitchell Park in Durban.

Since being appointed musical and artistic director of the Durban City Orchestra (DCO) nearly two years ago, the team around me and I have managed to transform a learning and teaching body of musicians into a reputable orchestra. This year we have presented 16 concerts, mostly at Gateway Theatre of Shopping where we perform as the Gateway Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO), but also in Pietermaritzburg, and recently for about 3,500 people at Mitchell Park in Durban.

All of these entities have on various occasions tried to obstruct my work directed towards musical education and the active building up of orchestral culture (a case in point was the Durban Music School, headed by Mr. Werner Dannewitz). But the worst case in this scenario is the KZNPO and its management as represented by Mr Bongani Tembe.

All of these entities have on various occasions tried to obstruct my work directed towards musical education and the active building up of orchestral culture (a case in point was the Durban Music School, headed by Mr. Werner Dannewitz). But the worst case in this scenario is the KZNPO and its management as represented by Mr Bongani Tembe.

Since October Mr. Tembe has threatened these musicians with job-loss if they continue to perform with me (his threat was linked directly to their performing with me as a person, not the GPO/DCO). In addition he has misrepresented matters on several occasions to these KZNPO players about circumstances concerning the GPO/DCO. The latest information to filter back to me through several KZNPO players is that he has allegedly announced in public that I want to “kill” the KZNPO. This claim is utter nonsense. For nearly two years I tried to start a constructive and mutually beneficial dialogue between the GPO/DCO and Mr. Tembe. He refuses to speak to me personally or to answer my telephone calls.

Fact is, Mr. Tembe is actively obstructing musical education in this country, and also prevents musicians here in KZN from earning some extra income from their profession. Considering the fact that the KZNPO receives around R14 million public (taxpayers’) money per year this behaviour is unacceptable. How taxpayers’ money is spent needs to be made public, and I asked you urgently to follow this up in the media.

The next unacceptable circumstance is Mr. Tembe’s patent lack of qualification in leading a professional orchestra like the KZNPO. Mr Tembe is not qualified to call himself an orchestral Artistic Director. His repertoire knowledge is poor, to say the least, as the constant repeats in the KZNPO’s World Symphony Series programmes prove.

A publicly funded orchestra like the KZNPO should collaborate with other teaching orchestras, especially in the same province, and should be happy that efforts like mine help generate the development of more musicians who are eventually available for employment in a professional orchestra.

The situation regarding the KZNPO-DCO/GPO relationship has to be resolved very soon, otherwise I fear there is no future in orchestral music-making in this country. My orchestra cannot continue without the support of a core of professional musicians. All our last concerts were only possible, because we had a lot of corporate support and thus could fly in additional musicians from Port Elizabeth.

My ambition is to help nurture the arts, specifically music, and we, like any other society in the world, need both professional and teaching musical education to thrive in our society. Without this synergy South African culture will be severely impoverished.

I ask you urgently to publish this letter in full to help resolve this unhealthy situation, thus helping me to continue building up arts and culture in KZN. I also think that the public deserves to know what happens with taxpayers’ money. The management and the board of the KZNPO should learn to collaborate with other cultural bodies, and rid itself of the petty professional jealousy that clearly has been at work in creating this situation.

In my opinion the whole situation at the KZNPO has to be looked at by the municipality, the province and the department of arts and culture. Board and management of this orchestra should be replaced by professional and dedicated people. Its artistic direction needs to be given into the qualified hands of a permanent resident conductor. This would also help save the enormous costs of permanent engagements of guest artists from overseas.

Thank you for your support. Kind regards.

Philipp Maier (Musical & Artistic Director DCO/GPO)




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