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SUE CULLINAN (article first published : 2004-12-29)

Dear Sir,

Countless concertgoers must object most strongly to a review in The Times of the one-night performance by the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic and London Symphony orchestras at the Barbican (John Allison: November 18). The writer was clearly unqualified to judge the event, instead using the occasion to launch an extremely personal attack on South Africa's High Commissioner to Britain as well as on the composer and soloists.

Allison's opening sentence immediately betrayed a colonial and patronizing view out of place in this century: "It has at last been established that classical music has a role to play in the new South Africa."

What planet has he been living on? Has he visited the country in the last 10 years?

But this is to miss the point: the concert demonstrated more than anything before it what Africa can bring to classical music: in this case a richness of volume and harmony seldom heard in the rendition of Mendelssohn's Lobgesang.

The premiere of Phelelani Mnomiya's composition around a poem by High Commissioner Lindiwe Mabuza took both classical and African traditions forward in a new direction which was thrilling to witness --- as evidenced by the standing ovation given by the audience at the end.

Allison reveals only his ignorance when he suggests there may be "better" composers than Mnomiya whose talents have been evident for some 20 years, and that the text for Zizi Lethu! was "naive". Does he speak Zulu? Would he judge an Italian libretto on its English translation? And does he understand the African tradition of a praise poem?

His political attack on High Commissioner Lindiwe Mabuza is deeply offensive. Dr Mabuza is a widely recognised critic, poet and writer who lectured in English literature in the US before entering the diplomatic corps in 1994. I would suggest that her talents are so far in advance of Mr Allison's that his "smart career move" might be to avoid all multicultural events that so clearly test his limitations.

Sue Cullinan, London




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