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KZN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA – OCTOBER 23 (article first published : 2003-10-24)

Twenty years does not seem a long time, but maybe it is. When Bongani Tembe, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s chief executive, called for a show of hands at the 20th anniversary concert, in the Durban City Hall on October 23, to indicate who had attended the orchestra’s inaugural concert 20 years ago, very few hands were raised (mine included).

Mind you, that first concert was in Pietermaritzburg, not Durban. Of the 70 orchestra members on stage this week only three were survivors from October 1983. The conductor then and now was David Tidboald, unscathed by the years.

To mark the anniversary the orchestra presented a programme of the old - Mozart, Dvorak, Debussy - and the very new - the world premiere of eight Zulu songs by Princess Magogo, arranged by Mzilikazi Khumalo and Peter Klatzow. These were sung by the stately Sibongile Khumalo, one of South Africa’s best sopranos, and the whole occasion was an impressive demonstration of what can be achieved by local composers and artists.

These songs are melodious and distinctive, with Peter Klatzow’s deft orchestration adding much to their inherent beauty and charm. The subject matter is diverse: a Zulu lullaby, a teenage girl pokes fun at her suitor, a lament against killing, songs of passionate love, songs of fate and death. Sibongile Khumalo sang them with great sensitivity and control, displaying an exceptional purity and range of voice.

It may be fanciful but one or two of the songs reminded me vaguely of Spanish folk music. The music of Spain was of course greatly influenced by the long Moorish occupation of that country. Common roots in old Africa.

The more conventional part of the programme gave us Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, Debussy’s L’apres-midi d’un faune and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. The solo violinist, Philippe Graffin from France, is obviously a player of great gifts, but his intonation was sometimes wayward in the outer movements of the concerto (written in 1775 when the composer was 19 years old). However, his playing in the Adagio, one of Mozart’s finest movements, was touchingly beautiful, the sort of performance that casts a spell over the listeners. A pity that some extraneous noises from the platform interrupted the stream of melody.

Incidentally, the violinist played from a score, a practice that seems to be quite general these days. Perhaps it is the pressure of maintaining a varied repertoire with frequent appearances. Only a few days ago Philippe Graffin played the difficult Dvorak violin concerto in Johannesburg.

Debussy’s indolent faun, dreaming away on a sunny afternoon, produced some lovely effects from the orchestra, and the concert ended with a rousing performance of the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor, with a choir of more than an hundred voices. Altogether a happy birthday party. - Michael Green

Click on the KZNPO advert which appears on artSMart pages. This will take you to the orchestra’s website which gives details of the full symphony season as well as other KZNPO activities. If the advert isn’t at the top of this page, select other pages until it appears.




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