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BRAVO BONGANI (article first published : 2004-10-21)

October 21 will be a momentous evening for everyone connected with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. Not only will the Orchestra be celebrating 21 years of existence, but also a shout of ‘Bravo Bongani’ will ring out in the City Hall as the Orchestra together with the soloists for the evening, the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir, pay tribute to Bongani Tembe who will be celebrating ten illustrious years with the KZNPO.

Bongani Tembe has received international recognition as one of Africa’s leading arts administrators having been the Chief Executive & Artistic Director of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra since 1996 after joining the then NPO as deputy director in October 1994. In August 2002 he was invited as part of a select group of international artistic directors to a special seminar in Salzburg to address challenges facing orchestras and in December 2003, a further invitation saw him addressing the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) conference in London. In South Africa, he has made a meaningful contribution by serving as a leading member of the inaugural National Arts Council (NAC) of South Africa from 1995-2002 having held three portfolios - Exco member, Chairman of Policy, and Chairman of Music and Opera. In addition he currently serves on the boards of the State Theatre in Pretoria and The Playhouse Company in Durban. He has also been advisor to two South African cabinet ministers

Tembe’s vision of pursuing excellence and education and development, coupled with his strong leadership skills, has enabled him to raise tens of millions for the Orchestra at a difficult time for orchestras and other performing arts companies globally.

Tembe has championed the Orchestra’s World Symphony Series (WSS) which has attracted many of the world’s leading classical musicians including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Zubin Mehta, James Galway, Marisa Robles, Pinchas Zukerman, Shlomo Mintz, Barry Tuckwell, Peter Frankl, Tamas Vasary, John Lill, Abbey Simon, Joanna MacGregor, Lynn Harrell, Sidney Harth, Simon Estes, Katia Ricciarelli, Elizabeth Connell, Roberta Alexander, Kathleen Cassello, Leslie Dunner, Bill Eddins and Charles Dutoit with the Orchestre National de France. Tembe’s commitment to Education and Development (E&D) has propelled the Orchestra’s dynamic approach to its responsibilities in E&D and has seen the growth of one of South Africa’s vibrant community-focused programmes.

Since 1994, the KZN Philharmonic has travelled the length and breadth of KwaZulu-Natal bringing orchestral music to tens of thousands of people who have never before experienced the sound of a symphony orchestra, and as already mentioned, runs a comprehensive education and development programme. In 1998, Tembe established a National Cadetship Programme designed to harness promising orchestra players from all over South Africa. Students are placed and funded as full-time cadets with the Orchestra, and the programme has already made steady progress.

Speaking from his office he said, “Music, along with all the other arts, represents the soul and creativity of a nation, a city or a community. I feel really blessed that I work in an environment that I care about so deeply, feel passionate about and above all, enjoy. As I look back on my ten wonderful years with the KZN Philharmonic, I can hardly find adequate words to thank all the many people who have enriched my life and in so doing, have added immensely to the enjoyment of music lovers in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal and indeed, the rest of South Africa”.

Not only has Bongani Tembe been a highly successful administrator but he has also excelled on both the concert and opera stage. In 1987 he became the first black South African to appear in a principal operatic role in a nationally and internationally televised NAPAC production of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer. Since then Tembe has portrayed many leading operatic roles including Faust in Gounod’s Faust and Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

Tembe, who holds B. Mus and M. Mus degrees from the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, has appeared in many prestigious concert halls around the world including the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, National Theatre in Brazil and Alice Tully Hall in New York City; and has performed in a variety of countries including Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, India, China, Algeria, Botswana, the United States and the United Kingdom. As part of the 10th Anniversary of South Africa’s Democracy celebrations in 2004 he has performed in an historic, internationally televised production of Beethoven’s Fidelio on Robben Island in Cape Town; and subsequently appeared in concert in London’s Trafalgar Square, Queen Elizabeth Hall and St. Paul’s Cathedral. As a guest artist, Tembe has performed for many leading dignitaries including President Thabo Mbeki, former President Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll and His Royal Highness Prince Philip.

Since its gala inaugural concert in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall on October 22 1983, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra (formerly the Natal Philharmonic Orchestra) established itself as both a musical force to be reckoned with and as an ensemble willing to break down preconceived notions of what an orchestra should be. Over years the orchestra has grown from strength to strength and is widely regarded as the premier orchestra in Africa. Its World Symphony Series subscription concerts are the best attended in the country, while performances of light classics and popular music brings an unusually broad spectrum of orchestral music to an ever-wider public. In addition, the Orchestra renders sterling service in the pit for a variety of musical theatre, ballet and opera productions especially at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown where it has been the Orchestra in residence for the past three years.

The evening’s programme on October 21 combines the works of three English masters and provides a fitting return to Durban for the accomplished English conductor, Adrian Sunshine. It also sees the return of gifted violinist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, who has garnered praise for her ‘technical mastery and passion for music”. The programme opens with Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music: Overture and Allegro, followed by Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro. Nokuthula will play Vaughan Williams’s Violin Concerto. In the second half of the programme, the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir brings a uniquely South African flavour to Rutter’s popular choral work – Magnificat.

The concert starts at 19h30 and there is plenty of safe parking either at the Royal Hotel or the Albany Parking garage in Albany Grove. Single tickets from R45 to R130 available through Computicket. Further information on 031 369 9404/9477 or email kznposub@iafrica.com




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