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KZNPO ON TOUR: DIARY #1 (article first published : 2004-11-16)

The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (KZNPO), soloists Linda Bukhosini, Bongani Tembe, Sally Silver and narrator Bheki Mkhwane as well as the Durban Serenade and Soweto-based Imilonji KaNtu choral societies are set to excite Barbican audiences tonight.

The 200–strong touring company from South Africa (apart from soprano Sally Silver who is now based in London) will stage a joint performance with Britain’s famed London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) at the Barbican this evening (November 16). It is the first time that a South African orchestra has undertaken a European tour.

“It’s very exciting to be part of this historic event,” says artSMart editor Caroline Smart, speaking from London. She is accompanying the orchestra with arts cameraman Chris Coombes to document the process.

“We had an exhausting flight and it was a serious bodily readjustment for Durbanites leaving a humid 31 degrees to arrive in 2 degrees! However, everyone perked up considerably when we arrived at South Africa House for an official function with South Africa’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr Lindiwe Mabuza. The group was further delighted at the appearance of KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sbu Ndebele and Minister of Arts and Tourism, Narend Singh.”

A noted author and poet, Dr Mabuza was persuaded by KZNPO artistic director and CEO Bongani Tembe to write a poem celebrating South Africa’s ten years of democracy. Titled Zizi Lethu! Themba Lethu! (“Our Zizi! Our Hope!”), it honours those who made invaluable contributions on South Africa’s turbulent road to democracy elections. The original music is composed by well-known South African composer Phelelani Mnomiya and orchestrated by South African-based composers, John Simon and Christopher James. Well-known actor Bheki Mkhwane – famed for his theatre pieces with Ellis Pearson – will provide the narration.

“After the function at South Africa House, the five buses allocated to the touring company transported musicians and singers to the Henry Wood Hall in Trinity Square for a rehearsal,” adds Caroline. “Although they have been working on the score independently, this was the first time that the two choral societies had rehearsed the work together. As with my response to the small excerpt performed at the launch of the tour in Johannesburg, the sound of the combined choirs – particularly with their powerful basses – was absolutely thrilling. One would have to be made of stone not to respond. Because of contractual restraints, we are not able to film the LSO so I can only guess at the superb sound that must now be in place with the inclusion of this highly respected orchestra.”

The conductor will be the accomplished young French maestro, François-Xavier Roth. Apart from Zizi Lethu! Themba Lethu!, the programme will include Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 2 “Hymn of Praise” which offers a further opportunity for the two choral societies to shine. Former Durban opera singer, Sally Silver (Sally June Gain) will join soloists Linda Bukhosini and Bongani Tembe on the stage.




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