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

MUSICAL RICHES AHEAD (article first published : 2008-01-23)

Florian Uhlig, the Düsseldorf-born, London-based pianist, is hardly a stranger on our classical music circuit in Durban. Indeed, this highly individual artist has built a secure support base among local cognoscenti in recent years, who mostly have enjoyed his invigorating, freshly conceived interpretations of core repertoire.

I say mostly, recalling a number of mutterings from die-hards in response to his Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 3 that inaugurated the KZN Philharmonic’s new Steinway a couple of years back. This writer was not among the dissenters, finding the pianist’s intimate take on the work refreshing in the wake of the all-or-nothing, big-guns approach usually associated with this piece. Uhlig’s extraordinarily fine Emperor Concerto last summer was perhaps less controversial but equally searching.

Rightly hailed as “one of the most individual and imaginative pianists of our time” (Musical Opinion), his wide-ranging discography on EMI, Black Box the Hanssler Classic (including Shostakovich’s complete works for piano and orchestra) has won him wide acclaim and several awards. In the live performance arena, the pianist has garnered numerous international prizes, including the European Cultural Prize, conferred by the Fondation Européenne de la Culture, the English National Opera’s Steven Arlen Memorial Award and the Queen Elizabeth Rose Bowl. He is the winner, three-times consecutively, of the Munich Tageszeitung Critics Award for outstanding contributions to the arts.

His orchestral appearances since his Barbican Centre debut a decade ago have been with a phalanx of big-league symphonic and chamber music groups in Britain and Europe, including the BBC Symphony and the Dresden Philharmonic, and the Radio Symphony Orchestras of Munich, Stuttgart, Vienna and Paris, among a host of others. Typically, Uhlig’s recent collaborations have included a ground-breaking performance of Pendecki’s Piano Concerto with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and, work with the hugely prestigious Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, a central part of Il Sistema, the phenomenal flagship of global music education systems and organizations that has been hailed by Sir Simon Rattle, Principal Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, as “the most important thing happening in classical music anywhere in the world.”

So readers will be delighted to read that Florian Uhlig is due back in our midst to open the 2008 Friends of Music recital series on January 29. His performances of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K332, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 18 Op 31 No 3, Ravel’s Jeux d’eau and Prokofiev’s Sonata No 6 Op 82 are keenly anticipated, given his rare ability to cast fresh and deeply perceptive perspectives over familiar terrain. Uhlig will also give master classes at Howard College Theatre during his visit, that may be of special interest to enthusiasts. For more information, call Debbie Mari at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Music, on 031 260 3353.

The French classical duo of Jérôme Pernoo (Cello) and Jérôme Ducros (Piano) are another popular ‘star act’ with stalwarts, who will welcome them back for a programme of Bach, Schubert and Prokofiev on February 12. Other FOM attractions ahead are the Geneva Brass Quintet, slated to perform on February 26; Russian pianist Vassily Primakov playing Taneyev, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Schuman on March 11; and a Baroque outfit comprising cellists Hans Huyssen and Piet van Rooyen and keyboard player Andrew Cruikshank (formerly of Durban) on April 8. Bryan Crumpler, the American clarinet virtuoso, teams with Cape Town pianist Francois du Toit in a programme of Weber, Brahms and Poulenc on May 6; while May 27 offers the Manhattan Trio in a programme of Haydn, Ravel, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich.

Friends of Music recitals are at Durban Jewish Centre at 44 Old Fort Road. Each event is preceded by FOM’s praise-worthy Prelude Performer series. This affords highly valued opportunities for young artists to take the spotlight briefly and gain valuable performance experience. Secure free parking is provided and booking is through Computicket. To subscribe to FOM events or for further details of the year’s programme, call 031 201 3922.

The KZNPO is in the process of releasing information about its 2008 Summer Season programme of World Symphony Series concerts. This is set to run on Thursday evenings in the Durban City Hall from February 7 to March 27 and will form the first leg of the Orchestra’s 25th Anniversary celebrations this year. A full line-up of the season’s concerts is to be published in next week’s Mercury Goodlife supplement, along with a ticket give-away in which two lucky readers stand to win a pair of season tickets each.

Meanwhile take note of two non-subscription subscription concerts featuring the KZNPO and soloists you may enjoy in the Playhouse Opera. These are a special Valentine’s Day extravaganza on February 14, and a richly staged Easter Sunday afternoon performance of Handel’s Messiah on March 23. Booking for both these events is through Computicket on 083 915 8000. – William Charlton-Perkins




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