KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic’s Winter Season: An African Celebration

Held at the Durban City Hall, the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic’s Winter Season comprises six eclectic and exciting concerts.

The opening concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic’s Winter Season, part of the 2015 World Symphony Series, takes place on 21 May. This presents audiences with an opportunity to celebrate Africa and cultures from around the world, when the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic welcomes the Bernard Woma Ensemble from Ghana for an unforgettable performance of traditional African music mixed with ethnic-themed classical music from Europe and America.

Conducted by Bernhard Gueller, the concert opens with the first four of Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances. The orchestra is then joined by the Bernard Woma Ensemble, which consists of two Ghanaians, Bernard Woma and Kofi Ameyaw, and one American, Mark Stone. The group performs on the traditional Ghanaian instrument, the gyil – a pentatonic-tuned xylophone with resonator gourds underneath the keys, an instrument rarely heard outside of Western Africa. The ensemble will perform two short concertos written by Bernard Woma: the Gyil Jumbie Concerto and the Gyil Yeru Concerto.

The evening closes with Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, encompassing all of the elements of music that Bernstein was exposed to living in New York City, from African-American jazz to Latin sambas to rock and roll.

Then, on the 28 May 2015, the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic continues its partnership with the Bochabela String Orchestra from Bloemfontein, in the second concert of the Winter Season. Since 1998, the Mangaung String Programme has served as an after-school music course for the Bloemfontein area. Founder Peter Guy created the Bochabela String Orchestra, named after the Bochabela Township, for the top players in the programme. Since 2012, the talented members of this orchestra have joined forces with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic for an annual event wherein student musicians sit alongside the professionals during rehearsals, and are able to take lessons and masterclasses through the week.

Resident conductor of the KZN Philharmonic, Lykele Temmingh leads the combined orchestra in a concert that presents two musical perspectives on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It begins with a Scherzo: La Reine Mab, reine des songes (Queen Mab, the queen of dreams) from Berlioz’s choral symphony Roméo et Juliette. The orchestra is then joined on stage by American pianist Awadagin Pratt to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major; a joyful, virtuosic interlude between the two orchestral works on the programme.

Finally, the concert closes with excerpts from the Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, a grand musical setting for a large orchestra, full of action, drama, sensuality and romance.

On 4 June, Daniel Boico, the newly appointed Associate Guest Conductor of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic, leads the orchestra in a concert of epic masterworks, beginning with Paul Dukas’ symphonic poem The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

South African piano duo Nina Schumann and Luis Magalhaes then join Boico and the KZN Philharmonic to perform Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for two pianos in D minor. Written for two pianos and chamber orchestra, this vibrant work features the exotic and sometimes unusual sounds of the early 20th century, mixed with romantic and even, at times, classical elements of early piano concertos.

In the second half of the concert Daniel Boico and the KZN Philharmonic present Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64., a work filled with all of the lush melodies and harmonies that the composer is known for.

The 11 June sees opera return to Durban in grand fashion, when Durban-born soprano Bronwen Forbay performs a concert of opera highlights alongside her American colleagues – mezzo-soprano Jamie van Eyk, tenor Randall Umstead and baritone Christian Bester.

The first half will feature highlights from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, including numbers such as ‘Deh vieni all finestra’, ‘Fuggi, credele fuggi’ and ‘Non mi dir, bell’idol mio’, while the second half showcases excerpts from two of the greatest opera composers: Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi.

Then on the 18 June, the proudly South African KZN Philharmonic presents a concert of South African soloists and music. University of Stellenbosch faculty cellist Anzel Gerber and internationally renowned pianist Ben Schoeman join forces with Venezuelan conductor Carlos Izcaray to present a concert of unique repertoire.

The Cape Town-based composer Allan Stephenson wrote six overtures − one for each major city in South Africa; This concert opens with A Johannesburg Overture, an exciting, fiery work depicting the busy central hub of South Africa.

The orchestra then welcomes pianist Ben Schoeman to perform the fantasy for piano and orchestra, Africa, Op. 89, by Camille Saint-Saëns. To close the first half Anzel Gerber joins Schoeman for the Durban premiere of Bushman Prayers by recently deceased South African composer Stefans Grové. The work features an orated prayer prior to each of its three movements: Prayer to the Sun, Prayer to the Moon and Prayer to the Brightest Star in the Sky, and employs elements of South African melody and rhythm as it musically depicts the three prayers.

The concert closes with the rustic and cheerful Symphony No. 8 in G major by Antonín Dvořák, featuring the typical nationalistic writing of the composer as he employs Slavonic and Bohemian themes throughout.

Finally, on the 25 June, the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic closes its Winter Season in a unique style, when conductor Carlos Izcaray returns to the Durban podium to lead a programme of musical masterworks. This begins with Claude Debussy’s symphonic poem Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, based on the poem by Stéphane Mallarmé; before continuing on to the 38th Symphony, ‘Prague’ by Mozart.

Concertmaster of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Joanna Frankel then steps aside from her leadership role for the evening to perform Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1., a violin concerto repertoire fraught with Soviet expression, themes and virtuosity. Frankel has been touring South Africa regularly with pianist Christopher Duigan and with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic String Quartet, and has received unanimous praise for her musicality and innovative programming.

With the end of the Winter Season then at hand, the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic will be heading to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown to perform a series of concerts.

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