Brandon Phillips’s appointment as resident conductor of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra was formally announced on stage before the concert at the Cape Town City Hall on 18 June 2015. The appointment was made thanks to funding from Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) and Phillips is scheduled to conduct a portion of the RMB Starlight Classics Concert taking place this September.
The first CPO resident conductor ever, Phillips, (35), is such an all-rounder that he could have been a professional sportsman or an instrumentalist, but thankfully he chose to become a conductor. The young maestro used to be a Western Province junior soccer player and top 100m sprinter. Principal bassoon with the CPO since 2003, he made his conducting debut with CPO trumpeter Paul Chandler, as one of the two conductors for the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (CPYO) when it made its acclaimed debut concert in 2004. From then on, he was hooked, went on to win the inaugural Len van Zyl Conductors’ Competition in 2010, and became the music director of the CPYO in 2012.
Born in Mitchell’s Plain, Phillips has been making music since he was eleven, when his father chose him to play the recorder in the New Apostolic Church in Hazeldene. Phillips wasn’t so sure this was for him, but he did it anyway, combining sport with music and becoming proficient on the flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone, trumpet, euphonium, viola, cello and violin and along the way – guitar and voice included.
At 16 came another choice: the church orchestra needed a bassoonist and since he was a ‘quick study’, he learned to play the bassoon at Beau Soleil Music Centre. There he fell in love with the instrument. While that was his first love, there were others – Laeticia his wife of a few months and of course, conducting. Phillips’s big break came when he won the Len van Zyl Competition and as part of the prize, spent a month as an intern with the Philadelphia Orchestra and a couple of months with Victor Yampolsky at Northwestern University in Chicago. Conducting classes with Arjan Tien, Yasuo Shinozaki and Paul Hoskins followed. On his return from America he started his own conducting class and currently has nine mentees under his wing. He is proud to watch students like Chad Hendricks, Dane Coetzee and Charl van der Merwe developing into good conductors.
Charming, unassuming and generous with his time, there’s another side to Phillips. He loves teaching. His first pupil was his mother – he taught her to play the viola in order to make music with him, his cellist brother, Gavin and oboist brother Ashley. He also taught violin, clarinet and trumpet on St Helena Island for three months, at Beau Soleil and at Sans Souci schools, as well as his private pupils. With brother Ashley and some colleagues from the College of Music at UCT, he established a music school where they taught about 30 students, from scholars to 50-plus who had no grounding or training.
As a chamber musician he won the Huguenot Competition as part of the Sirocco Wind Quintet; was a soloist in the Artscape Youth Music Festival; entered and won the first prize for the ATKV competition wind category; and was a part of the faculty for the Stellenbosch Music Festival. He took master classes in Vienna with the principal bassoon of the Vienna Radio Orchestra; principle bassoonist Daniel Matzikawa of the Philadelphia Symphony; Lecolion Washington of Memphis University and Christopher Millard, principal of the National Arts Centre Orchestra and lecturer at the University of Chicago. In 2013, he became an adjudicator in the 2nd Len van Zyl Conductors’ Competition and will judge the current competition. Phillips has also been an adjudicator at the ATKV competition, Schock Singing Competition, Artscape Youth Competition and Unisa Winds Competition.
Phillips completed his diploma in orchestral studies at the College of Music at the University of Cape Town in 2002, and was awarded his honours in 2003.
Charles Howell, Dieter Morschel, Becky Steltzner, Maria du Toit and the CPO’s former principal bassoonist, Todor Balkandjiev count under the exceptional tutors who have enabled his musical journey.
Phillips is scheduled to conduct the RMB Starlight Classics Concert at the Country Club Johannesburg on 5 September. He will appear on stage alongside Joshua Bell, Pretty Yende, Bokani Dyer, Chris Chameleon, Vusi Mahlasela and the Vuyani Dance Theatre among others, to conduct certain works in the concert.
Text © Cape Philharmonic Orchestra