Stunning musical prowess and a proudly African identity make SAMRO competition a night to remember.
Two new young kings of the keys were crowned and the SAMRO Foundation unveiled two exciting new projects to give wings to local compositions and preserve indigenous African music, during the 2017 SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition at the end of August. It was a night when proudly South African – and African – music and culture was celebrated, with a number of new homegrown compositions making their debut amid a renewed commitment by SAMRO to protect the country’s precious cultural treasures. Looking backwards with reverence while toasting the future with hope, the evening was an ode to the trailblazing musicians who came before while popping corks in honour of the dazzling young musical talents taking up the baton and leading the way as they make their own indelible mark on the industry. The two scholarship winners – pianists Megan-Geoffrey Prins (27) in Western Art music and Ntando Ngcapu (26) in Jazz music – each scooped R200 000 to further their postgraduate music studies abroad, or enrich their development as professional musicians through master classes. Prins, who is currently studying towards his doctorate at the Cleveland Institute of Music in the United States, also received R10 000 for the best performance of a prescribed work in his category.
Both winners captivated the audience with their respective selections of classical and jazz repertoire, showing superb technical skill and interpretive flair. The audience at Unisa’s ZK Matthews Hall in Pretoria was thoroughly entranced by the blue-chip performances delivered by these outstanding young pianists. Equally, the immensely gifted runners-up in each category, Willem de Beer (25) and Nicholas Williams (31), showed just why the SAMRO competition is one of the most highly regarded and prestigious music education awards in the country, and has been for the past 55 years. They were each rewarded with a R70 000 study grant to help them progress up the music ladder, with Williams receiving an extra R10 000 for the best performance of a prescribed jazz composition. But the evening was more than just a celebration of emerging piano talents whose names will no doubt become engraved in the local musical firmament in the years to come. It was also an opportunity to reflect on how the notion of a shared African identity has become inextricably enmeshed in the local cultural landscape, and how it is living, breathing and constantly evolving in nature.
During the SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition for keyboard players, a number of subsidiary awards went to the semi-finalists. In the Western Art Music section, two subsidiary awards went to Lourens Fick: the SAMRO/Flink Award of R30 000 and the merit award of R10 000. The SAMRO/Fishers Award of R6 500 went to Bronwyn van Wieringen. In the Jazz category, Teboho Kobedi scooped the R8 000 SAMRO/De Waal Study Award, Lifa Arosi won the R10 000 merit award, and Elizabeth Gaylord received the SAMRO/Fishers Award of R6 500
It all comes down to the notion of ‘I am’, as SAMRO Foundation managing director André le Roux noted: the humanistic Ubuntu notion of ‘I am because we are’ and also ‘I am because of those who have shone brilliantly and larger than life before me’ – the likes of the late Ray Phiri, Michael Masote, Johnny Mekoa and Errol Dyers. It was no accident that former president Thabo Mbeki’s epoch-defining African renaissance speech, I Am an African, was set to music for the occasion by former jazz scholarship winner Bokani Dyer by way of a special SAMRO commission. It was also not by chance that medleys of the fallen musical greats were performed on the night, nor that new commissions by local composers Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, André Petersen, Hans Roosenschoon and Dyer saw the light of day during the semi-final and final rounds of the competition. The finalists also performed works by noted South African composers Graham Newcater (who won the first SAMRO scholarship in 1962) and Hotep Idris Galeta. Through word and song, what started to crystallise throughout the evening was the notion of an emerging common musical identity – one with a dynamic assortment of branches and shoots fed by different influences, yet springing from the same deep well of creativity.
The ‘I am’ notion came full circle with the SAMRO Foundation reasserting its commitment to indigenous African music, also known by its acronym ‘IAM’, by documenting South Africa’s distinctive (and, often, endangered) musical heritage and making local compositions accessible for international use. Explained Le Roux: ‘By working closely with specialists in the fields of ethnomusicology, composition and transcription, important recordings of fading cultures in our region will be transcribed into musical scores to be available for analysis, performance and study across the globe.’ Le Roux also announced that the SAMRO Archive would be going digital, meaning that ‘what was once a room of ordered scores will also become a dynamic, interactive online resource that anyone can access.’ Through the SAMRO Online Archive music portal and the IAM project, he said, ‘the increased global access and exposure to South African compositions will also translate into valuable extra rands in our members’ pockets.’ This renewed focus on preserving the archive and documenting at-risk creative works offers hope that the future health of South African music will be nourished by its past – and that successive generations of music pioneers will be able to keep drawing inspiration from those who came before.