How accessible is classical music? And what is it about the genre that makes hearing it live such a unique experience?
Ahead of The University Of Johannesburg’s 2017 Dean’s Concert, we spoke with Professor Federico Freschi and pianist Christopher Duigan to find out how the annual Gala concert is transformative in more ways than one. What began as a simple idea for a fun and informative concert back in 2014 has become one of the most looked-forward-to events of the academic year. The University of Johannesburg (UJ) Dean’s Concert is an annual gala event that sees the university’s Dean of the Faculty of Art Design and Architecture (FADA), Federico Freschi, team up with renowned pianist and Music Revival’s Christopher Duigan for an evening of spectacular, live classical music. This year, the Dean’s Concert takes place at the UJ Arts Centre on Saturday 4 November and sees Duigan and Freschi being joined by renowned clarinettist Junnan Sun, rising soprano star Noluvuyiso Mpofu, and the University of Johannesburg Choir conducted by Renette Bouwer. While each artist on the programme is SA-based, they’re all world-renowned for their talent. ‘UJ used to host a regular series of classical music concerts, but in recent times these have become less regular,’ explains Freschi. ‘Following a successful concert in 2014, which featured Christopher and me, I began discussions with UJ Arts & Culture about reviving the classical music concert series, but with a newer model – no longer weekly, and at a nominal fee. From there, we wanted a grand concert at the end of the year. It would be a gala concert as well as a fundraising for students in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture who are in good academic standing, but have financial difficulties.’
For Freschi and Duigan, the objective of the Dean’s Concert is two-fold. With Freschi being an accomplished baritone in his own right, it seemed pertinent that he perform for, and engage with both his students and the general public through a free and expertly produced evening of music. Secondly, the concert serves as an excellent form of fundraising for those who cannot afford to study the arts. ‘When I joined the Faculty in 2013, I established a bursary fund,’ says Freschi. ‘Whenever I do a public talk, lecture or concert outside of the university, for which I am offered a fee, I ask people rather to donate the money to my busary fund. Through that, I’ve been able to offer some support to students during these difficult economic times. UJ itself is incredibly successful in raising funds for its students, and my dean’s fund is a very small aspect of that, but it’s just a great opportunity to give back to the community. So we hold the concert for free, but we ask for donations.’ On the topic of access to classical music itself, Duigan explains how a concert like this one can do wonders to provide inspiration, and spark passion in young artists and musicians. ‘Classical music is a universally acknowledged and embraced repertoire, and it’s a time-tested one. Unfortunately, it’s not universally embraced in this country,’ begins Duigan. ‘When I’ve performed overseas, the response has been overwhelming, simply from the size of the audience that shows up. Here, you have to fight for what you do and I think it’s because we don’t have as many concerts that are free and open to the public when it comes to classical music. Which is why the Dean’s Concert is so special.’
Adding to Duigan’s point about public opinion of classical music in South Africa, Freschi explains that the power in transforming audiences into newfound classical music-lovers, lies in the experience of seeing it performed live. ‘Classical music suffers from a bit of an image problem. It’s seen as pompous and elitist, and, to put it bluntly, as being the domain of rich white people. What’s always extraordinary, however, is when we have concerts like this and bring young people in, they cannot help but be awed by the music, because the music, by its nature, is not pompous or elitist. Music is what it is; it knows no race or class. When young people see it being performed live by internationally acclaimed artists who are not much older than they are, it is enormously inspirational,’ says Freschi. If you’re able to, make a donation. No amount is too small. It could end up funding South Africa’s next great artist, architect or designer. A Grand Night of Singing! Takes place on Saturday 4 November at the UJ Arts Centre. Booking is essential. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by no later than 2 November 2017.