Not only is the music back in Johannesburg as Bongani Tembe, chief executive and artistic director of the Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestras, promised, but there is also a flourishing of great artistic collaboration between South African musicians and international visiting artists. At the second concert of the Spring Season in Johannesburg, Justus Frantz took to the JPO podium to the great delight of audience members. Creative Feel managed to catch up with this charismatic, internationally acclaimed German pianist and conductor.
Justus Frantz is known for passionately cultivating young talent. His schedule, therefore, includes frequent auditions, giving young musicians valuable opportunities to start their international careers. Among the musicians who were first introduced to audiences by Frantz are violinists Maxim Vengerov, Midori Gotō and József Lendvay, pianist Evgeny Kissin, and composer Martin Panteleev. He is full of praise for the young South African soloist, Astride du Plessis, who that evening played Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violoncello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op 23, which Tembe had so carefully chosen for the programme.
Frantz explains that he grew up in a house where music was important and how the whole family would come together to listen to classical concerts on the radio. He began playing the piano at an early age and later studied with Eliza Hansen and Wilhelm Kempff at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg with a scholarship from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation. Today, Frantz lives in Hamburg with his family and is a well-known personality, actively contributing to the cultural life of the city.
In 1970, Frantz started playing with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Herbert von Karajan, who was the principal conductor of the Orchestra for 35 years. With that, Frantz joined a group of first-class pianists. He too feels that Von Karajan is both an icon and an enigma in the story of 20th-century music. Von Karajan arguably did more to turn symphonic music into a commodity in the post-war era and is a familiar face on millions of records, videos, laserdiscs, DVDs and downloads. Today, it is Frantz who uses his talent to bring classical music to a wide audience.
Today, Frantz continues to adhere to Bernstein’s musical ideals. Bernstein’s dream of an international, young and professional orchestra inspired Frantz to found the Philharmonia of the Nations. As the chief conductor, Frantz works throughout the world with the constantly growing and changing orchestra, continuously discovering new names. He feels strongly that such an orchestra builds strong bridges between different nations and cultures. Perhaps this is something that South Africa as a much-divided nation should support much more?
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