The much-loved RMB Starlight Classics will once again usher in spring this month, taking guests on a delightful Afro-symphonic musical journey performed by local and international talents, on its 21st anniversary. This year’s line-up includes Uruguayan operatic tenor Gaston Rivero, bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana, soprano Nombulelo Yende, Afrosoul singer-songwriter Zahara, classical and jazz pianist Charl du Plessis and singers Lee Scott and Siki Jo-An, who converge under the baton of Maestro Richard Cock, accompanied by the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra.
Stars of the 2018 World Choir Games, Quava Vocal Group, and one of South Africa’s leading choirs, The Chanticleer Singers, join forces with the soloists to reinvigorate classics and tune up some contemporary pop numbers for the RMB Starlight Classics stage. Nature gets its own spot in the lineup with a specially-commissioned musical piece, ‘Murmuration’, which adds a soaring orchestral accompaniment. The piece was composed by Cape Town-based film and documentary score expert Grant McLachlan to footage of the astonishing sight of an immense flock of starlings in flight.
Gaston Rivero’s performances in South Africa are a treat for all music lovers – and a unique opportunity given his full concert calendar. Rivero has been hailed as a ‘remarkable tenor’ and is recognised worldwide for his dynamic stage presence, dark timbre and vocal flexibility.
Rivero has won numerous awards throughout his career. Most notably, he won a place in ‘THE springboard for a career in opera’, the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in Vienna in 2009. Since his debut in Baz Luhrmann’s production of Puccini’s La bohème on Broadway in 2002, he has performed in some of the world’s most-loved operas, including Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème, Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata, Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, the title role in Verdi’s Don Carlo, Calaf in Puccini’s Turandot, Radames in Verdi’s Aida, BF Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Don Jose in Bizet’s Carmen and the title role in Verdi’s Otello.
Musa Ngqungwana is new to the RMB Starlight Classics stage and his vocal prowess is internationally lauded. He has been praised by The New York Times for his ‘rich, glowing voice and elegant legato’ and by The Wall Street Journal as ‘a powerful bass-baritone’. Ngqungwana’s vocal talent continues to be recognised nationally and internationally. In 2014, he was nominated for the Marian Anderson Award at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and won the Dr. Campbell/Cesare Santeramo Award from Opera Index in New York City. In 2013, Ngqungwana was the Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and a recipient of the Lissner Charitable Award from the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation’s Annual International Vocal Competition. He is also the recipient of the 2011 Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Award, the 2010 WBHO Jan Kaminski Bursary and he was the 2015 recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music.
Highlights of some of Ngqungwana’s recent engagements include performances in the title role in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Porgy and Bess; Queequeg in Moby Dick at Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and Utah Opera; Lescaut in Manon Lescaut at Dallas Opera; Zuniga in Carmen at Philadelphia Opera, Norwegian National Opera, and Palm Beach Opera; and King Balthazar in Amahl and the Night Visitors with On Site Opera.
The addition of Nombulelo Yende to the line-up sees her take up the baton from RMB Starlight Classics favourite – and her older sister – Pretty Yende, one of the most in-demand sopranos in the world. With Nombulelo’s recent win of both the First and Audience Prizes at the 2018 International Competition of Belcanto Vincenzo Bellini in France, the University of Cape Town Opera School postgraduate student looks to be following in the footsteps of Pretty, who won the competition in 2010.
The diverse range of performers that RMB Starlight Classics brings together in concert each year is what makes it such a noteworthy and unmissable event. Afro-soul performer Zahara will add her strong voice to the mix. The multi-award-winning singer-songwriter has twelve South African Music Awards to her name and is known for her hits ‘Loliwe’ and ‘Impilo’. Her music is a mixture of neo-soul, Afro-pop sounds with rock elements, traditional Xhosa rhythms blended with chanting reggae and blues. Zahara’s vocal and guitar-playing styles have seen her being compared to American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman.
Afrikaans popular singer Lee Scott, of boyband Hi-5 fame, brings a versatile repertoire to the stage, including rock, blues and pop. Siki Jo-An, who wowed audiences with her rendition of Miriam Makeba’s classic hit ‘Qongqothwane (The Click Song)’ on The Voice South Africa, adds a touch of jazz. Pianist Charl du Plessis is the youngest person ever in Africa to be named a Steinway Artist, and has been hailed as a ‘cult pianist’, an ‘edu-tainer’ and a pianist with ‘x-factor in his playing’. He is a versatile performer who brings insight into the vast range of music he plays through his own search for truth and beauty. Being the only pianist of his kind performing simultaneously in music ranging from baroque to pop he has become renowned for his interpretations of classical and jazz piano repertoire, both in the concert hall and as a recording artist. In 2017, du Plessis became the first pianist ever to perform on top of Cape Town’s wonder of nature, Table Mountain, and was invited to perform at the opening of Steinway Hall, Beijing.
‘Even 21 years on, we continue to be amazed by the power of music on the RMB Starlight Classics stage,’ says RMB’s Carolynne Waterhouse. ‘The event has become a fixture on the Johannesburg spring schedule for its ability to dazzle with one-off collaborations, its unique reimaginings of all-time classical favourites and offering showcase opportunities for some of South Africa’s most mesmerising musical talent. It’s an honour to host international performers on the RMB Starlight Classics stage – and to welcome home some of our country’s finest exports who are doing great things on the biggest stages around the world.’
With these sublime musical talents, gourmet picnic baskets and the delightful Country Club Johannesburg setting, this is the perfect recipe for an Afro-symphonic night under the stars. RMB Starlight Classics takes place on 7 and 8 September 2019. Tickets are available to members of The Country Club Johannesburg via email@example.com or Richard Cock Music Enterprises at firstname.lastname@example.org
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