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The Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra embarks on its debut national tour

The Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra (Mzansi NPO) embarks on its first national tour of South Africa next month, led by the world-renowned American conductor Marin Alsop.

Commencing on 15 December 2022, the orchestra will tour to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with accomplished soloists and local choirs. The Orchestra has assembled a powerhouse line-up of musicians to perform this work. The first woman to win the Koussevitzky Prize for conducting and the first conductor to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, Alsop is one of the most distinguished conductors of her generation, while the Orchestra’s Concert Master, South African violinist Pieter Schoeman, is also the Concert Master of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra South African tour Johannesburg Cape Town Durban
Marin Alsop, Sao Paulo PHOTO by Sisi Burn

Soloists include renowned South African mezzo soprano, Michelle Breedt, who has performed in prestigious concert halls all over the world, and talented bass baritone, Msimelelo Mbali, who is making a mark in Europe’s operatic world, and will appear at the English National Opera in the 2022/23 season. The tour will also feature dynamic local choirs such as the Gauteng Choristers, Tshwane University of Technology Choir, Mzansi Chorale, and the New Apostolic Church Choir.

‘Through our varied and inclusive programmes, the Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra is committed to transforming lives and bringing people together through the power of music. Bringing together excellent South African musicians under the direction of a legendary conductor, such as Marin Alsop, is a great honour,’ says Bongani Tembe, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Mzansi National Philharmonic. ‘I have no doubt that people who come into contact with our work will experience the high artistic quality, vitality, and commitment, which characterises Mzansi NPO.’

Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra South African tour Johannesburg Cape Town Durban
Pieter Schoeman

Conductor Alsop says she is looking forward to conducting the Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra in December this year.

‘I have had the privilege of performing all over the world but performing in a three-city tour of South Africa is a first for me, and I could not be more excited. I love what the Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra is doing, not just in their country, but also further afield. Music and the arts have a unique power to elevate society, and I appreciate how this Orchestra is intent not only on achieving the highest artistic goals, but also take their responsibility to the community seriously.’

Speaking via a pre-recorded video shown at a press launch ahead of the tour, Alsop explained that Beethoven’s 9th Symphony holds themes that are deeply resonant with South Africa, ‘marked by tolerance, unity and joy – aligning with the ideals of Nelson Mandela and the concept of Ubuntu. The choice of Beethoven’s 9th is very appropriate for an Orchestra ushering in a new era,’ she said.

Popularly known as ‘The Choral Symphony’, it is the final masterpiece in the composer’s symphonic oeuvre. Culminating in one of the most beloved of all melodies, ‘The Ode to Joy’, it is regarded by many critics and musicologists the world over as Beethoven’s greatest work, and one of the supreme achievements in the history of music. Pieter Schoeman, the Orchestra’s concertmaster is delighted to lead South Africa’s best and diverse orchestral musicians in the Mzansi Philharmonic’s first-ever national tour of South Africa.

Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra South African tour Johannesburg Cape Town Durban
Msimelelo Mbali

‘I couldn’t ask for a better homecoming than Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – it promises to be the kind of concert that we’ll still be talking about for many years to come.’

The Mzansi NPO was officially launched earlier this year as part of an initiative of the South African National Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, in order to broaden the orchestral experience of the country, transform the orchestral sector, and utilise this Orchestra to brand South Africa positively around the world. Its mission includes the funding of regional and youth orchestras, and the artistic planning committee is finalising the funding process, with recipients to be announced before the end of the year. Among the Orchestra’s prime initiatives is supporting young, up-and-coming musicians, studying both locally and internationally, as well as reaching out to provinces without their own professional orchestras.

Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra South Africa refugee concert 2022
PJ Powers and Thandi Ntuli perform at a concert by The Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra partnered with the Turquoise Harmony Institute at Johannesburg’s Linder Auditorium in 2022

Speaking at the press launch ahead of the tour, Tembe explained that in addition to supporting the country’s regional orchestras, a national orchestra needs to be able to transform. ‘We need music that reflects the heritage of South Africa,’ he said. Being ‘translatable’ and ‘adaptable’ is also central to the Mzansi NPO’s aims, he said, citing recent collaborations with contemporary musicians such as Msaki, PJ Powers and Thandi Ntuli. 

An objective of the Orchestra is to partner with South African artists who have made a name on the international stage, returning to give back to their homeland. Justice Leona Theron, Chairperson of the board of directors of Mzansi National Philharmonic, says: ‘After months of planning, we are thrilled that the Mzansi Philharmonic’s inaugural national tour is finally upon us. We are excited to welcome our friends to share the stage with us as we step into a new era. As we raise this new banner together, I have no doubt that we will experience a level of excellence, artistry, and inclusivity that we have only glimpsed before.’

The three-city tour will take place at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg on 15 December; at The Playhouse in Durban on 17 December; and at Cape Town’s City Hall on 21 December. Tickets for the concerts on the Mzansi Philharmonic’s tour are available through Quicket. For enquiries, contact

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