On Sunday 31 August 2008 the Buskaid Ensemble will participate in a public concert commemorating 50 years of the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT) to be held at another historic venue, the church of Regina Mundi , Moroka, Soweto. For the past six years the OMT has generously supported the tertiary studies of two Buskaid students at a leading UK music college. The Ensemble will perform music by the 18th century composer Chevalier St Georges, also known as the Black Mozart, and the concert starts at 15h00.
On Sunday 7th September at 3.30 pm the Buskaid Intermediate Ensemble will be playing a programme of Jewish music at the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre at the Great Park Synagogue, cnr Glenhove Road and 4th Street, Houghton. This concert will also feature three of Buskaid’s most advanced players who will perform solos by Bloch and Wieniawski. For more details please contact Hazel Cohen: (011) 728-8088 or (011) 728-8378.
On the afternoon of 28th September there will be an informal concert at the Buskaid Music School in Diepkloof, Soweto featuring twelve students who are taking Associated Board practical examinations. This year two students are sitting Diploma exams and will be performing major works from the mainstream string repertoire. We are hoping to offer our audience an African meal after this concert. Detail to follow.
We are very thrilled to have received a donation to Buskaid of £1,432 which was generated from an online X-Files Premiere tickets auction. Our warmest thanks to Gillian and all her supporters for this further very welcome support.
On Tuesday 12 August we received a memorable visit from the renowned conductor and motivational speaker Ben Zander, who gave a workshop for our students in front of a modest but very enthusiastic audience of Buskaid supporters in our music school in Soweto. Members of both the senior and intermediate ensembles responded very positively to Ben Zander’s mixture of musical inspiration and infectious humour. His visit was very kindly organised for us by Rita Meininghaus, in conjunction with Ivor Ichikowitz, Chairman of the Paramount Group.
On Sunday 17 August 2008, Leaders Unlimited – Korn/Ferry International hosted their sixth gala event in support of Buskaid. There was a private function, by invitation only, with special emphasis on honouring women in celebration of SA Women’s Day and took the form of a full-length concert by the Buskaid Ensemble at the historic Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown, Soweto. At the end of the concert, the joint CEO of Leaders Unlimited, Gusti Coetzer, presented Rosemary Nalden with a cheque for R175,000, a most generous contribution towards Buskaid's general operating costs.
Dear Buskaid Supporters
A very warm welcome to our first newsletter of 2007 – Buskaid’s tenth anniversary year - with great news of our first appearance at the BBC Promenade Concerts in London. We urge those of you who would like to come to our Prom to book soon, as this event may well sell out. Buskaid and Dance for All will be performing in the Arena, which means that there will be fewer ‘prom’ spaces available; if you intend to purchase tickets we suggest that you buy centre stalls seats which will afford the best views of the players and dancers. Please read on for the story behind this event and visit www.bbc.co.uk/proms/2007 to make a booking.
July 15 - 7 pm The Royal Albert Hall, London
This concert will be preceded by a BBC Proms Showcase at 5 pm featuring the Buskaid Ensemble performing a different programme of baroque music, presented by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Rosemary Nalden. Admission is free to concert ticket-holders.
July 7 - 2.30 pm Uniting Reformed Church, Diepkloof Zone 4, Soweto A special community concert preview of the Prom programme, with Buskaid and Dance for All; details from the Buskaid office, Johannesburg: 011 442 9676 (Transport can be provided.)
September 24 (Heritage Day) - 3.30pm Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg
Buskaid’s Tenth Anniversary Concert; details to be sent out later in the year. October 6 tbc The Buskaid Music School, Diepkloof Zone 3, Soweto Recital featuring soloists from the project playing their practical exam repertoire with pianist Jill Richards. We are entering some 14 students, mainly higher grades, for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music examinations. Detail to follow.
Rameau Dance Project
Anniversary celebrations have already begun with a flourish. Some eighteen months ago,
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who is the Patron of our UK Trust, asked me whether Buskaid would
like to participate in a dance performance/ workshop featuring the music of Jean- Philippe
Rameau, to take place in Paris in February 2007. Sir John Eliot still vividly recalled that
extraordinary concert which he conducted in Johannesburg in February 1997 (which
incidentally marked the early beginnings of the Buskaid project) when he inspirationally
chose some Rameau dances for the fledgling ensemble to perform. Remembering how
instinctively the Buskaid musicians had responded to this French baroque composer,
he now wanted to contrast the period performance of Rameau by a British orchestra and
a French dance company with the very different interpretation of the Buskaid Ensemble, together with African dancers and drummers. So it was that, earlier this year, after many months of anxious fundraising efforts and intensive preparation, we found ourselves on the stage of the Cité de la Musique in Paris, performing alongside two of the finest specialist baroque groups in the world - the English Baroque Soloists (EBS) and the Compagnie Roussat-Lubek.
Sourcing sponsorship was of course a major issue, and a serendipitous coincidence of dates led me to approach the French company Total (South Africa), whose crucial support of Buskaid began exactly ten years ago, when its MD happened to come to the 1997 Gardiner concert. To our great delight, Total agreed to fund the entire airfares and related expenses as a tenth anniversary ‘gift’ .We are indebted to them for their generosity, which enabled us to accept Sir John Eliot’s invitation.
Although we had originally planned to source dancers from within the Ensemble, I
began to realise that this idea was highly impractical. Our violinist and singer, Teboho Semela, who was studying dance in Cape Town, came to Soweto on a number of occasions to work with some of our students; despite her best efforts however, we all knew that what we really needed were trained dancers - preferably young people like ours from a similar project. Another coincidence, another stroke of luck – in October 2006 we received a visit from a journalist and a photographer from Le Figaro magazine (whose feature on Buskaid appeared in one of the November 2006 issues). Immediately after leaving us, they visited Dance for All (DfA), a Cape Town-based dance project (www.danceforall.co.za) which they identified as having much in common with Buskaid. A brief trip to Cape Town to see the dancers in action convinced me that this would indeed be a fruitful collaboration.
The choreography for the suite of dances I had chosen from Rameau’s opera Platée
was subsequently developed at a five-day music and environmental workshop we held
at the beginning of January 2007, our first chance to gather together the musicians
and dancers. Our venue was the Botshabelo Historic Nature Reserve, an old mission
station surrounded by beautiful African bush, northeast of Johannesburg. We spent up
to seven hours a day in soaring temperatures working at our Paris programmes, our
main distraction being the troupes of inquisitive vervet monkeys who continually invaded
our rehearsal spaces! Because the dancers found the genre unfamiliar, we chose a small ‘committee’ of players to work in close collaboration with them, with Teboho heading up
the entire group. What began as an exploratory exercise developed into a truly innovative
educational experience. It also demonstrated the extraordinary creativity of the Buskaid
students, who were able to translate sophisticated French Baroque music into energetic
and rhythmic African movement. Soon everyone became involved. Each evening over
supper there was fierce debate amongst the teachers and the Buskaid students as to
whether the movements were appropriate for the music, whether they should be more
(or less) African. Part of our musical interpretation of Rameau, involved African
drumming, an innovation which led to our identifying some new (female) drummers
from within the group. This workshop, together with the one which preceded it
immediately after Christmas (when we took nearly 50 students to Botshabelo) was once
again generously funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, marking the
end of a very significant three-year grant to the Buskaid Trust.
Meanwhile we had been most fortunate to have received a pledge of support from IFAS, the Institut français d’Afrique du Sud, whose Director Laurent Clavel visited the Music School during the early stages of our Rameau rehearsals. IFAS’ subsequent financial contribution helped significantly towards the additional costs incurred by our inclusion of the DfA dancers. IFAS also generously facilitated and funded our visa applications.
Paris visit – two stunning concerts
As the visit to Paris drew closer, activities at the Music School intensified. In addition
to the Rameau performance on February 11th we had been invited by the Cité de la
Musique to present our own concert two days later, for which we needed to prepare
an entirely different programme. As an added challenge, these two performances had
to be played at two different pitches, one baroque and one modern. Furthermore, as
we had recently lost three senior violinists from the Ensemble, (one to have a baby,
another because of pressure of university work, and the third, Kabelo Motlhomi, to
study in the UK), we were now training three junior violinists to take their places.
These youngsters (one of whom had been learning for less than three years), whose
performing ‘débuts’ took place on the stage of one of Paris’s most prestigious concert
halls, rose admirably to the occasion and are now regular members of the Ensemble.
Meanwhile we faced challenges of a different kind in our office. Apart from the inevitable problems associated with obtaining passports, our chosen airline told us - less than a month before our departure - that we would have to buy a further twelve seats to accommodate the cellos and double basses. In a panic I phoned the CEO of the Paramount Group, Ivor Ichikowitz, who responded unhesitatingly to my request for help, a further demonstration of the fund of goodwill and generosity surrounding this venture.
On 8th February Buskaid’s party of 21 musicians, four dancers, two chaperones and one music director, together with 21 stringed instruments, three African drums, a suitcase of costumes – including five pairs of gumboots – two cases of music and two of CDs, set out from Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, bound for Paris.
What followed was five days of stimulating, exciting, rewarding and exhausting activity. On the afternoon of our arrival, we were joined by Samson and Kabelo, both of whom had flown in from Manchester; we started rehearsals almost immediately, as the very next day we were due to join forces with John Eliot Gardiner, the EBS and the Roussat dancers.
The moment when the Buskaid musicians joined the EBS on stage for the first time was for me very emotionally charged, bringing together the two most powerful aspects of my musical life. For the first time ever I listened – as an audience member – to the orchestra of which I have been a member for the past 27 years, but now as the teacher and director of the young African musicians standing alongside my colleagues. The sound of this combined baroque orchestra playing Rameau was riveting. From the ensemble playing, the stylistic approach and the intonation, this sounded like a large, fully professional world class baroque orchestra, with added African drums!
Fortunately, having thoroughly rehearsed in South Africa, we were completely prepared, since to my great consternation we were given only fifteen minutes’ rehearsal time on stage for our fifteen-minute ‘stand-alone’ sequence with the dancers. As we finished the first dance, spontaneous cheering and clapping erupted from the auditorium, as every member of EBS and many of the very supportive Cité staff had come to listen and watch. The following morning, our only dress rehearsal, we were again given very limited rehearsal time. The solution was to stay until 1pm and spend a further hour rehearsing our dances. The concert was due to start at 4.30pm, so there was very little time to return to the hotel, eat, change and arrive back at the Cité in time to tune. Several of our players who were doubling as drummers wore full African dress – skins for the boys and beads for the girls – and needed extra time to change. Such demands
require high levels of discipline and steady nerves, attributes which our Buskaid students have acquired over the years and from which they are able to draw strength in this sort of situation.
When our moment finally arrived and we walked on stage to start the performance,
with a dramatic build-up of African drumming from Nathi, Tumi and Zandile, the
atmosphere in the packed hall was electric. The suite of dances from Platée was thrilling
and the audience responded accordingly. The whole sequence culminated in a raunchy
township pantsula, and the audience rose to its feet as one. The reception we received
was an overwhelming affirmation of the talent and commitment of every musician and
dancer; we were called back on stage and gave the audience the encore they demanded.
The evening was rounded off with a joint choreography of the Chaconne from Naïs and
the Contredanses from Les Boréades involving both the French company and DfA (who
had donned gumboots for their traditional miners’ dance), with the Buskaid musicians
playing alongside EBS, a juxtaposition of cultures and styles which had a breathtaking
impact. (Paris dance pictures courtesy Marie-Sophie Willis, Monteverdi organisation)
The following day the DfA members were treated to a day out in Paris, whilst we spent six hours preparing our programme of Mozart, Grieg, Bartók and Geminiani for our concert on Tuesday. The dancers were once again to be featured in a slightly extended Rameau sequence, and joined us to rehearse on stage that evening. On the morning of the concert we had agreed that Mark Kidel would film the entire dress rehearsal to give him additional material for his recording of the concert. For the past two years Mark, who is one of the world’s leading arts and music documentary film makers, has been making a major feature-length documentary about Buskaid, which will be shown by the BBC later in 2007. Buskaid’s Paris appearances marked the climax of his film; we are also hoping that some of the concert material will be made into a separate DVD. Once
again the Ensemble members excelled themselves in performance, in terms of their focus, their musicality and the overall execution of the music. Playing Mozart, which is so transparent, and which requires the finest attention to detail, is always risky for a non-professional orchestra. We took the risk and the results were spectacular, as born out by the comments afterwards and subsequent emails, as well as a rave review in Le Monde (reproduced below). The Geminani/Corelli Folia was most capably directed by Samson, with his sister Innocentia playing the very difficult concertino cello part. Grieg, Bartók and some lighter repertoire, including Kwela, comprised the rest of the programme, with the Rameau dance sequence closing the first half.
Booking for this concert had initially been disappointing, but many of Sunday’s audience returned with their friends, and the hall was nearly full. After the concert we were surrounded backstage by dozens of people, including a number of distinguished musicians. Two Norwegian members of the Oslo Grieg Society approached me to invite us to Norway. Extracts from an article written by one of them upon her return home are quoted below. The distinguished violinist Ivry Gitlis, now in his eighties, expressed the wish to visit us in Soweto, an offer of which we should like to avail ourselves.
BBC Prom invitation!
The most extraordinary consequence of our resounding successes in Paris was an invitation to Buskaid and Dance for All from the BBC and Sir John Eliot Gardiner to collaborate once again in the EBS and Monteverdi Choir’s appearance at the Royal Albert Hall Promenade Concert, (as detailed above). We are indebted to Riitta Hirvonen, Monteverdi’s General Manager, for raising the sponsorship to cover all the costs incurred from the mining company Xstrata plc, whose generosity has made our participation possible. This concert will be broadcast simultaneously on BBC TV 4 and BBC Radio 3. We believe Buskaid to be the first South African classical orchestra to perform at the Proms in its entire 113 year history.
Trip to the USA Easter 2007
For seven Ensemble members a further international tour was just around the corner! Our US Trustees, headed by Greville Ward, had been very busy setting up a visit to Boston and New York in March/ April to raise awareness of Buskaid in anticipation of a much bigger future tour. Once again we found ourselves at the airport, this time preparing to face the long journey from Johannesburg to Boston. Here we were wonderfully looked after by Anna Davol, who had set up performances at a variety of venues, including the St Botolph’s Club, the Boston Arts Academy, the United Union Methodist Church, St Paul AME Church and the Boston State House, where we played for Governor Daval Patrick, whose childhood circumstances resonate with those of many a Buskaid student.
In New York we visited The Hotchkiss School and were staggered by its amazing facilities
and equipment, including a recording studio where our students helped edit a CD of the
performance they had just given to the whole school. Our concert at the South African
Consulate at the UN included a wonderfully musical performance of the Bach double violin
concerto as well as some beautiful singing from Mathapelo. This evening was rounded off
with a magnificent South African buffet supper. The following day we gave a lunchtime
concert at the World Financial Center Winter Garden, adjacent to Ground Zero. A day later
we were off to WNYC radio for a live performance and interviews. Finally, two concerts
close to where we were staying, in upstate New York; one at a private home in Bedford and the second in Bedford’s beautiful, small Community Hall. The programmes we had chosen included – as well as the Bach - our first performance of a Rossini string sonata, the Barber Adagio, a Mozart Divertimento, Monti’s Czardas and Gershwin’s Lullaby, together with a variety of lighter repertoire and some kwela; our seven students were kept on their toes for the entire two weeks and on the last day enjoyed a well-earned day off in New York City, after which we prepared ourselves for the long flight back to South Africa..........
The Trustees of Buskaid USA, together with Anna Davol, worked extremely hard to set up this very well-organised tour and we are indebted to them for all they did for us. Most especially we appreciated the involvement of the whole of Greville Ward’s family and Fernanda Marcuzzi, wife of trustee Jim Halliday, who acted as tour manager during our stay in Boston. Wherever we played we encountered a fund of goodwill and great generosity, which had a very positive impact on our young musicians.
In both Paris and the USA we were also very fortunate to have the dedicated support of our long-standing chaperone, Hanneke van der Merwe, who is very much part of the Buskaid ‘family’, having known and worked with some of us since 1994.
Cité de la Musique, Paris 2007
Developing the choreography at Botshabelo
Outdoor rehearsal, Botshabelo
Tuning up for the concert
Dancers at Cité de la Musique , Paris
Buskaid’s Paris concert - Simiso’s encore
Grand staircase, State House, Boston
Performance at Winter Gardens, New York
Mathapelo sings at the SA Consulate