South African compositions are heard all too rarely and as a result our composers are seldom given the acknowledgement they deserve.
But all is not lost. KEMUS, a contemporary music association based at Stellenbosch University’s Music Department, endeavours to explore and celebrate contemporary South African Art Music. Recently it staged a performance of Peter Klatzow’s chamber music at which the composer himself discussed his compositions and his love for music.
One of just a handful of South African composers who have achieved international recognition, Klatzow enjoys creating works that are not atonal in harmonic structure (as one would expect of contemporary South African Art Music) but that only ‘flirt’ with atonality occasionally.
First in the programme was his Sonata for Violin and Piano, performed by Piet de Beer (violin) and Elna van der Merwe (piano). This earlier work by Klatzow provides the listener with a new perspective on the traditional sonata form, rejecting the typical form for the first movement in favour of a series of fractional ideas. These eventually culminate into a long melodic line and conclude with a resolution and cohesion that stands in stark contrast to the fragmentation with which the work begins.
This was followed by an exciting performance of two of Klatzow’s well-known pieces, When the Moon Comes Out and Sunlight Surrounds Her. These two chamber works are written for a curious ensemble of instruments, including a marimba, bassoon, flute, cello and violin. Klatzow has a particular fascination with the marimba and has made a significant contribution to this instrument’s repertoire. He composed Sunlight Surrounds Her specifically for the world-renowned Polish marimba player Marta Klimasara and it premiered at the 2010 Stellenbosch International Music Festival. On this occasion the pieces were performed by local marimba player Frank Mallows, who did an excellent job of bringing these two demanding works to life.
But the undoubted highlight of the afternoon was the premier of Klatzow’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. Klatzow’s primary aim with this work was to celebrate the cello as the main instrument and to resist too much of the principal material being invested in the piano, as is so often the case with cello sonatas. And he achieved his end perfectly. From the opening notes the audience sat mesmerised as Pieter Grobler (piano) and Peter Martens (cello) gave a breathtaking performance befitting the premier of such a masterpiece.
In the first movement the juxtaposition of the playful piano and the grave cries of the cello were beautifully interpreted by the duo. Grobler then played the delicate harmonies of the second movement with the utmost tenderness and sympathy. The vigorous and exciting dialogue between piano and cello in the third movement was so exhilarating that the audience was bursting to applaud before the finale had even been reached. Martens also played superbly and mined from the wooden body of his cello that wonderful rich variety of tone colours for which he has become so renowned.
It was an honour to spend a Sunday afternoon in the company of one of South Africa’s foremost composers and to soak up the premier of his latest labour. The Sonata for Cello and Piano is set to become a very popular work and I look forward to it being performed repeatedly to much acclaim.
Andra le Roux-Kemp
South African composer Peter Klatzow discussed his work alongside performances of his compositions at the Fismer Hall, Stellenbosch Conservatorium on 3 June 2012.