Review: Opening of the 6th Cape Town International Summer Music Festival

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ben schoemanThe Cape TownInternational Summer Music Festival – launched in 2006 – is an annual highlight for Capetonian music aficionados. This year’s programme yet again offers an exciting line-up of performances by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Japanese maestro Yasuo Shinozaki, with South African pianist Ben Schoeman and German-Japanese violinist Mirijam Contzen as principal guest soloists.

The first (of three) Festival Symphony Concerts opened with a work by South African composer and cellist Hans Huyssen. Proteus Variations/Proteus’ Floriferous Tempers was inspired by the range of Protea fynbos for which the largerCape Town / Boland area is especially renowned. The work consists of eight variations, each named after one of the protea families endemic toSouth Africa and each reflecting key features of their family traits.

Curiously, the Protea theme inspired the composer to experiment with a novel approach to the classical Theme-and-Variation form. In this work there is no single theme, but rather a series of variations that share certain similarities and that contribute to an overarching idea of essential expression. For me the work has the most exquisite melodic motif reminiscent of the late Romantic period. The manner in which this motif was developed in a dialogue between the strings and the wind section of the orchestra was masterfully constructed and conducted.

Yet, as with most things in life, moderation is key. In addition to the Protea metaphor Huyssen tries to showcase local musical diversity by incorporating details from indigenous African traditions. This did not work. The use of percussion and the Roland keyboard was forced, awkward and excessive.

Happily, this was followed by the award-winning Ben Schoeman who performed Liszt’s two piano concertos. Schoeman is well-versed in Liszt’s piano repertoire and has even recently released a solo album of works by Franz Liszt under the TwoPianists label.

Schoeman’s interpretation of the second concerto (S125) was poetic and utterly enthralling. It was only during the most delicate and pianissimo sections that the audience was reminded of their surroundings by the southeaster wind howling outside City Hall. As the final notes of the virtuosic and dazzling first concerto (S124) faded I was in tears and clapping wildly as the audience gave Schoeman a spontaneous and heartfelt standing ovation.

The first Festival Symphony Concert was concluded with the symphonic tone poem The Pines of Rome by modern composer Ottorino Resphighi. Nineteen young musicians joined the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra for their first exposure on a professional stage for the performance of this grand and colourful work.  It was a good finale and a great start to this 6th Cape Town International Summer Music Festival. I look forward to the rest.

Andra le Roux-Kemp

Festival Symphony Concert No 1 of the 6th Cape Town International Summer Music Festival, featuring conductor Yasuo Shinozaki and pianist Ben Schoeman with the Cape Philharmonic took place at the City Hall, Cape Town on 26 January 2012. 

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