Classical Classical music at the Festival: a retrospective overview

Classical music at the Festival: a retrospective overview

In as much as it is impossible to gain a complete overview of the state of classical music in South Africa through visiting one Festival, the iconic status of the National Arts Festival does lend itself to being a barometer of the artistic discipline.

Contributions ranged from celebrating works composed a century ago, to musical representations of dominant culture especially in the Southern African context, with a good dose of traditional classical concert fare. South African composers, especially Peter Klatzow – fast approaching doyen status – were featured, though the music of a younger generation was strangely absent, as was the work of internationally acclaimed
Kevin Volans.

I suggest that the Festival form a partnership with NewMusicSA and SAMRO to promote a broad cross-section of South African art music; perhaps even creating a Festival subset possibly structured along similar lines to that of the Jazz Festival. This year’s Colossus programme represents a step in the right direction, though it would be good if South African composers – as opposed to an American – were given space to première their works at Festival.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed attending the wide range of presentations that thankfully spoke to music from the past 100 years, the preponderance of performances linked to the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra – while artistically laudable and encouraging Festival engagement beyond the orchestra’s traditional connection – raises the possibility that this year’s Main programme suffered from a dearth of applications, or that a large proportion of would-be participants were considered unacceptable.

If my hunch is correct that this year’s Festival saw fewer applications than in the past, then Festival organisers need to imaginatively connect with this issue. That said, it is possible that Richard Cock’s influence may have been necessary to bolster what initially was a paltry Main programme. However, Festival organisers need to observe that an individual does not have a finger in too many pies.

Moreover, the time has arrived for Festival organisers to engage with the artistic products of applicants and not solely rely on well-constructed business plans, testimonial commendations, and laudably assembled curricula vitae. This section of the Festival needs to find purpose-driven areas that will artistically propel and sustain classical music for many years to come.

-Jeffrey Brukman-

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