PICTURES: Hans van der Veen.
The koppies of the Klein Karoo were alive with the sound of the annual Karoo Klassique reaching across a long weekend from the Thursday evening to August 9, Women’s Day, a celebration all its own. DIANE DE BEER wallows in the bliss of it all:
For this festival junkie, it was a first of this specialised music festival and I was excited to experience the jampacked classical music jamboree with a few exclusive book discussions thrown in as a bonus.
Well think for example of one Herzog winner speaking to another? That’s enough to get me salivating … and it didn’t disappoint.
But starting with the star of the show, the music, the doors were flung open with great gusto for the Thursday night’s Gala Concert celebrating female voices with Janelle Visagie, Alida Stoman and Monica Mhangwana performing popular arias as well as some lighter musical theatre fare.
They brilliantly opened proceedings on an elegant note under the amazing guidance of José Dias who not only compiled the programme but also brilliantly accompanied the singers. It was a genius touch to start the festival in Women’s week by shining a light on female voices performing some of the most celebrated arias composed for the female voice.
On a more serious note, Poerpasledam with Handri Loots (flute) and Mareli Stolp (piano) set the tone for the rest of the series. It was my first time with both these performers and the first time I had experienced a solo flautist – ever.
That’s always fun, because you have no idea what to expect. The unexpected for me was not the performances, which were quite sublime, but rather their choice of music. I’m not a classical music specialist, but I have listened to my fair share of classical competitions and concerts and still I was surprised by the collection of composers and their music these two women performed.
The first was a female composer known as Mel Bonis and described as prolific French late-Romantic composer who wrote more than 300 pieces. I was fascinated and loved the music as I did the rest of the programme, which included Francis Poulenc, Arnold van Wyk (who also provided the title of the concert) a Piazolla arranged for flute and piano by local composer Niel van der Watt, as well as Herman Beeftink and Ian Clarke, both still living, whose compositions for flute and piano I was also unfamiliar with.
What made this such an absorbing hour of music was the accessibility. It’s not often the case that unfamiliar music lies so gently on the ear and I quickly understood that I was in for a musical fiesta.
The Gqeberha Trio with David Bester (violin), Jan-Hendrik Harley (viola) and Mariechen Meyer (double bass) also made magic in what I was informed is a most unusual trio. The double bass would more traditionally be a cello (and there were a few at the festival) and finding music for this combination was quite an ask.
For example, for Schubert’s familiar Erlkönig, they had the double bass arrangement added and again, starting with a selection from Bach’s Goldberg Variations and concluding with Handel’s Lascia ch’io Piang, the combination was quite spectacular.
The evening concluded with Megan-Geoffrey Prins (piano) and Peter Martens (cello) performing Schubert, Beethoven and David Popper’s technically challenging Tarantella. This duo worked wonderfully off one another and the audience was left smiling as they moved on to the conclusion of the night ̶ the newly established Maties Jazz Society under the guidance of Ramon Alexander, who had us tapping our feet from start to finish. It was a sassy introduction of yet another musical element to the festival.
Martens featured in two more groups the next day, with a Trio of Trios (including his wife Suzanne (violin) and Karin Gaertner (viola) joining him on the cello in an hour of intriguing music, as well as all three stepping into the joyous Celebration of Youth with Lisa van Wyk (flute), David Cyster (clarinet), and a return of the nimble-fingered Prins on piano.
The combination of exuberance and wisdom worked well and provided an hour of extraordinary music.
This was followed by the evening Baroque to the Future concert with musician-extraordinaire Erik Dippenaar guiding members of the South African National Youth Orchestra together with soprano Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi while also playing the harpsichord.
For the young musicians as well as the audience, it was a learning experience in this wonderful world of baroque music and we are truly blessed to have someone like Dippenaar who seems to have lost his heart to this particular music genre.
The first two concerts on Monday belonged to two excellent duo combinations with Cello Splendour’s Anmari van der Westhuizen (cello) and Nicolene Gibbons (piano) followed by the only pure piano concert with Sulayman Human and John Theodore, each on their own piano, with a selection of perfect afternoon melodies to soothe the soul.
Soprano Lynelle Kenned and soprano Mkhwanazi Hlengiwe going through their notes before the show and then on show.
At the conclusion of the day, a dinner concert, Handel at Home, was presented at one of Oudtshoorn’s many spectacular venues just outside the Karoo town. Again there was the guidance of the jovial Dippenaar on harpsichord, with a second appearance by soprano Mkhwanazi and another regular soprano Lynelle Kenned, as well as musicians Cheryl de Havilland (baroque cello) and Ingo Müller (baroque oboe).
Everything came together for this unusual concert – the setting as well as the performances. It was a glorious conclusion to a truly special few days.
And still, there was a final highlight the following morning with Dippenaar, this time performing on organ in one of the many local churches. I was completely overwhelmed by the rich and diverse organ music, and he also performed a piece of improv, something I had never witnessed on organ before.
And then prolific performer Charl du Plessis drew the curtain with his marvellous performance (slightly altered from the Pretoria version a while back) of the sentimentally driven Songs of my Mother. Heck this https://bit.ly/3P2OWPO
For those attending, we were left with smiles and soul food aplenty. And pleasure because of the intimacy of the festival, the content and the approach, which presents a relaxed atmosphere where the musicians chat in between different performances about the music and the composers before they get down to serious music making. All in all, an affair to remember.
(See story to follow on two remarkable writers talking about their latest work.)