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A chink of light in South Africa’s orchestral woes

The Johannesburg Philharmonic has suspended operations and other orchs are under pressure, but this is no time for despair. Sir Roger Norrington, one of the great lifegivers of classical music, is flying in with his Zurich Chamber Orchestra to share a series of concerts with the SA national youth orchestra –  more than 50 young players from all over the country. Those kids are in for a wakeup call.

Here’s a link to Roger’s Radio 3 Lebrecht Interview.


roger norrington

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  1. Here’s a link to a direct download of that interview as an MP3 file … the one given above apparently isn’t available anymore:

  2. George King says:

    This is indeed likely to be a most welcome wake-up call from RN, not only for those lucky young players whose training is for the most part very much old-school (mostly taught and examined in an outmoded ‘historical style’ of the 50s, 60s and early 70s) but also those professional musicians who are not yet convinced about alternative ways of performing Mozart and Beethoven. And Pickup, nurtured in South Africa, is a remarkably talented musician. Should be a series of cracker concerts!

    • Alan Paterson says:

      I am not a trained musician but am surprised by the comment about an “outmoded historical style” of training. I am not aware of the schooling and demographics of the Youth Orchestra. However music training in South Africa, both school-based and/or private, is geared towards assessment by the ABRSM and Trinity (or the highly thought of UNISA from South Africa). To my knowledge those august bodies (specifically ABRSM and Trinity) do not have different (“outmoded”) curricula for the former colonies. The pieces selected for my son’s ABRSM grade 8 piano exam this year are according to the standard list suppled by Associated Board and an examiner from UK will fly out for the purpose of assessing him and his peers, as was the case for the lower grades. Those bodies would surely not be party to examining at one level for UK and another (lower) for those of us in the developing world with our “old-school” teachers. Notwithstanding, Roger Norrington’s arrival is keenly anticipated.

      • George King says:

        I can’t speak for Trinity or ABRSM, but the Unisa examiners seem by and large yet to discover some of the basics about HIP, which has after all been around for nearly half a century now. And quite a lot of the more advanced musical training in SA is not specifically geared towards these assessments anyway. The matter is not so much one of some kind of abstract single standard but whose standard, and in terms of what kind of musical practice. Or perhaps, more accurately, an awareness of different performing approaches to different kinds of repertoire. But RN’s visit certainly promises to be an early highlight of the year.

        • Timon Wapenaar says:

          As far as HIP is concerned, it’s not the international examiners which are the issue, but the teachers. String teaching is dominated by proponents of the Eastern European schools, and the idea that performing the Brahms violin concerto on a modern instrument is more technically demanding than performing a Bach concerto on a Baroque instrument is still very widespread. Younger players returning from study in the Northern Hemisphere are doing much to dispel these preconceptions, as are visiting artists from Europe. Rosemary Nalden, and her Soweto Buskaid project deserve a lot of credit in this regard. But it tells you something that Gerard Korsten once felt it necessary to address the string players during a rehearsal and exclaim, “This,” (shaking his left hand in mock vibrato), “is a disease!”.

  3. Shirley de Kock Gueller says:

    What’s so good about this is that the SA National Youth Orchestra is going strong — and that we should hope for a good outcome in the business rescue of the JPO, not only to ensure more options for the future careers of these young classical musicians..

  4. While I welcome this short tour in which Roger Norrington will conduct the Zurich Chamber Orchestra with members of the South African Youth Orchestra and South African clarinet soloist, Robert Pickup, I hardly think it will do much to improve the parlous state of professional music in this country.

    If the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra can no longer continue, most members will look for positions abroad. While I hope that businesses might step in to sponsor the orchestra and save it from extinction, the country is in a very poor economic position, so perhaps sponsorship of “Western” arts is not the first priority of businesses struggling to survive.

    The Youth Orchestra is made up of students who will also leave the country once they have completed their studies as there will be little work for them here.

  5. Wow! A big thank you to the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Sir Roger Norrington and Robert Pickup for an incredible experience.Here is a short video from the tour that I hope communicates a small part of the experience:

  6. Here is a short video from the tour that I hope communicates a small part of the experience:

    A big thank you to everyone who contributed – Sir Roger Norrington, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and Robert Pickup were all just fantastic, and the concerts were electrifying. Our young musicians gave it their all and I think will have this to carry with them for the rest of their lives. What magic!

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