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 News and Reviews
Historic first for South Africa

The Witness, 23 November 2004
by Caroline Smart - artsmart

When the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra performed at the Barbican in London last week, it seemed that everyone with any remote connection to South Africa, past and present, was to honour a unique celebration of the country's ten years of democracy. The event marked a historic first for South Africa, as the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra became the first South African fulltime professional orchestra to undertake a European tour in their collaboration with the famed London Symphony Orchestra. The LSO is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Conducted by the inimitable French maestro, François-Xavier Roth, the programme featured the "Hymn of Praise" from Mendelssohn's Symphony No 2 followed by South African composer Phelelani Mnomiya's Zizi Lethu! Themba Lethu! and closing with a triumphant and resounding performance of Ravel's Bolero.

There were close on 300 performers on stage including the combined orchestras; distinguished South African opera singers Linda Bukhosini and Bongani Tembe, fellow soloist Sally Silver, and two of the country's best known choral societies: the award-winning Durban Serenade and the famous Soweto-based Imilonji KaNtu. Apart from some tentative entries, the choirs acquitted themselves extremely well.

The evening was a resounding success. Apart from the status of the tour itself, the concert celebrated the world premiere of a brand new South African operatic work, cemented transatlantic ties between two major orchestras, and blazoned the message that cross-culture can - and does - work. The choirs performed the Mendelssohn piece in outfits ranging from traditional Zulu leopard skins, Xhosa turbans and Basutho hats to the joyously colourful contemporary African fashions!

For the fashion conscious, Linda Bukhosini looked wonderful in a stunning white ostrich feathered gown, changing to a more contemporary African style for the Mnomiya work. Both Linda and Bongani were in fine voice as was Sally Silver. Now based in London and fast becoming acknowledged as a top exponent of contemporary opera, South African audiences will remember her as Sally June Gain in the Queen series. Bheki Mkhwane (well-known for his theatre work with Ellis Pearson) put in a vigorous performance as the narrator.

But the honours of the evening undoubtedly went to Phelelani Mnomiya who composed Zizi Lethu! Themba Lethu! (Our Hope) around a poem written by Dr Lindiwe Mabuza, South Africa's High Commissioner to the UK. The orchestration by South African-based composers John Simon and Christopher James is masterly with a strong focus on the percussion section.

The orchestra and choirs have now moved to Bremen in Germany where there was a repeat performance - without the LSO and without Sally Gain - in the St Ansgarii Cathedral. This was also a sucess and the musicians then left for home on Monday, heading for the airport in Hamburg through a snow-blanketed countryside.

The tour was sponsored by The Government of KwaZulu-Natal, The Brett Kebble Foundation, SAA, Telkom and PetroSA.

read also:

The KZNPO On Tour:

A Diary of the visit to London and Bremen by Caroline Smart more >>

The Concert in Bremen
An event of overboarding joy of life more >>

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