Live improvisation at silent movie classic, Metropolis (The Bioscope)

I am thoroughly enjoying the current Johannesburg International Mozart Festival which is bringing some very different, excellent music programmes to its audiences.

On 2 February I headed through to The Bioscope, an independent movie house, operating in the far eastern reaches of the CBD (286 Fox Street), known as City and Suburban, just two blocks east of Arts on Main. Incidentally, never having been there before, I took this opportunity to wander round through the PopArt gallery and then had a pizza (lots of cheese) and a cider at the Chalkboard Cafe while I waited. What I was waiting for was a 1927 silent movie, Metropolis, at which Paul Hanmer (keyboard), the composer-in-residence for the 2012 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, and Feya Faku (trumpet), would be improvising the sound track. It was a wonderful experience. The improvisation was superb, very apt and striking. The movie itself is a cult classic. There are still a few tickets available for tonight’s (3 February) screening of Nosferatu, also with improvisation by Faku and Hanmer.

Paul Hanmer is a jazz musician, composer and arranger. I have always found the artificial divide between ‘serious music’ and other music to be a ridiculous one. Where does something like Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony fit into serious music? And I know from having spoken to Richard Cock on the subject before that he has more than just a sneaking admiration for jazz. And I have heard Hanmer being played on some very august classical music platforms, one of which is the Unisa International Strings Competition in 2010. The Johannesburg International Mozart Festival theme for this year is “Quasi Improvisando”.

Paul Hanmer was commissioned to compose two new orchestral works, a single-movement piece for flute (Massimo Mercelli) and orchestra, Nightjar Breaks and a triple concerto for violin (Mikhail Simonyan), piano (Florian Uhlig), jazz trumpet and orchestra which is Concerto Nachtroep. These will be played at the final concert of the Festival which has a ‘night’ theme with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and the less often heard Serenata Notturna both appropriately featuring together with Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht.

On 11 and 12 February Hanmer will be participating in an improvisation weekend. He performed a silent movie improvisation at The Bioscope, Arts On Main on 2 February for the movie “Metropolis” (1927) and contributed programme notes for the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival. Other works of Hanmer’s will also be appearing at various times during the JIMF.

Born in Cape Town in 1961 Hanmer, a pianist, started a B.Mus degree through the University of Cape Town which he abandoned after two years to work as a jazz musician, and does contemporary jazz and “serious music” recordings and compositions. He wanted to get on with doing the composing he’s been dreaming of doing since he was nine years old. Hanmer has been Johannesburg based since 1987 and has been influenced by bands such as Bayete and Sakhile.

Over the years Hanmer has worked with Tananas, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Ray Phiri, McCoy Mrubata, Pops Mohamed, Jonathan Butler, Sipho Gumede, Tony Cox and Unofficial Language which is a trio with Paul Hanmer on piano, bassist, Pete Sklair, and drummer, Ian Herman. Hanmer’s first attempt at writing classical music was the Bow Project in 2002, at the request of Michael Blake who asked several composers to make arrangements for voice and string quartet of traditional songs from field recordings by Xhosa uhadi bow player Nofinishi Dywili.

With the theme for this year’s JIMF being “Quasi Improvisando”, it is appropriate that a predominantly jazz composer be the composer-in-residence. Hanmer’s works are drawn from a wide range of musical genres, from “Cape Jazz”, traditional African music, funk, kwaito and, of course, classical music as most JIMF attendees understand it.

In 2008 Hanmer released a CD entitled “Accused No. 1 – Nelson Mandela” with track titles which include “Tiekie Monsters”, “Voortrekker Sokkie”, “Bobbejaanland”, “A Prayer for Redemption”, and “Section 29”. How South African can one get?

In February 2011, Hanmer’s clarinet quintet was performed in South Africa by Robert Pickup for the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival and the casalQuartet and his “Elegy: 24 Maraisburg” formed part of visiting Russian cellist Georgi Anichenko’s repertoire for the Unisa International Strings Competition in 2010. Pickup and cellist Peter Martens also premiered a new commission named “The Game Reserve Effect” in Cape Town in February 2011.

In August and September 2011 Frank Mallows (vibraphone) and Magda de Vries (marimba) performed several concerts featuring a new commission for their duo entitled “Victoria-West”. Hanmer recently completed an orchestral commission from Miagi called “Halogram” to commemorate his 50th birthday, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s death in May 2011.

The first time the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival appointed a composer-in-residence was in 2010, when Mokale Koapeng, best known for his choral works was featured. In 2010 the theme of the JIMF was “On Wings of Song”.

Tickets for concerts at the Linder Auditorium and the University of Johannesburg Theatre will be available through Computicket. For other venues, including Northwards House, Villa Arcadia, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and venues in Soweto, please contact 011 447 9264. For more information please visit, and join the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival page on Facebook for regular updates on Festival happenings and competitions.


About moirads

Clergy person, theatre and music lover, avid reader, foodie. Basically, I write about what I do, where I go and things I love (or hate).
This entry was posted in Classical Music, Festivals, Jazz and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Live improvisation at silent movie classic, Metropolis (The Bioscope)

  1. zimske gume says:

    Very interesting topic, thanks for putting up.

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