I have attended most of the concerts in each of the last five or six Johannesburg International Mozart Festivals (JIMF). I have enjoyed them all immensely. They started off on a very high base and improve each year. Each year there is a theme. This year the theme is “Masquerade”. The introduction, four years ago now, of silent movies with live accompaniment by Paul Hanmer (the year the theme was “Improvisation” and Paul Hanmer was the composer-in-residence) has always been one of the highlights for me. These concerts are hosted at The Bioscope, Johannesburg’s only independent movie house. This year there were two movies, the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, and the 1929 The Man with the Iron Mask. The latter didn’t work as well for me because it was a talkie with the sound suppressed which made it relatively difficult to follow the nuances within the plot. The Phantom of the Opera, however, was absolutely magnificent. Played by Paul Hanmer (keyboards) and Mro Fox (sax and flute) this was spine chilling. The original movie is much darker than the story we know today.
The opening concert on the 27th January (the anniversary of Mozart’s birthday) saw a vocal work, Mass for Choir, by Peter Klatzow together with Mozart’s Requiem with the Chanticleer Singers and The Chamber Singers and the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra under the baton of Richard Cock, the Festival’s Executive Director.
There were a series of chamber music concerts, mostly at the beautiful Northwards venue on the Parktown Ridge overlooking the highway, but also at a new venue for the festival, the St Francis Anglican Church in Parkview, where Florian Uhlig, the Artistic Director for the Festival, played a solo piano recital. I was not at most of these because I was not well enough to attend, and I deeply regret having to miss so many of them. The ones that I did catch were the Carnivale di Venezia concert sponsored by the Italian Institute of Culture which was performed in period costume and was absolute enchanting, and the concert sponsored by the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) featuring the French oboeist, Celine Moinet and Florian Uhlig on piano. That was also spine tinglingly wonderful with absolutely astonishing virtuosity by Celine Moinet. Peter Klatzow composed a work entitled Masks for piano and oboe for the festival and this was the world premiere. It, like all other Klatzow’s recent works, is charmingly accessible.
On Friday 6 February we got to hear James Galway and his wife playing the flute at a sold-out concert at the Linder Auditorium. South Africans will turn out en masse for international music stars like Sir James Galway. He certainly didn’t disappoint his audience, delivering some magnificent playing. His first solo encore, Danny Boy, gave me gooseflesh. Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne Galway played their first encore duet in the form of an arrangement of Mozart’s Rondo alla turca from Piano Sonata No 11. The orchetra for this concerts was an ensemble from Zurich together with selected players from the South African National Youth Orchestra. I was so proud of our young people who aquitted themelves admirably.
Rosemary Nalden runs one of the world’s ten top most inpirational orchetra – Buskaid. These young people are taught by Rosemary Nalden and her team and they play exquisitely. Melvyn Tan played Mozart’s 12th piano concerto with Buskaid and I loved it. The young people ended with some kwela music. Melvyn Tan also played a solo recital of classical and romantic works for the Johannesburg Musical Society (JMS), Johannesburg’s oldest society. The JIMF work with other groups who have standard concerts during the time specifically to avoid splitting the audiences for these events. Every second year they face the additional challenge of the UNISA International Competition, and in 2016 this will again be a piano competition and the audiences will be in Pretoria listening to the third and fourth rounds of the Piano Competition. It seems to be a new tradition that the winner of this competition performs a solo concert for the Johannesburg International Music Competition the night after winning. This introduces him or her to the Johannesburg audiences ahead of the South African tour they also get as part of their prize. Melvyn Tan played the opening Mozart work, Variations on a Theme by M Duport, K573, so wonderfully that not even the sternest critic could find fault with it.
The JIMF finale saw Klatzow’s Lightscapes for Marimba and Five Instruments as well as his choral work All People Become Spirit People When They Die , based on a poem about the San people (or “Bushmen” as they apparently prefer to be known despite it no longer being politically correct to refer to them as “Bushmen”). I didn’t enjoy the visual presentation which was added to the Lightscapes as I found it distracting to the actual music. The other two pieces for this concert were Beethoven’s Fantasy in C minor (for choir, piano and orchestra) and a work by performance artist Anthea Moyes. I loved the latter piece and was quite surprised to find that many other people did not. The premise is that a conductor conducts a group of dancers to a choreographed work to a piece of music which the dancers don’t hear. Later it is repeated with the music. I heard words like “paternalistic”, “colonial” and “African”, none of which I imagined when I watched the dance either silently or to the Overture of Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart. Florian Uhlig announced at the Festival finale that Alla Turca would be the theme of next year’s festival, so take out your harem pants, jingly coin belts and belly button rubies and polish them up for 2016’s JIMF. If each year gets better then next year is bound to extraordinarily wonderful for this year’s programme and concerts were stupendous. Well done to Richard Cock and Florian Uhlig and the Festival team!