MOZART AND THE SPACES IN-BETWEEN
By Nadia Essop
Tonight was concert night, our performance ended hours ago. The music had been rehearsed and performed, the scores and instruments have been packed away, and soon the warm applause from the audience will fade into warm memory.
I remember exactly how our musical director revealed the latest challenge to the choir: ‘This is it, this is perfection!’ We would be performing Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. During the weeks of preparation that followed, our choir master used (what would become) a ubiquitous vocabulary of words and phrases, such as: out of this world, simple yet powerful, one long line, must flow, like elastic, the heartbeat, on one breath, the pulse, purity, and don’t breathe! Of these, my favourite became the spaces, space. Pencil scribbles on my music score can attest to this. I’ve come to understand that space is not the same as pause, nor linger, dawdle or stop. Space –where required, and while never letting go of the rhythm- would elevate the piece, would make it breathe and live. It was this dance between space and rhythm that enthralled me.
I visited Vienna many years ago, and while there I squashed as much as possible into my stay. I saw Lipizzaner horses perform, visited Schönbrun Palace and the Art Nouveau marvels of Otto Wagner, I walked along wide boulevards, and in the footsteps of Beethoven and Strauss. One of my rambles led me to the St. Marc Cemetery where Mozart was presumably buried, unceremoniously as it were, in a mass grave. As luck would have it, I arrived just as a busload of tourists was making their way to Mozart’s grave. I resigned myself to a bench, and waited my turn. The group converged around the grave, a rectangle of green grass with potted flowers, a few candles, at one end a pillar with an angel leaning against it. The tourists laughed, posed for photographs, and returned to their coach. But two figures lingered, a young woman and her child. The woman picked a flower from a nearby shrub. She drew her son close and explained something to him; I wasn’t close enough to hear. They stood quietly for a few minutes. She handed him the flower. He laid it on the grave.
That was 17 years ago. Of all the wondrous sights, sounds and rhythms of Vienna, this is the memory that endures in vivid detail – one small gesture, a small space. (And yes, they were still on time for the bus!)
In the small of night, I take inventory of what remains after our performance of the Mozart Mass. Choir, soloists, orchestra and conductor created space in which to feel, space in which to lose oneself, space in which to wander freely outside the confines of ourselves, our lives, our cultures. Together we created space in which to traverse the spaces which separate us from one another, in which to connect with our communality – our humanity.
All the ubiquitous words our choir master used were significant: one long line flows, a heartbeat, a pulse out of this world, powerful, yet so simple, don’t breathe. Don’t breathe! This is it! A pure heartbeat flows, on one long breath, out of this world.
*The performance of Mozart’s Mass in C by the Symphony Choir of Cape Town, was dedicated to the life and memory of Maike, daughter of our fellow chorister, Carine Fortsch*
13 October 2012
Now that the ‘Star’dust of our Frostiana performance is settling, and all the notes, like The Pasture’s fallen leaves, have been happily raked up, and the temperature of concert night (centigrade or fahrenheit – take your pick) has cooled down, it seems opportune in the loveliness of the afterglow, to focus appreciatively on one star in our glittering constellation that did not shine with us on stage on Tuesday night: MARGARET FOXCROFT!
It is so easy to take an accompanist for granted – and all the more so if that accompanist is a accomplished a musician and as professionally talented as Margaret is. Yet, without Margaret I shudder to think how most of our 50 singers would even begin to ‘get’ their notes, let alone, by painstaking repetition, secure them in their minds. And, without someone who excercises a great degree of stolid patience, rehearsals could be fraught with ternsions and tirades. Margaret is the epitome of patience. Many will be familiar with the oft-quoted words of St. Paul – “Love is patient..”. It is precisely because Margaret loves that she has such a wonderful well-spring of patience – a love for the music, and a love for the music-makers!
To all of us it is evident that Margaret is one with the very essence and spirit of music rooted in every fibre of her being. She has the calm and outwardly peaceful and serene demeanour of a pesron aware of the spiriitual cost of being creative with such a diversity of singers, and the true accompanist’s sensitivity to the conductor’s interpretive approach to whatever is being sung. It is indeed a privilege to experience Margaret playing all four parts at the same time, creating that essential sense of at-one-ness in the body of singers, and at the same time totally at-one with the intentions of the choir-master Alexander – her husband!
I get the feeling that (as in Robert Frost’s The Pasture) in undertaking the training of the Symphony Choir of Cape Town, at the very outset some years ago, Alexander sang softly to her -
“I’m going out to train the Symphony Choir of Cape Town – YOU COME TOO!” And she did!
HARRY WIGGETT 17.05.’12
A WORD ABOUT OUR CONDUCTOR
We members of the Symphony Choir of Cape Town have had the privilege of being under the direction of Alexander Fokkens for the past six (?) years. During that time we have seen the maturing of a gifted young musician into a conductor of the finest calibre. His initial youthful impatience and frustration with singers, some of whom were not committed to practising their notes at home between rehearsals, or others who felt they had sung some of the works at previous concerts and therefore had no need to work afresh at the notes, I personally found understandable. It has been quite remarkable to witness and experience how the professional Alexander has faced these unneccesary time-consuming challenges, and, how he has come to handle these frustrations with a sensitivity towards the choir as a whole, is laudable.
During the choir’s final rehearsals for both Carmina Burana in Octoober 2011 and now Frostiana, we have had the joy of witnessing Alexander at work with the UCT Wind Band – a group of +/-50 studenst at the UCT College of Music who have accompanied us in these works.His painstaking way of enabling each instrumentalist to tune his or her instrument to perfect pitch is fascinating to observe. His empathy as a person together with these young musicians, at one with them in their quest for the making of the music, is evident in the very way he coaxes them to achieve the sounds he is wishing for, tempering his occasional admonishings with sparkling bursts of humour.
Music is not only of instruments and sounds and synchronicity with the complexities of a score, but it is deeply of the human soul, of the spirit. It is of the heart, of the rhythm of the heart-beat, the rhythm of all life. We all need to belong, to feel an inner spiritual connectedness with the other, to sense a harmonising of lives, enahancing our wellbeing and wholeness as individuals in community. Music involves the performer and the listener in a connectedness that fathoms our human withinness. And therein lies the secret of Alexander’s effectiveness as a conductor. He has an innate awareness of what music is about in the grreater scheme of being alive. Therefore the intensity and integrity of his way of training and rehearsing a choir and instrumntalists towards achieving a performance that creates community, creates belonging…..indeed, manifests love.
It is a huge privilege to belong to a choir under such inspired leadership. Hopefully our public performances will inspire others to join.
I can’t quite explain it, but there always seems to be a vibe in the buzz when performers and audience start arriving for a concert that signals: We’re in for something special!
And last night in St. John’s Church, Wynberg it was just so. The concert began with Handel’s rousing Zadok the Priest, Alexander energising his musicians and singers into an immediate unity of spirit and intent, the resulting performance stunning the audinece into a burst of jubillant appreciation.
Organist Richard Haigh displayed his skills admirably on the St.John’s organ with a confidently pleasing rendering of Karg-Elert’s Nun Danket Alle Gott…….. which was followed by him accompanying the choir in Randall Thompson’s beautiful Choose Something Like A Star from Frostiana.
After the interval Alexander conducted the Rutter Requiem with a deep sensitivity, maintaining a total connectedness to each department of the choir, as well as the members of the small chamber orchestra and organist Richard Haigh and soloist Beverley Chiat. It was a most satisfying experience and St John’s proved to be an excellent venue.
It was quite evident, to me at any rate, that Alexander held this work in his heart and not only in his interpretive mind or by the reins of his impressive musical ability. His spirit of prayerfulness embraced not only the performers but also the audience resulting in what I could only describe as a most enriching and satisfying worshipful experience. As the applause finally subsided one was aware of a deep inner joy welling up in all who were there, performers and audience alike. It all seemed of the heart, from the heart, to the heart.
And, what more could any composer ask of his work?
FOR THE LOVE OF MUSIC
By Nadia Essop
Miss Pretty Yende won the World Opera Competition, Operalia 2011. Operalia is an annual event that attracts hundreds of hopefuls from across the world. The soprano triumphed in 3 categories! Pretty Yende is a South African – she is of Zulu ancestry.
One may wonder what the colour of her skin, her small town roots, or her cultural heritage have to do with her credibility as an opera singer. Nothing… Except perhaps, as reason to pause and reflect on our South African musical past. During Apartheid it was undoubtedly a different experience for gifted young singers, as well as for members of the audience.
My mother loves to reminisce about the ‘good old days’, how she would endure the 60 km expedition from Paarl to Cape Town, to attend the opera. The train journey would involve a segregated ticket office, a segregated pedestrian bridge, and separate carriages according to the colour of one’s skin. She would sit in the gallery of the Cape TownCity Hall, mesmerised by the music, the sets, and the unfolding drama. But her reminiscence invariably concludes with the same recollection: how, at the end of a performance, she was approached by a stranger, who was astounded that someone like herself – a person from a different culture and race – could appreciate classical music. All these years later, she still mutters and shakes her head in disbelief.
When my mother was young, classical music and musical instruments were considered a status symbol, a privilege which few people from our side of town could afford. But our community was not bereft of musical talent. I recently went to visit the retired tenor, Mr Gerald Samaai, at his home in thePaarlValley. His wife, Serena, hauled out albums bulging with photographs and newspaper cuttings. We were ready for a saunter down memory lane.
As a young man, Gerald Samaai went toJohannesburgto pursue studies towards a teachers diploma – a sensible career choice. But fate had other plans. Music teacher Stenck Grijzenhout was walking past the dorm one morning, when he heard singing emanate from the showers. He offered Gerald Samaai singing lessons.
It was 1959, the Apartheid era. Being talented and passionate about singing was not enough. As a coloured opera singer, the pursuit of his dream would involve an obstacle course of discriminatory laws. Even so, Gerald Samaai embraced his vocal training.
Once back in theCape, he joined a cultural organization based in District Six, the Eoan group. He would travel from Paarl toCape Townfor rehearsals, usually after work or over weekends. Nobody was compensated for travelling expenses, and neither were they paid for performances. Referring to the Eoan membership fee, he chuckles, “we were the only singers who had to pay to sing!”
Furthermore, few venues were available to them because of Apartheid policies governing group areas, freedom of movement, and the mingling of the races. They often staged productions at theCape TownCity Hall, a barrier segregating the audience. But there’s no trace of self-pity, “ Dr Joseph Manca, our musical director, and Alessandro Rota, our vocal trainer, urged us to get ready, to push harder. We did not refer to themselves as ‘coloured singers’, rather as ‘excellent singers’”.
Both Joseph Manca and Alessandro Rota were of Italian descent, and at times the singers costumes were made inItaly, and sent toSouth Africain time for their performance.
Emerging artists of any era have a difficult time launching their careers, and talent is hardly enough to guarantee success. But the obstacles facing artists during Apartheid must have been disheartening. During its 79 year existence the Eoan group has had to navigate the ever-changing political landscape and its challenges, as well as how Eoan is perceived and received by the community they had set out to serve.
When asked why he persevered, Gerald Samaai replies, “for the love of music.” His diligence bore fruit, and he performed all overSouth Africa: Verdi’s La Traviata, Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, Verdi’s Rigoletto. He sang his way toAberdeenandLondon, and he always flew home again, to Paarl.
Although much is left to be desired – such as adequate state funding for the arts -South Africahas changed, we have come a long way. Pretty Yende’s costumes are probably also sewn inItaly – she is currently a resident singer at La Scala Opera inMilan,Italy. In a world of possibilities one wonders, whether in time, she too will fly home again toSouth Africa.
11 January 2012