Stories from the Choir
Stories from the Choir
Stories from the Choir
DREAMS COME TRUE
On Sunday, 19th May – the Feast of Pentecost – the day of our final rehearsal before the performance of the Beethoven Symphony No.9 (the Choral) – I heard these words read in St. Margaret’s Church, Fish Hoek where Jean (my wife) and I worship:
“…and your old men shall dream dreams…”(Acts 2.17)
But, its not only old men who dream dreams, it is also young men who dream them! And one of my dreams of some sixty years ago (which has been a recurring dream through the course of these past sixty years) was to sing in a performance of the Beethoven 9th Symphony.
Looking back now to those far-off days when I was a matric pupil at SACS, which was then still at the top of Queen Victoria Street in Cape Town, I remember being introduced to the works of Beethoven by the late Dr. H. Freund, who was president of the school’s Music Society. As a result of which, with adolescent ardour, I wrote this poem (in 1954!):
My spirit soars above the clouds where dwells
In peace the soul of Music’s golden notes:
Creator of concertos; in the world
Of symphonies most brilliant and sublime;
Whose life on earth was tempered with distress
And poverty – now free from pain and want:
Not robbed of music’s notes, deafness despite;
Who had but few to love and call his own.
Oh tranquil shade! Triumphant paths thy works
And toils have made in Music’s wonderland.
Thy brilliant streams of rushing notes and chords
Have irrigated many mortal minds
And made men marvel, gasp, and even weep.
And so it was with almost heart-stopping joy that I heard Alexander announce the possibility of the Symphony Choir joining forces with the UCT Symphony Orchestra and Opera Chorus and soloists in a performance of the Beethoven 9th Symphony.
From the moment of our first rehearsing under the masterful musicianship of our conductor Alexander, and Margaret, his and our accomplished accompanist, it has all been a dream come true. And a huge part of the glory has been the opportunity of working so creatively along with the youthful members of the UCT Opera School under their charismatic director, Professor Kamal Khan. And with members of the UCT Symphony Orchestra under our own Maestro Alexander.
Hence the incredible thrill as the bass soloist – Thato Machona – bursts forth with the opening words – ‘O Freunde’ ‘O Friends’ Glancing around at the gathered singers and instrumentalists there was an amazing sense of belonging….of the togetherness of friends, bonded by the blessed beauty of Beethoven. Added to my dreamings has been to sing under the baton of Maestro Bernard Gueller. I couldn’t believe my ears when it was told that he would be conducting the symphony, and, in the City Hall! For many years Jean and I have revelled in the superb musicianship of Maestro Gueller, having attended the orchestral rehearsals and concerts in the Ciity Hall when he directed the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. And so, another dream come true on Monday night when the Symphony was performed before a large and happily appreciative audience in the City Hall!
At one point in the symphony we sing: ‘Ahnest du den Schoepfer, Welt?’ ‘Do you sense the Creator’s presence, World?’ The answer bursting forth from my heart was a resounding YES!! And there were many hearts that night full of gratitude for all involved in this deeply spiritual experience; and, as members of the Symphony Choir of Cape Town, especially to Alexander for his vision and adventurousness in forging opportunities for us to perform such glorious works as the Beethoven Ninth Symphony with members of the UCT Music Department.
HARRY WIGGETT Fish Hoek 22 May 2013
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?