VERDI REQUIEM – SO THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED!

By Nadia Essop (October 27, 2010)

 It’s Wednesday evening. After 3 hours of rehearsal with the orchestra, soloists, and combined choirs, my spirits are in need of a lift. I cannot move beyond the question: What am I doing here?

 The Cape Town City Hall’s labyrinth of passages and spaces have a faded aura. The resident phantoms could add cachet to the scenario, but other than blocking the toilets, they too seem ready to abandon the cause. Perhaps Le Fantôme senses the prevailing mindset seeping through the cracks: apathy, and the celebration of mediocrity.

I am aware of the musical pecking order I have volunteered myself into. First there is the conductor, in this case visiting Muscovite, maestro Victor Yampolsky. The conductor, also known as the musical director, is permitted (and forgiven) everything! He is forgiven for wearing red sneakers with pink socks (wow!), he is allowed to lose his temper, or throw a tantrum if he wants to. It is best to stay on the good side of the conductor. Laugh at his jokes – it’s the right thing to do. More importantly, do exactly as he instructs. Capiche?

Onto the matter of envy, also known as The Soloists. Let me elucidate.  When, on the night of the concert, the chorister next to you mutters in trembling whispers, “such precision, what resonance,” or anything in that vein – don’t be fooled. What he/she really means is: “That should’ve been me in the spotlight!” Hold on to your colleague, and offer your support. This rare strain of envy (known as soprano envy, tenor envy, and so forth) can be cured by taking a cold shower, the cure lasting until the following concert.

Then there’s the orchestra, with their expressive objects of enormous physical beauty. Violins and double basses, flutes and clarinets, drums and cymbals strive towards the perfection of sound through blowing, vibrating, plucking, striking. But above this heavenly sound, and underlined by the expression on their faces, is a taunting tune we all remember from our childhood: “neh, neh-neh, neh neh… We get paid and you don’t!”  Aah, never mind. Reprieve lies in the seating arrangement of the choir on stage, behind and above the orchestra, a great vantage point. The choir knows whose hairlines are thinning, who hides trashy novels behind their musical scores, who recycles their chewing gum. Neh neh-neh, neh, neh. But let’s not harp on the matter.

Individuals join choirs for  various reasons, be it social, emotional, or spiritual. A diverse choir therefore crosses generations, cultures and religions. Yet, the task at hand demands the choir pull together as a team, to sing with a collective online casino voice that flows from regular practice, selflessness, and good leadership.

The Symphony Choir of Cape Town (SCCT), and the Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town (PCCT) have rehearsed separately for months, each with their respective conductor. Our own, Alex Fokkens, did what it took to steer us from note-bashing to fine-tuning. The result is a symphony choir with a harmonious sound.

Then to the task of joining the choirs, in preparation for two collaborative concerts. After a few joint rehearsals, the idiosyncrasies of the two choirs become apparent, and the little tensions palpable. For the admirable discipline of the Philharmonia, the Symphony has heart. For the gentle instruction they covet, we are used to, ehr… Let’s call it passion!

On Thursday evening we gather in the wings to warm up for our first performance. I hardly recognise my fellow choristers, polished like new brass trumpets.  Applause erupts when visiting conductor, Victor Yampolsky, walks on stage. But, before we surrender to the depths of Verdi’s Requiem, some Symphony Choir members lament the absence of our own conductor, Alex Fokkens. It does feel odd: this is the culmination of months of jolly hard work… Also his jolly hard work.

I emerge from the first performance exhilarated, and desperate for ice-cream, but the sold-out audience translates into a traffic jam. Stuck and with nothing to do but wait, my mind wanders: should the success (or failure) of buy non prescription viagra online a classical music concert be measured in numbers: by the size of the audience, and the size of the profit? Did the audience come to hear the genius of Verdi, or to see an exotic foreign conductor in action? The traffic crawls along and I give up on the ice-cream. The realities and politics of creativity have long tentacles.

It’s Sunday afternoon, the second and final performance. I recognise several faces in the audience: artists, teachers, writers, family… Every seat in the concert hall is filled, and some patrons sit in the aisles. The atmosphere brims with expectation. There’s an announcement: it’s Victor Yampolsky’s birthday!  Oohs, aahs and applause follow as he walks on stage. Before we know it he’s taking the final bow, and it’s all over.

Nearly everyone is content. The chairman of the Symphony Choir is smiling, as is the secretary – a good sign. The atmosphere at the party is festive, as the choirs, orchestra and soloists sing ‘Happy birthday dear maestro’. I regret not buying him a present, perhaps some colourful socks for his journey home? In spite of the jovial mood, snatches of conversation have a more serious tone, such as ‘the reality of the situation…’, ‘financially viable…’, and ‘to ensure repeated success…’ Everyone has a strong opinion to express, usually at the same time as everyone else.

My ten year old son is waiting at home, and I cannot delay the inevitable post-mortem.

“Best concert ever,” he says, “and it wasn’t boring!”

I throw in a question to check whether he’d really listened, “which was your favourite part?”

“The one where you went to battle,” he replies.

The boy deserves 45 minutes extra Playstation time.

“What will you sing next?” he asks as he runs off.

Good question. We must conceive fresh ways of presenting the music…

I’m tired. My feeble attempts at PR settles on an easy target, the public face of the Symphony Choir, our own conductor – Alex Fokkens. How about a PR make-over? A make-over could transform our local musical talent, into an exotic musical talent. How about a ponytail, and a foreign sounding name! Say this out loud, with a heavy accent, go on – maestro Aleksandr Fokkensky. Is this what’s needed to affect perceptions?

It’s late at night and I can’t sleep. My heart is beating fast, and I promise it’s not a panic attack – it’s a happy singing thing.

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