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Sunday, July 5, 2009


My first day at the 2009 National Arts Festival. (Report by Caroline Smart)

I only got to the 2009 National Arts Festival today (July 4) which is the festival’s third day, having been opened officially on Thursday.

I came to Grahamstown from Durban via Pretoria (doesn’t everyone?), the reason being that I needed to cover the 2nd Unisa National String Competition in which Durban’s own Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell was appearing as one of the three finalists.

The finalists were a young man called Vicente Espi (who played well but didn't create the same sparks the others did), Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell who was stunning, every note perfectly placed, and we all thought she'd win ... until Avigail Bushakevitz picked up her bow and played the first few phrases of the Sibelius and then we knew there was no contest.

It’s a disappointment for Jacqueline and for Durban but I am sure she will win it in time to come. However, those extra five years in age between her 16 and Avigail's 21 clearly showed in maturity, physical strength and capacity to draw on emotion.

All kudos to Dr Vera Dubin and the Friends of Music for raising R140,000 earlier in Avigail’s career to support her talent. This money included transport to Cape Town for weekly music lessons with Professor Jack de Wet who really shaped her career.

Here in Grahamstown, this year’s festival programme is extremely impressive and is well set out. Ok, it weighs a ton but then there’s a packed line-up for this anniversary festival.

Good to see ClassicFeel having a major presence at the festival this year. I write a monthly KZN column for this prestigious publication as well as providing the occasional stories along with my colleague William Charlton-Perkins who proves that classical music is alive and well in Durban! This month’s issue carries a story by me about Stef’s Table in Schoemansville near Hartbeestport Dam. Well worth a visit if you live in the Gauteng/Pretoria area.

I’ve been watching the weather forecast very closely and it does look as if the festival will be blessed with fairly good weather but you never know when the unexpected gets thrown into the mix. However, despite an earlier sneaky wind, this evening was comparatively warm with a lovely moonlit sky as we waited outside the venue to see Dada Masilo’s eagerly-awaited Carmen. Eagerly awaited because anyone who had seen her Romeo and Juliet last year was dying to see if she could pull off another stunning production.

We needn’t have worried. She’s cracked another hit. Carmen pulsates with passion, desire, jealousy, flirtatiousness and poignancy and there is a seriously hectic fight scene where Dada (Carmen) and Gustin Makgeledisa (José) don’t pull any punches when Don Jose rapes Carmen. (See review to follow shortly) – Caroline Smart