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Monday, July 20, 2009


Classical notes by William Charlton-Perkins

Hats off to pianist Andrew Warburton, conductor Victor Yampolsky and the KZNPO for a memorable performance of Tchaikovsky’s hugely demanding Piano Concerto No 2 last Thursday. Sandwiched between Glazunov’s delicious Valse de Concert and Sibelius’ Symphony No 1, this made for a great climax to the Winter Season in the Durban City Hall. Roll on Madame RenĂ©e Fleming’s much anticipated appearance in this venue with the orchestra on August 27.

Congratulations, too, to 21-year old violinist Avigail Bushakevitz and to 16 year-old Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell, for taking first and second places respectively in the Vodacom-sponsored 2nd Unisa National String Competition in Pretoria last Friday night. Third place went to Cape Town violinist Vicente Espi (22). All three finalists automatically qualify for the 5th Unisa International String Competition in 2010.

Bushakevitz performed Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, Wedderburn-Maxwell the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and Espi Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G minor. All three were accompanied by the festival orchestra under the baton of Arjan Tien

Dot Field, Chief Communications Officer of Vodacom Group, said the performances augur well for the South African contingent in next year’s international string competition. First prize in the competition was R50,000, second prize was R35,000 and third prize was R20,000. Cash prizes were sponsored by Vodacom.

Caroline Smart, who attended the event before heading off Grahamstown to brave the icy winter round-up of theatre and music, sent me these comments: “Vicente Espi played well but didn't create the same sparks the others did. Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell 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 and Avigail 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.

This year’s competition broke new ground by being streamed live on the internet through the website of Radio Today. This is the first time the competition has been streamed live. It was also broadcast live on the Radio Today 1485 AM waveband and the DSTV 169 audio channel, reaching listeners as far afield as Tanzania through the DSTV channel.

The live streaming of the performance follows the trend of many music competitions around the world in which this option is now offered to enable a broad-based international audience to share in the live performance experience. The broadcast will also shortly be available as a podcast on the Radio Today website, Apart from the performances, the live broadcast included on-the-spot interviews with the three violinists, conductor Arjan Tien, and a random selection of members of the audience for their reactions to the concert.

Several special prizes were also awarded for performances in the first three rounds. Pretoria cellist, Jacques-Pierre Malan received three of these prizes for his performances in the first, second and third rounds. He received a total of R12,000 in prize money, sponsored by the James Verwey Memorial Trust and the Desmond Willson Memorial Trust. Fellow Pretoria cellist Pierre du Toit was awarded the R5,000 SAMRO prize for the best performance of a South African cello composition. The special prizes in the violin category were awarded to Avigail Bushakevitz for her first and third round performances, for which she received R8,000. Vicenti Espi was judged the best performance of a Sonata in the second round and received R4,000 from the Desmond Wilson Memorial Trust. Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell received the R5,000 SAMRO prize for the best performance of a South African violin composition.

The Unisa International Music Competitions is a member of the World Federation of International Music Competitions in Geneva. It is the only music competition in Africa to be recognized by the world body and fulfils stringent criteria to do so.

Next year’s Unisa International String Competition in February promises to be a thrilling affair, with no less than three young South African stars in the making competing. – William Charlton-Perkins