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Friday, February 19, 2010


KZNPO rose splendidly to the occasion in gala concert. (Review by Michael Green)

This was a gala occasion: an all-Beethoven programme featuring a brilliant violin soloist, plus the presentation of a bust of himself to Bongani Tembe, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s long-serving chief executive.

The bronze bust was made by the distinguished Durban sculptor Hannah Lurie and it was commissioned by the Friends of Music organisation, represented at the presentation by its founder and chairman, Dr Vera Dubin. A full house audience in the Durban City Hall, boosted by a generous sprinkling of free tickets, contributed to the generally festive atmosphere.

Bongani Tembe is a worthy recipient of the honour conferred on him. In a social milieu not always conducive to cultural activity, he has sustained public interest in the orchestra and, most important, has been successful in persuading public and private bodies – the government, the city council, the provincial legislature, private companies --- to support the orchestra financially.

He has been able to maintain a consistently high standard of programmes and performers (as witness this very concert), and he has helped spread the word about music to underprivileged communities and especially to young people. He has earned the prolonged applause he was given at this concert.

The proceedings began with a 35-voice Zulu choir singing (presumably Bongani Tembe’s praises) and with speeches paying tribute to Bongani and his wife Linda Bukhosini, who is in charge of the Playhouse. The tributes were carried further in a sumptuous programme printed for this occasion. Bongani himself thanked many people, including his mother and his two brothers, mentioning that the younger of them was attending a symphony concert for the first time.

The concert itself consisted of two lengthy masterpieces by Beethoven: the Violin Concerto in D major and the Symphony No. 7 in A major. Under the baton of the visiting Russian conductor Thomas Sanderling the orchestra rose splendidly to the occasion in these two great works.

The star of the evening was, however, the soloist in the concerto, Benjamin Schmid, who comes from Austria. He had shown earlier in the week, at a Friends of Music recital, that he is a violinist of the first rank. Now he performed the greatest of all violin concertos, and he brought a new dimension to this familiar and well-loved composition. He did not produce any daring or outlandish interpretative tricks. He simply played the music with an eloquence and skill that Beethoven himself would probably have admired.

This was true virtuoso playing, the violinist producing an exquisitely pure tone in the upper register, notably in the first movement, and displaying a wonderful dexterity in the quite robust final movement. The beautiful extended meditations of the violin in the slow movement held the audience spellbound. You could have heard a pin drop, so intense was the attention to the music. At the end Benjamin Schmid was given a tremendous ovation, the reward for a memorable performance.

Will those who received free tickets come again to the orchestra’s concerts? I hope so. They could hardly have had a better introduction to symphonic music. - Michael Green