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Tuesday, February 11, 2014


(Retha Cilliers. Pid by Sophia Welz)

Close friend and colleague Derek Vaughan-Heapy announced that Retha Cilliers had passed away peacefully this morning (February 11) at around 07h00 at her home in Durban. She had been bedridden for several weeks and under treatment for cancer.

Born in 1956, Retha Cilliers had an impressive musical career. She was bassoonist in the Pact Orchestra and then principal at the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic and CEO of the Field Band Foundation, South Africa and South African National Youth Orchestra Foundation faculty member over many years (most recently in 2013).

She completed her BMus degree at the University of Pretoria in 1977 and immediately joined the Pact Orchestra as Principal Bassoon. In 1979, she took time off to study in the Netherlands with John Mostart, Principal Bassoon of the Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest. In 1984, she was offered the Principal Bassoon position in Bilbao, Spain, where she appeared as soloist with the BOS Orquesta Sinfonica de Bilbao on many occasions.

She returned to South Africa at the request of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra as their Principal Bassoon in 1988. She again had the opportunity to play most of the major bassoon concertos with the orchestra. Throughout her 20 years as a professional musician, she always enjoyed teaching and playing chamber music.

In 1997 she changed career direction when she became the Manager of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic. Realising the need to take classical music and orchestral education to the disadvantaged communities, she was instrumental in the development of the education programme at the orchestra, which is still flourishing.

When offered the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Field Band Foundation in 1999, she saw this as an opportunity to work at grassroots level and contribute to the education and development so desperately needed in South Africa.

"Sadly, our beloved Retha Cilliers (CEO Field Band Foundation) lost her battle with cancer this morning,” says the FBF Chairman, Herman Mashaba. “I know you will all join me in mourning the passing of this great South African. At our strategy planning session last weekend, more than 50 Field Band members, board and staff members, donors and partners pledged to redouble their efforts to ensure that thousands more young South Africans can stand on the shoulders of this dedicated philanthropist. May her glorious soul rest in peace as we celebrate a life well lived!"

Details of a memorial service will be announced shortly. Further tributes to follow.