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Saturday, May 23, 2015


(The Bernard Woma Ensemble)

Programme introduced the most unusual soloists heard here for a long time. (Review by Michael Green)

The sounds of Africa came to the Durban City Hall in the first concert of the winter season of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

The programme was designed partly to mark Africa Day, the anniversary of the founding of the African Union, and it introduced the most unusual soloists heard here for a long time.

The Bernard Woma ensemble is a small group of musicians from Ghana. Playing traditional instruments they have attained notable recognition in the United States and Europe. Here in Durban they played two concertos, music by Bernard Woma, arranged by David Rogers to be played with a full orchestra. David Rogers is an American who lived in Ghana for many years.

The instruments involved were indigenous xylophones mounted on a framework of gourds plus hand drums and gourds that are shaken. Bernard Woma is a virtuoso with this equipment, xylophone hammers flying at high speed while he simultaneously sings and shouts. He was supported by Mark Stone, who added finger-clicking to the performance.

The orchestra gave discreet accompaniment to all this, and the total effect was exciting and novel. The melodies were rudimentary and repetitive, but the rhythms were compelling, to put it mildly.  The audience were highly responsive and showed it with whistling and shouts of approval at the end of each concerto.

The conductor of the evening was Bernhard Gueller, the distinguished German musician who has performed in many parts of the world. He and the orchestra showed their power and authority in the opening and closing items of the programme, four of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances based on West Side Story.

In the Dvorak music in particular the big orchestra, about 75 players, produced a really big sound, impressive and thrilling. - Michael Green