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Sunday, June 21, 2015


(Conductor, Carlos Iczaray)

Performance of Dvorak symphony a triumph for conductor and orchestra. (Review by Michael Green)

The cellist Anzel Gerber and the pianist Ben Schoeman played on a Durban platform for the second time in three days when they appeared with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the City Hall.

Earlier in the week these South African musicians had delighted a Friends of Music audience with a varied recital programme. With the KZNPO they gave only the second performance of a concerto for cello and piano by the South African composer Stefans Grove, who died recently aged 92 (the world premiere had been given a week earlier in Cape Town).

This concerto is sub-titled Bushman Prayers. Grove, who is regarded as one of the most important figures in South African music, researched the spoken and musical traditions of the San (Bushmen), the oldest of Southern Africa’s indigenous peoples, when composing this concerto.

Obviously much of it sounds strange to ears attuned to the music of western Europe, but hearing it was nevertheless an absorbing experience, with the impressionistic Prayer to the Moon the most readily accessible part of the work.

The two soloists (to whom the concerto is dedicated) were both excellent¸ and the conductor, Carlos Iczaray, a 37-year-old Venezuelan, guided the orchestra skilfully through this complex work. Barry Carbis narrated the three prayers.

The concert opened with A Johannesburg Overture by Allan Stephenson, who was born in England but has lived in Cape Town since 1973. His substantial musical output includes six geographical compositions, a Cape Town Overture, a Durban, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria overture. The Johannesburg Overture depicts in vivid fashion the bustle of the big city.

The City Hall audience was much smaller than usual. Local music does not pull in the customers, it seems.

The African theme was continued with the fantasy for piano and orchestra called Africa, by Camille Saint-Saens, the Frenchman who liked Northern Africa and spent some time there. It has some exotic themes and rhythms, but Paris seems always to be on the horizon.

The soloist, Ben Schoeman, handled the difficult piano part, rapid runs and double octaves, with aplomb and impeccable technique. An unusual and attractive work, like most of Saint-Saens’s music.

Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G major took us back to old Europe. Written in 1889, it is a splendid work with a continuous flow of melody (much of it based on Bohemian folk music), all of it brilliantly orchestrated.

The performance of this great symphony was a triumph for conductor and orchestra.

Carlos Izcaray, the conductor, has an interesting history. Eleven years ago, when he was the principal cellist of the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra, he was watching a political protest in his home town, Caracas, when he was attacked by the Venezuela National Guard. The protest was against Hugo Chavez, the radical politician who was president of the country until his death two years ago, and whose rule was conspicuous for intolerance, crime and corruption.

Izcaray was arrested, thrown into a police van, hit on the head, had a pistol put in his mouth, was given electric shocks, and was tear-gassed. He was eventually released and warned not to complain.

He believes that music was the therapy that restored him after this horrifying experience. Not surprisingly, he feels strongly about human rights. He has built a conducting career in the United States and Europe. He recently organised a Concert for Peace and Liberty in Berlin, where he has been living, and he is now moving with his wife and two daughters to Birmingham, Alabama, to become conductor of the orchestra there. - Michael Green