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Monday, August 13, 2018


(Osmo Vänskä conducting the Minnesota Orchestra. Pic by Greg Helgeson)

Sonic diplomacy. (Review by William Charlton-Perkins)

Sunday’s second leg of the Minnesota Orchestra’s South African concert tour in the Durban City Hall on August 12, 2018, proved something of a triumph. On several levels. As an exercise in international cultural diplomacy, it went off without a hitch, fulfilling its mission as a flag-carrying element of the Mandela Centenary celebrations, emblematic programming a key factor in the operation.

With the Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä at the helm, his compatriot Jean Sibelius’ mesmerising, evocatively elemental symphonic poem En Saga proved an apt curtain-raiser to showcase the 100-strong body of crack American musicians as they handsomely filled the stage of the country’s largest acoustic venue - both physically and sonically - with their well-drilled presence. Silken strings en mass, offsetting the delicate interplay of pristine winds and sonorous swells of timpani and brass, culminating in the work’s famously haunting clarinet solo. Quite lovely.

Harmonia Ubuntu, Bongani Ndodana-Breen’s specially commissioned Mandela tribute piece, melded textual elements drawn from the great man’s words with colourfully orchestrated writing which offered Goitsemang Lehobye’s lyric soprano voice an effective platform to communicate a finely accessible listening experience.

Reservations crept in during the second half. Here the choice of repertoire suggested an embarrass de richesses. The programme opened with another timeous centennial salute – to the great Leonard Bernstein. Seldom can the quick-sliver ebullience of the Overture to the American composer’s deliciously sophisticated, hybrid theatre piece, Candide (written for a Broadway theatre pit) been given such a plush outing as was meted out by the Minnesota players in full force.

As for the Beethoven Fifth, there must have been at least twice as many people on stage, immaculately dispatching its celebrated score in all its glory, than is appropriate to this post classical work, composed in the first decade of the 19th century. Mahler, yes. Beethoven? No. Not for this writer at any rate.

Still, hats off to all concerned, not least the tour’s indefatigable organisers, Classical Movements. - William Charlton-Perkins

NB: The Minnesota Orchestra will reprise this programme in the Aula Theatre, Pretoria, on August 16 at 19h30.