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Thursday, May 11, 2023



(Above: Maria du Toit)

William Charlton-Perkins writes a regular feature for the media titled Classical Notes. This one is titled Clarinet bonanza.

Music-lovers can look forward to a feast of fine music this month. South African born musician Maria du Toit, widely acclaimed as one of her generation’s leading clarinettists, is set to embark on a national tour of her home country, teaming up with the celebrated Dutch pianist, Vera Kooper.

Having been the solo principal clarinettist of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra for 13 years, Ms du Toit currently lives in the Netherlands where she is pursuing a solo and chamber music career. Critics have described her playing as ‘sensational’ and ‘astonishing’, and often compliment her flawless intonation, baffling technique, and mellifluous tone.

Du Toit has won numerous competitions, awards, and prizes both in her home country and abroad - including first prize in the international clarinet competition ’Jeunesses Musicales’ in Bucharest. A graduate of the University of Stellenbosch with a bachelor’s degree in solo clarinet playing cum laude, she gained a performer’s licentiate from the University of South Africa with highest honours. She subsequently studied in the USA, Netherlands, and Bulgaria. She served as clarinet lecturer on the faculty of the University of Stellenbosch for well over a decade, and has also given lectures, master classes and workshops at home and abroad.

As a performer, du Toit can be heard as soloist and chamber musician on stages across Europe, the USA, and in South Africa. She has released three albums and received a South African Music Award nomination for her album Luminous Shade. Her double cd of the complete clarinet concerti by Louis Spohr with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Arjan Tien has received numerous rave reviews. Her artistry has inspired composers to dedicate clarinet works to her, including two concerti - by composers David Earl and Roelof Temmingh.

(Left: Vera Kooper)

Maria will give the world première of Roelof Temmingh’s concerto in Johannesburg next month, with a follow-up performance in Durban. She is also set to perform the concerto by David Earl with the Fort Collins Symphony (USA) during the 50th anniversary of the annual international event ClarinetFest, to which she has been invited to appear as headline artist. Maria du Toit is an official Backun artist as well as a Silverstein Inspiring Pro.

The multi award winning Dutch pianist Vera Kooper is one of her country’s most acclaimed young musicians. With a hugely impressive musical ‘pedigree’ spanning studies with leading pedagogues from around the world, she received coaching and musical advice from the legendary American pianist Stephen Kovacevich in London. In 2007 and 2008, she was awarded top prizes at the Prinses Christina Concours in the Netherlands, both as a soloist and with her duo partner violinist Emmy Storms. These successes resulted in many concert engagements in the Netherlands and abroad. As a founding member of the renowned Delta Piano Trio, she has toured the world.

Highlights of the past seasons include a performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Basel Chamber Orchestra, residencies at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival and the Davos Festival, a collaboration with violist Nobuko Imai. In 2020, Vera released her first solo CD, called Hope, with works by Beethoven and Corigliano. She toured the Netherlands with TV-presenter Floris Kortie and Het jaar 250 na Beethoven, a theatre production about the life and piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven.

She/Her tour itinerary

The itinerary for artists’ tour, titled She/Her’, is as follows: 13/05 Classics for All (Greyton); 14/05 Mother's Day concert, Overstrand Arts/Kunste, Hermanus; 17/05 Clarinet & Piano Day - Hugo Lambrechts Music Centre, Parow; 18/05 Master Classes, University of Stellenbosch; 19/05 Endler Concert Series, Stellenbosch; 21/05 Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria; 23/05 Master classes & lunch hour concert, University of Pretoria; 26/05 University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; 27/05 Outreach concert & workshops, Melodi Music Centre, Soweto; 28/05 Northwards House, Johannesburg. In addition, Maria du Toit will appear as soloist with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra on June 22, premiering the Roelof Temmingh Clarinet Concerto at the Linde Auditorium in Parktown.

She will reprise this the following week in Durban, performing the work with the KZN Philharmonic at the Playhouse on June 29.


Below is my interview with Maria du Toit, conducted via email:

WCP 1: How old were you when you started studying clarinet, and do you remember what it was that attracted you to the instrument?

MDT 1: I was 14 years old when I started playing the clarinet. At that time, I had already been taking piano lessons for five or six years. I wanted to learn another instrument and was naturally attracted to wind instruments. A few years earlier, I was put into the recorder ensemble of my school because they needed someone to complete a quartet, and I learnt the instrument very easily without even having lessons. So, when I decided to learn a second instrument, woodwinds just came naturally, and I was drawn to the beautifully rich, warm tone of the clarinet.

WCP 2: Do you recall having any special favourites among famous clarinettists who were role models for you during your early years?

MDT 2: In the very early years I must admit that I did not spend a great deal of time listening to recordings - but in my defence, this was before the internet and cd's were only just starting to become common - my parents still used cassettes and lp's, and they didn't own any recordings of clarinettists. When I got to Stellenbosch University, this changed of course, as there was a whole library with recordings. I listened to many, and some favourites were German players like Sabine Meyer and Karl Leister.

WCP 3: It is interesting to note an historic pattern repeating itself among composers and their muses, where a famous composer embraced the clarinet by creating music especially for the instrument, inspired by a contemporary virtuoso. One thinks immediately of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Anton Stadler. Then there was Carl Maria von Weber who wrote his wonderful bravura pieces for Heinrich Bärmann. And Johannes Brahms’s clarinet muse was Richard Mühlfeld. In a South African context, you have been the source of inspiration for two concerti by contemporary composers, David Earl, and the late Roelof Temmingh, whose concerto you will premiere in Johannesburg and Durban next month. The latter dedicated his piece to you, having been wowed by your extraordinary talent during your early musical development. How old were you at the time, did you engage creatively with the composer during its genesis, and have you any other memories to share?

MDT 3:  Both Earl and Temmingh dedicated their clarinet concerti to me and in both cases, it was totally unexpected and of course an incredible honour! Temmingh's concerto was written in 2009 and revised in 2011. I was already an adult then. But I did know him from my teenage years, when he sometimes conducted the school choir I sang in (his wife at the time, Zorada, was our choirmaster). And when I got to University, he was my aural training and music theory lecturer (1996-1999). I wouldn't say that we had any kind of special/close relationship, I was just one of the students in his class. So, it was a huge surprise that he wrote for me many years later, after not having contact for some years. I was not part of his creative process at all, the music is all Roelof Temmingh! It's a very special work with a lot of darkness and human emotion, but also a good dose of humour and light-heartedness. The premiere will be in Johannesburg on June 22nd, the following week (29/06) it will be performed in Durban.

WCP 4: It is a global phenomenon that women are taking their place more and more on the world’s concert platforms, both as conductors, as well as soloists. Has this momentum played an inspirational part in your initiative to seek out and perform music created solely by women, as is evidenced by your forthcoming SA tour?

MDT 4: I think it definitely played some part, even if subconsciously. The whole idea of this programme was born from the Suite by Ivy Priaulx Rainier (a South African - British composer) that I really wanted to play. When I started working on it and thinking about what other pieces I could programme it with, I was curious to know if there were more female composers who wrote for clarinet and piano. So, I started searching. I discovered quite a few but noticed that most of these works are virtually unknown - especially those from previous centuries. The fact that there was beautiful music by composers that almost no-one has even heard of, put me on a mission to make sure these composers won't be forgotten!

WCP 5: Do you commission works for your performance from contemporary composers? If so, please give details if possible.

MDT 5: I have not commissioned anything for clarinet solo or clarinet and piano yet, but I have worked with Arthur Feder to compose new pieces and make some arrangements for my reed quintet.


William Charlton-Perkins

May 11, 2023