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South African Orchestra Triumphs

South African Orchestra Triumphs

Artists across South Africa are putting increasing pressure on Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa to resign. The National Arts Council is at the center of the debacle, with many artists claiming that it missed the deadline to pay Covid-19 relief funds, which was intended to assist struggling performers to survive the national lockdown. The council set itself a deadline for the 31st of March 2021, which they then promptly missed.  Two officials have also been suspended pending an investigation into the mismanagement of relief funds.

“So they’re channeling the money out that’s supposed to go to artists that’s going where? That’s the question. Where is this money going? What’s their job? What should they be doing differently? Their jobs. They should be doing their jobs not making a mess because this is a mess.”

Celebrated South African soprano Sibongile Mngoma, is now spearheading a month-long sit-in at the council’s offices in Newtown, Johannesburg.

“It’s open season because everyone can mess around with the artist because there’s no regulation, there’s no policy… even the policies that have been put on their table, they are still not signing off on that. I think they’re afraid of what would happen if artists were given their proper place.”

While most of the arts industry has all but ground to a halt during the pandemic, the Pretoria Symphony Orchestra (PSO), has risen to the challenge in a triumphant performance of the Messiah this past weekend.  Though intended or not, the concert served as a beacon of hope for South African musicians.  With many of its members not working as full-time musicians, it is a passion for music rather than remuneration that keeps the PSO alive.

Christiaan Snyman, Baritone, and Jaco Van Staden, conductor. Photograph – Phillip Erasmus

The performance on Sunday, presented at Brooklyn Square, featured highlights from the popular oratorium, The Messiah, by George Friedrich Händel.  Conducted and presented by the very talented Jaco van Staden, the orchestra performed several arias and choruses from the work with Ilze van Staden (soprano), Neil Stander (Tenor) and Christiaan Snyman (Baritone).  The In2Nate chamber choir completed the ensemble.  Mr Braam Van Tonder performed the famous, or perhaps infamous trumpet solo from the aria ‘The Trumpet shall Sound’.

Braam van Tonder, playing the trumpet solo from ‘The Trumpet shall Sound’ – Photograph – Phillip Erasmus

The Messiah is by no means an ‘easy’ composition and is a challenge for any professional orchestra.  A complete performance usually lasts close to 3 hours!   Tradition dictates that an Oratorium must be performed as a unit, without any interruptions.  In this setting however, announcing numbers two at a time, was much more effective and helped the audience to not only understand, but to feel included in the performance.  Van Staden referenced the original text and explained traditions surrounding the work, making it an informative musical experience.  Considering the audience at a popular, busy mall such as Brooklyn Square, it was an impressive feat to keep the audience interested in the music.


The orchestra’s motto is ‘Yes we Can’.  South Africa stands to learn something from this.  While faced with the most dire of economic circumstances, facing continuous price hikes and political unrest, a simple phrase is the answer.  Instead of a fatalistic negativity, a positive proclamation of hope. Hope for a future that is not as bleak as it now seems.


Members of the In2Nate Choir – Photograph – Phillip Erasmus





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