Thursday, 8 September 2011

Brilliant Buskaid!

Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble
Linder Auditorium, Jhb
27 August 2011
Directed by: Rosemary Nalden

Once again, the performance of this string ensemble tugged at my heartstrings.

The concert opened with the beginners sitting on little plastic chairs playing their miniature instruments under the watchful eye of their teachers, themselves 'graduates' of Buskaid. Accessible Snob is no stranger to the pieces selected to show off the potential talent of the 'baby class', having heard both Chocolate Treats and The Song of the Marching Men performed live in Milton Keynes, England in December 2010 by the lovely Grace Farrow, Accessible Snob's niece and beginner cellist. Not even five minutes into the concert and the tears were already welling up!

Rosemary Nalden, the driving force behind Buskaid, put together a wonderful programme. I was heartened to read in the programme notes that so many international musicians, conductors and composers had been so willing to find and send her music, including Karl Jenkins who sent a set of parts for Sarikiz which is now on permananent loan to Buskaid. Mr Jenkins, you did a good thing and Kabelo Monnathebe more than did justice to this piece, the third on the programme.

This was followed by Night Music on the Streets of Madrid by Luigi Boccherini. Apparently Mr Boccherini did not think the piece would have much significance beyond Spain, yet as Rosemary pointed out in her introduction, Johannesburg is no stranger to some of the tableaux depicted in the various movements. Besides playing the piece with aplomb, the musicians also acted out the scenes - for example, tilting their heads back and forth to depict prayer during Il Rosario ('The Rosary') and chasing each other around the stage for Passacalle ('The Passacaglia of the Street Singers') and even at one point walking off the stage and back on again. I think we all agree wtih Rosemary when she writes: 'I have enormous admiration for the way in which the Buskaid musicians are able to memorise music, play it, and simultaneously act and dance. This is not what audiences generally expect to see when they come to a serious classical music concert!' Well, it is what we have come to expect from Buskaid and it is one of the reasons we enjoy their concerts so much.

The second half of the programme featured some lovely choices: I particularly enjoyed Miniatures - Cavatina (Dvořák) and From Jewish Life - Prayer (Ernest Bloch), which had Gilbert Tsoke creating a melancholic mood on the cello.

These were followed by two pieces with vocal accompaniment - Georgia on My Mind and Stand By Me. Singers Cecelia Manyama and Mathapelo Matabane were lovely but either lacked the confidence to sing loudly or were thwarted somewhat by the sound system. A pity, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

No Buskaid concert is complete without the foot-stompingly fun kwela and gospel section at the end. Here, the musicians relax and have fun with the music. Kabelo's 'wolf whistle' sound on the violin was a crowd-pleaser as was the infectious energy and vitality of the players. So infectious that some members of the audience were more than happy to be called out to join the players and dance on stage.

From tears to joy: I left the concert feeling uplifted, inspired, hopeful and once again utterly in awe of the transcendent power of music.

Bravo, Buskaid and ENCORE!

The concert was recorded, so look out for the CD. Despite the fact that Rosemary pleaded with the audience to remain as quiet as possible, we had the misfortune of sitting in front of a mad old bat who thought it was perfectly fine to talk at regular intervals, despite a number of increasingly dirty looks from other members of the audience. And some idiot's cell phone rang during the performance, too. Honestly, people. Show some respect!

Soweto Strings (DVD)
Please visit the Buskaid Home Page and buy something or make a donation to this wonderful ensemble. I haven't seen the documentary Soweto Strings but imagine it would be a good buy for anyone wanting to know more about the project.

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