The wonderfully named MIAGI(music is a great investment) is a non-profit organisation that is now operating in its 10th year. The primary aim of MIAGI is to fund the development of young musicians (although, they have supported some very interesting projects beyond the youth projects in the past). The MIAGI Youth Orchestra and Youth Big Band is one of the premier projects supported by the initiative, supporting 103 youths (between 11 and 25 years old) from across South Africa in full.
The Youth Orchestra presented their concert "Rhythmic Affairs" at the Linder Auditorium yesterday, with Christian Muthspiel conducting. One thing that definitely set the group apart from the "adult" orchestras is that they genuinely seem to be enjoying the performance. Many seemed to be sharing jokes while the bassists even "high fived" each other after the individual pieces (with their bows though). The musicians also had great rapport with the conductor, and there was a highly amusing encore, which seemed to be unrehearsed.
The first piece of the evening was a new piece composed by Paul Hammer, who also played the piano, named "Halo-gram". It was, in my opinion, rather crap - the music did not have any semblance of atmosphere or any story to tell; and the various instruments just didn't seem to fit together. Perhaps it will sound better if I hear it again, but I am not exactly wanting to ...
The second piece was adapted from the original film score for "On the Waterfront" by Leonard Bernstein. Unlike the previous piece, this piece definitely provided the atmosphere of the movie - the grit and the struggle in a gang dominated harbour of New York.
The third piece, after the interval was Maurice Ravel's Boléro, and definitely my favourite one of the evening. I have heard snippets of the piece before, but never in full - and the enthusiastic kids definitely made it a great performance.
The last piece of the evening was Gershwin's "An American in Paris", featuring some vuvuzelas - proving that, in the right hands, the vuvuzela can be a musical instrument. The combination of the jazz and the more traditional orchestra was impressive.
The orchestra has some great prospects - it is apparently due to open the Young Euro Classic Festival in 2012. Miagi is certainly not yet at the level of the El Sistema, but it is going in the right direction; and should be supported by all. Perhaps, in 10 more years, it can become something like the El Sistema.