This year, Buskaid's annual concert was sold out - the first time in the three years I have been going to Buskaid. It's a good thing I bought tickets early (which ironically meant that I almost forgot about it)! The concerts are an interesting mix - classical music by often less heralded composers interwoven with jazz/pop songs; and finished off with kwela and dancing (with the instruments) - something I doubt you will ever see at other classical music concerts.
The concert started off with pieces from Rameau's opera, Castor et Pollux. The program notes, that Rameau has become somewhat of a tradition with the Buskaid, and it was an energetic start to the concert. Due to a recording malfunction, the pieces were played again at the end - with ample encouragement from the crowd!
The second piece, was one of the highlights of the concert. A previous Buskaid concert, was the first time I had heard a live performance of music from "The Black Mozart", Chevalier de Saint-George. This year, the two senior violinists, Kabelo Monnathebe and Simiso Radebe, in the group (both studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London) performed the Allegro of the Symphony Concertante in G major. It is a stunning piece, especially how the violins feed off the rest of the orchestra, and how they blend into each other; and it was a captivating performance by the soloists.
Czech composer, Leoš Janáček's Idyll for String Orchestra was a bit of a let down after the Symphony Concertante - it felt like a filler piece; and I would have preferred a full performance of the Symphony Concertante instead. It was followed by two vocal pieces (Send in the Clowns, and At Last, both from old musicals), sung by viola player Mathapelo Matabane; who certainly has a voice that complements the style of the songs. The last piece, before the interval was the last movement (Marcia) from Swedish composer Dag Wirén's Serenade for String Orchestra. It is a very lively piece that I haven't heard before (though it is supposed to be very popular). I am not a big fan of Handel, so the first piece after the break (Suite from Terpsichore) wasn't that interesting.
Kabelo Monnathebe's performance of Nigun, by Ernest Bloch was the highlight of the evening for me. Part of a bigger work, Baal Shem, it is a dedication to Bloch's Jewish Roots, and Nigun is itself a religious piece. The piece itself is wonderful - it sounds religious, but it sounds like a story that wants to burst out. A story of triumph, of despair, of happiness and a whole lot more. It is a piece that requires mastery of the violin, and it was a brilliant performance, receiving a rousing applause at the end.
The last "official" piece (before the rerun of the Rameau, and the kwela pieces) was the "world premiere" of Karl Jenkin's Soweto Suite for Strings. It is not a completely new suite - but is rather assembled from Karl Jenkin's two big hits - The Armed Man and Stabat Mater. The pieces work surprisingly well together, and it is interesting to hear them without the choral and other orchestral accompaniments (although there were a few drums).
Beyond showing the musical talent of South Africa, Buskaid is a positive push on how transformation can take place; and a triumph of skill and perseverance over simple affirmative action. However, while it Buskaid has been wildly successful, it is facing a massive financial shortfall should the Lotto money not be renewed. In that it requires support - and support for more than just attending concerts and buying CDs, and I plan to add my pledge to the ring.
That said, Buskaid is now effectively a thorough bred music school - and perhaps it is time that it also spans its wings. With highly competent performers and teachers, perhaps it should also consider doing lessons that are paid for. After all, while it is true that the vast majority of its students are from disadvantaged backgrounds; there are also students who are from advantaged backgrounds who wishes to learn and improve playing string instruments. Perhaps the solution should also encompass teaching, for profit, to the advantaged students that can afford the lessons? Yes, it may be a different track to how Buskaid started, but it could be an important step to a brighter, and more integrated future ...