As noted in a prior post, the Minnesota Orchestra in the summer of 2018 is producing a multifaceted celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. It started with a July 20 concert entitled “Celebrating Mandela at 100” at its home, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, which will be discussed in this post. Below are photographs of the Hall’s exterior and interior.
The Concert’s First Half
The concert opened with African rhythms pounded on Djembe drums at the front of the stage by a dozen drummers (10 men, a young boy and a young girl) from the Heart and Soul Drum Academy, St. Paul, Minnesota. They accompanied six girls dancing down the aisles followed by 25 Mandela Washington Fellows carrying the South African and other African flags to the stage to join the U.S. and Minnesota flags. The audience then stood for the Orchestra’s playing the two countries’ national anthems.
“Ruri” (Truly) by South African composer Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1902-1980) was performed by the Orchestra and a Mass Choir of 150 singers to celebrate nature as evidence of divine benevolence.
Insingizi, a Zimbabwean male trio, then sang a selection of African songs.
Throughout the concert a large screen over the Orchestra and Mass Choir displayed English translations of the African lyrics to the vocal numbers and video clips of remembrances of Mandela by prominent people, including former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale and broadcaster Tom Brokaw. A live remembrance was provided by Anant Singh, South Africa’s pre-eminent film producer, who discussed his creation and production of the film, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which was based on the autobiography of the same title.
The first half of the concert was closed with the Orchestra’s playing the Finale from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.”
The Concert’s Second Half
The Orchestra and Mass Choir again joined forces, this time to perform “Akhala Amaqhude Amabil” by South African composer James Stephen Mzilikazi Khumalo (b. 1932), who also is a retired professor of African languages and linguistics at a university in Johannesburg. This piece combined two Zulu folk songs featuring the call of the Zulu cock-crow (“Kikilikigi”) that served as the communal morning wake-up calls for people with no time-pieces of any kind. The choir obviously enjoyed singing this amusing piece although the big screen’s English translation of the birds’ call as “cock a doodle doo” was a bit off-putting.
The Orchestra, Mass Choir and audience were blessed with the attendance of Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, who holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and now is Chairman of the House of Mandela, a business she started with her daughter, Tukwini, who accompanied her to this concert. Makaziwe described the struggles Mandela and his family made in fighting to end apartheid and added, “Music became a weapon against apartheid” with songs telling her father’s story and educating young people about the struggle. Indeed, music offered him a vision of “a world in harmony, a world governed by empathy and compassion and love” and listening to Handel’s “Messiah” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5” brought tears to his eyes. She also confessed, “I never thought five years after my father has passed away he would be celebrated thousands of miles away in Minnesota.”
The Orchestra and Mass Choir returned to perform “Bawa Thixo Somandla” (Father God Omnipotent) by South African composer, Archibald Arnold Mxolisi Matyila (1938-1985). Composed around 1973, it became a protest song in the 1980’s against the South African government and apartheid.
Next in the program was a video clip by Yo Yo Ma with his words about Mandela and ending with his playing of the Largo movement of Dvorák’s New World Symphony (Symphony No. 9 in E minor). As Ma was finishing his playing, the Orchestra seamlessly commenced its playing of the movement.
The concert then ended with two more pieces by the Orchestra and Mass Choir.
“More Abundantly” by Sonya Whitmore, an African-American gospel songwriter (arranged by Ricky Dillard, an African-American gospel singer) is now a traditional Gospel song based on the New Testament’s John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (NRSV).
The final piece on the concert was “Usilenthela Uxolo (Nelson Mandela).” This is a song derived from a popular hit song by South African jazz legend Stompie Mavi that was adapted for choir by Imilonji KaNtu Choral Society with new text to celebrate Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. Thereafter it has remained popular as an ongoing tribute to Mandela. Its performance at this concert in Minneapolis was a joyous, full-throated rendition by the swaying Mass Choir.
This was a thrilling concert. The African rhythms and lyrics were all new to me as were the lyrics. It made me proud that the Minnesota Orchestra was exploring music that was totally new to them while honoring Mandela, a remarkable, inspiring human being. Now they go to South Africa for five concerts to further explore that country’s music and to meet and practice with its young musicians.
 Minnesota Orchestra, Program;: Sommerfest 2018 at 22-24, 39-41; Ross, Minnesota Orchestra previews South African tour: ‘Music became a weapon against apartheid,’ StarTribune at B1, B6 (July 22, 2018).
 The Mass Choir was composed of members of the Minnesota Chorale, the Better Together Choir from the Minnesota State Baptist Convention Choir and the Bethlehem Baptist Church Choir; the Shiloh Temple International Ministries Choir of Minneapolis; 29:11, a vocal ensemble from Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa; and Insingizi, a vocal trio from Zimbabwe.