Minnesota Orchestra’s Other Activities in Cape Town, South Africa

Before the August 10 concert in Cape Town’s City Hall, the Orchestra’s Music Director Osmo Vänskä and some of the musicians took the 45-minute boat ride from the city across Table Bay to Robben Island to visit the prison where Mandela and other opponents of apartheid had been imprisoned.[1]

Their guide, Derrick Basson, 51, who had been a political prisoner there for five years, said that he and every other prisoner were “greeted” upon arrival with these words: “This is no Johannesburg or Pretoria. This is Robben Island. And over here, you’re certainly going to die.” Even the diet was discriminatory. “Bantus” (blacks) got no bread and less fat and sugar than “Coloureds” (mixed-race and Asians). They saw Mandela’s cell, which was barely 6 feet wide.

The morning after their concert, a brass quintet from the Orchestra spent some time at the Cape Town Music Institute, a school tucked behind the bleachers of Athlone Stadium in Cape Flats, a low-lying, flat area southeast of the central business district of Cape Town. Trombonist Doug Wright was impressed by the local brass musicians, who really  appreciated the visit by the Minnesota players.

Later that same morning, the Minnesota brass quintet and others from the Orchestra visited the Eurocon Primary School in Elsie’s River—just outside the city. They were greeted by a rousing song in the courtyard by the school choir. Then inside the Minnesota musicians in small groups with grade-schoolers and their families explained how their instruments worked and played in a string quartet, a woodwind quintet and a brass quintet. The kids rang with laughter when musician Steven Campbell, demonstrating how low his tuba could go, pretended to collapse under the effort.  Everyone then returned to the courtyard for dances by local women and performances by local singers, including the 29:11 group, which had performed in Minnesota last month.[2]

The school choir, led by a 12-year-old soloist sang—in English, Swahili and Afrikaans—“I Am a Small Part of the World.” It brought tears to the eyes of Minnesota cellist Marcia Peck, who said, “I just could see my daughter at Hopkins grammar school singing the same song.” Below is a photograph of the school choir.

Others from the Orchestra and Vänskä that day went to the Artscape Theatre Centre in downtown Cape Town  to rehearse and coach student members of the Cape Town Youth Orchestra. One of the pieces they played was Sibelius’ Finlandia. This prompted Vänskä to say they needed to know the story of this piece of music and its importance in Finland’s quest for independence from Russia.”When you play, you need to say something,” he said.

Cape Town, by the way, is the site of the country’s Legislature and is approximately 31 miles northwest of the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula, which is the penultimate southern tip of the African Continent.

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[1] Ross, In South Africa, Minnesota orchestra makes grim visit to Mandela’s former prison cell, StarTribune (Aug. 13, 2018); Kerr, ‘A very sacred space’: Minn. Orchestra musicians visit Mandela’s Robben Island cell, MPR News (Aug. 9, 2018).

[2] Kerr, Music brings together Minnesota Orchestra musicians, South African students, MPRnews (Aug. 11, 2018); Minn. Orchestra, Cape Town/Aug 10-11; Ross, In teaching young South African talents, Minn. Orchestra musicians find their own inspiration, StarTribune (Aug. 15, 2018). These and other articles plus photographs are available online: http://www.startribune.com/follow-minnesota-orchestra-s-first-of-its-kind-tour-to-south-africa/488534621.

Minnesota Orchestra’s Concert in South Africa (Cape Town)

On August 10, the Minnesota Orchestra played the first concert on its South African tour in Cape Town’s City Hall. Below are photographs of the City Hall’s auditorium where the concert was played and of its exterior (with Table Mountain in the background).[1]

 

 

 

 

The concert opened with the Orchestra playing the South African and U.S. national anthems and then Jean Sibelius’ “En Saga, ” an 1882 tone poem which the composer said was “ the expression of a state of mind. I had undergone a number of painful experiences at the time and in no other work have I revealed myself so completely. It is for this reason that I find all literary explanations quite alien.” (Sibelius and the Orchestra’s Music Director, Osmo Vänskä, are both Finnish natives.)

South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye, then joined the Orchestra to sing  “Harmonia Ubuntu,”  which was commissioned for this  tour and which had its world premiere at the Orchestra’s home in Minneapolis on July 21, 2018.  A review of the world premier of this work said it had a “bublingly eventful score that effectively referenced African rhythms and melodies, and peppered the orchestral textures with a Wasembe rattle and a djembe” African goblet-shaped drum.  [2]

The work’s  South African composer, Ndodana-Breen, who was in the audience for both of these concerts, said this work was inspired by Mandela’s exemplifying the African values of ubuntu—the knowledge that one’s humanity is tied in harmony to the humanity of others. The lyrics, which were drawn from Mandela’s speeches and writings, are the following (in English translation):

  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
  • “For to be free is not to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that enhances the freedom of others.”
  • “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with them. Then he becomes your partner.”
  • “In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process. It requires more than just words. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.”
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
  • “We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well. That none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people for reconciliation, the birth of a new world.”
  • “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”
  • “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways you yourself have changed.”
  • “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
  • “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fail.”
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

The concert concluded with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, an operetta first performed on Broadway in 1956, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, which had its premiere in Vienna in 1808.

After a few standing ovations, Vänskä, for the first encore, turned again to Sibelius. But for the second encore, the director returned to the podium with a surprise.

After single drum beats were joined by marimba and horns, the Orchestra musicians started singing  “Shosholoza,” a song originally sung (in call and response style) by all-male African workers working in diamond and gold mines and later sung by the prisoners on Robben Island. Mandela described it as “a song that compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train” and went on to explain that “the singing made the work lighter.” Here is one English translation of the lyrics: “Go forward. Go forward, from those mountains, on this train from South Africa. Go forward. Go forward. You are running away. You are running away, from those mountains, on this train from South Africa.”  It is so popular in South African culture that it often is referred to as the country’s unofficial national anthem.

As soon as the Orchestra started singing this song, the crowd erupted. They laughed, they clapped, they pulled out their cellphones. Then many of them sang along.

Before leaving this account of the Cape Town concert, it also should be mentioned that this city played an important part in the life of Nelson Mandela. Roughly 4 miles west of Cape Town across Table Bay lies Robben Island, where Mandela spent the first 18 years of his imprisonment. And on February 11, 1990, after over 26 years of imprisonment, he was released from Victor Verster Prison, roughly 40 miles east of Cape Town and immediately went to the front steps of its City Hall for his first speech as a free man for a crowd of 50,000 people and a worldwide television audience; this speech will be covered in a later post.

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[1] Minn. Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra in Cape Town, Blain, Beethoven, with South African flavor, StarTribune (July 23, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (Aug. 5, 2018).

[2] Minn. Orchestra, Sommerfest Program;Blain, South African composer celebrates Mandela’s Message, StarTribune (July 20, 2018); Ross, Ode to Minnesota and South African Joy, StarTribune (July 22, 2018); Blain, Beethoven, with South African flavor, StarTribune (July 23, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (Aug. 5, 2018); Ross, In a historic moment for Minnesota Orchestra, music echoes the words of Nelson Mandela, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018)(the digital version of this article has beautiful photographs of the concert).

[3] Burns, SOUTH AFRICA’s NEW ERA; on Mandela’s Walk, Hope and Violence, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 1990).

 

Cuba Pays $60 Million of Indebtedness to Major Creditor Nations     

The week of October 15 Cuba paid $60 million of indebtiness to 14 wealthy creditor nations. Last year Cuba paid $40 million to the same group. The total debt is $2.6 billion after the creditors in 2015 forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion upon which Cuba had defaulted through 1986 plus charges.[1]

These creditor nations known as the Club of Paris are the following: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Under the 2015 agreement, Cuba agreed for the first time to grant the creditors equity in development projects, in areas like manufacturing and agriculture, in exchange for a portion of their debt holdings. Many of these restructuring agreements include the establishment of so-called counter-value funds, under which a percentage of debt is discounted in exchange for the potential profits stemming from participation by a creditor country’s firms in Cuba joint-development projects.

The counter-value funds have an estimated combined value of around $750 million of the $2.6 billion owed. Japan, Spain, France and Italy – Cuba’s largest Paris Club creditors – are furthest along in negotiating swaps.

  • For example, a $46 million French project to develop cattle ranching and dairy products in central Camaguey province is ready to sign, according to France’s ambassador to Cuba, Jean-Marie Bruno.
  • Another example is Spain which has a project ready to manufacture cardboard and another aluminium structures for construction capable of resisting earthquakes and hurricanes, both involving Spanish companies.

This access to Cuban development projects gives the European countries and companies an advantage over U.S. companies who are banned by various U.S. laws from such projects.

This payment happened during dire economic times for Cuba due to the political and economic crisis in its ally Venezuela, declines in Cuban exports and tourism due, in part, to the damages caused by Hurricane Irma.

Cuba’s payment in these circumstances showed the importance Cuba attaches to the 2015 agreement with this group of major creditor nations.

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[1] Reuters, Cash-Strapped Cuba Makes Debt Payment to Major Creditors-Diplomats, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 2017); Chow, Cuba Reaches Deal to Pay $2.6 Billion in Arrears to Paris Club, W.S.J. (Dec. 12, 2015); Paris Club, Agreement on the Debt Between Cuba and the Group of Creditors of Cuba (Dec. 12, 2015).

Global Music on World Communion Sunday

As mentioned in a prior post, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s celebration of World Communion Sunday on October 1 featured a sermon on where was the Reformation headed today.

As that sermon mentioned, the service included global music. Our Westminster and Global Choirs joined together to sing five anthems from other countries and to lead the congregation in singing five hymns from around the world. [1] Our leaders were Dr. Melanie Ohnstad, Organist and Minister of Music and Arts; and Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, Director of Choral Ministries; Barbara Prince, Director of Global Choir; and Jeffrey Gram, percussionist.

Introit

The Introit or hymn which is sung at the start of a worship service was “Somlandela,” a traditional South African anthem that was arranged by Barbara Prince. It had one verse in Zulu, another in French and one in English, the last of which stated, “I will follow, I will follow Jesus, I will follow everywhere he goes.”

Offertory

The Offertory anthem was “Indodana,” also from South Africa in traditional isiXhosa, which is one of the country’s official languages and spoken by about 18% of the population, and arranged by Michael Barrett and Ralf Schmitt. Luckily for me as a bass singer, most of our lines were “oo” and “oh”with “Zjem Zjem zja baba” (three times) and “Ho Baba Baba, ho Baba Baba, Je ho Va!” (twice). Just being part of the choir’s singing this beautiful piece brought tears to my eyes. [2]

The church bulletin provided the following English translation of the lyrics: “The Lord has taken his son who lived amongst us, the son of the Lord God was crucified. Hololo Father Jehovah, Zjem zja father.” (“Hololo” and “Zjem zja” are expressive words with no English translation.)

Holy Communion

During the distribution of the bread and the cup for communion, we sang three anthems.

The first was “Nasibi (My Portion),” a Palestinian Hymn arranged by Maggie Hamilton. Its Refrain was in Arabic (English translation: “The Lord is the only strength of my heart, so says my soul”). The text, which were sung in English, was the following:

  • “The Lord is my portion for evermore, so says my soul. In heav’n above, who else have I? Who else, on earth, might I desire? The Lord alone is all I need, true treasure of my soul. For God, I’ll give my wealth away, strew valleys with unwanted gold, that God may be my only prize, my portion and my share.”

The second was “O Jumalan Karitsa” by Matti Rantatalo and sung in the original Finnish language with the following English translation in the church bulletin: “O, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins the world, have mercy on us. O, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, give us peace and blessing.”

The third anthem was “Ukuthula,” another South African piece sung in Zulu. Again, the English translation was provided in the bulletin: “Peace in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings peace. Redemption in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings redemption. Praise (gratefulness) in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings praise (gratefulness). Faith in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings faith. Victory in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings victory. Comfort in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings comfort.”

Congregational Hymns

The global theme of the service also was emphasized in the following five hymns.

“In Christ, There Is No East or West” (No. 317 in Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal) whose first verse states, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” This and the other verses were written in 1908 by John Oxenham (a/k/a William Arthur Dunkerly) and the music is an African-American spiritual, which was the very first such music used in a mainline North American hymnal in 1940.

 “O Lord, Have Mercy” (No. 578) is the traditional “Kyrie eleison:” “O lord, have mercy, O Lord have mercy, O Lord have mercy, have mercy on us.” The hymnal also contained the verses in Greek and Guarani, which we did not sing.

“Sheaves of Wheat” (No. 532) has music and text (in Spanish) by Cesáreo Gabaráin, a Spanish priest and composer, but we sang the English translation by Mary Louise Bringle. The first verse goes this way: “Sheaves of wheat turned by sunlight into gold, grapes in clusters, like rubies on the vine, feed our hearts as the precious blood and body of our Lord: gifts of heaven from earthly bread and wine.”

“Holy, Holy, Holy” (No. 594) has music and text by Guillermo Cuéllar, a Salvadoran composer, with English translation by Linda McCrae. The choir and the congregation sang the refrain in Spanish: “Santo, santo, santo, santo, santo, santo es nuestra Dios, Señor de toda la tierra. Santo, santo, es nuestro Dios. Santo, santo, santo, santo, santo, santo es nuestro Dios, Señor de toda la historia. Santo, santo es nuestro Dios.”

“May the Love of the Lord” (No. 549) has music by LIM Swee Hong, an Asian Christian, and text by Maria Ling, who are the parents of a son who stopped breathing at one day old , but who was revived by the prompt action of nurses. The hymnal has Chinese and English lyrics, the latter of which says, “May the love of the Lord rest upon your soul. May God’s love dwell in you, throughout every day. May God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God’s Spirit be upon you as you leave this place.”

Conclusion

In the shorter, earlier worship service that day the Global Choir with augmentation by some of the Westminster Choir members sang all but “Indodana” of the anthems and only one of the hymns (“In Christ There Is No East or West”), but we also closed that service by singing the Refrain with the congregation joining in the stanzas of “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!” (No. 591 in the Hymnal), which has a traditional Caribbean melody with stanzas by Marty Haugen. The words of the first stanza are these: “O God, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life. Let your words be our prayer and the song we sing: hallelujah, hallelujah!”

There were so many things happening in these services, I once again discovered by reviewing the service, re-reading the pieces that we sung, researching about the composers and lyricists and writing this blog post enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the services.

Although I joined the Global Choir in 2014, it was created in 2001, and for the regular church calendar (September through May), we sing nine times in the early worship service in the church’s Chapel. Just contact the church to join the Global Choir! All are welcome.

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[1] The church’s website has the bulletin for the main service.  A video of the service also is there; go to http://westminstermpls.churchonline.org/ and click on the icon with three white dots and lines at the top of the video screen; next you will see small screens with the dates of services; then select “Oct. 1, 2017.”

[2] Beautiful performances of “Indodana” by (a) the combined voices of the University of Pretoria Camerata, the Missouri State University Chorale, and the Emory and Henry College Choir at the University of Pretoria Musaion, (Pretoria, South Africa) and (b) South Africa’s Stellenbosch University Choir are available on YouTube.