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.

Successful Benefit Concert for Displaced Syrians

arc_tw_graphic_1027152-b39f6fe5On January 3, 2016, a group of musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra played a beautiful and successful concert to benefit Syrians displaced in their own country.[1] Here is a poster for the concert with photographs of (a) Erin Keefe, the Orchestra’s Concertmaster, with Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra’s Music Director; and (b) Beth Rapier and Tony Ross, Cellists with the Orchestra and the originators of the idea for the concert.

The concert raised over $75,000 for the Minneapolis-headquartered American Refugee Committee (ARC) to support its efforts to help the 7.6 million Syrians who have been forced to relocate within their own country because of the war.[2] There ARC with the aid of heroic Syrians works to:

  • help improve the physical conditions of make-shift shelters where people have fled;
  • build and repair water and sanitation infrastructure, helping to prevent disease;
  • provide youth mentoring and support services;
  • reconnect orphaned children with family members;
  • counsel victims of abuse and trauma; and
  • provide children the opportunity to play and have fun.

Other contributions for this cause would be appreciated; just go to ARC’s website [http://www.arcrelief.org/site/PageServer] and do so.

The concert was opened by the Minnesota Orchestra Brass Quintet. They played several numbers, including Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” and “Tonight” from “West Side Story,” the Broadway musical. The Quintet members were Douglas Wright, trombone; Robert Doerr and Charles Lazarus, trumpet; Steven Campbell, tuba; and Michael Gast, horn.

Then Osmo Vänskä, an accomplished clarinetist in addition to being a great conductor, played the clarinet in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s beautiful Clarinet Concerto in A Major (K 622), which was composed shortly before Mozart’s death in 1791. Vänskä was backed by 18 members of the Orchestra.[3]

Osmo and Tony

audience DSC02485

 

 

 

 

Above are photographs of Vänskä playing the concerto and of the audience of over 900 in the beautiful and modern sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina, Minnesota.

The program ended with Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky’s difficult String Sextet in D minor (Op.70). It was titled “Souvenir de Florence” because the composer sketched one of the work’s principal themes while visiting Florence, Italy in 1890. The violinists were Erin Keefe and Cecilia Belcher; violaists, Tom Turner and Sabrina Thatcher; and cellists, Ross and Rapier. Ross thought the piece might be Tchaikovsky’s greatest.

The concert had principal support from St. John’s Episcopal Church of Minneapolis and Our Lady of Grace along with 24 other Christian, Jewish and Islamic congregations from the Twin Cities.

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[1] Royce,  Minnesota Orchestra musicians unite for concert to aid Syrian refugees, StarTribune (Dec. 23, 2015); Program, Chamber Music Concert for Refugees Inside Syria (Jan. 3, 2016).

[2] ARC, Syria Relief.  As explained in a prior post, one of the international legal requirements for refugee status is an individual’s being outside his or her home country. Therefore, the beneficiaries of this concert, Syrians who have not left their own country, are technically not “refugees,” but rather “internally displaced people” or “IDP’s” in international relief jargon. But they are just as deserving of our compassion as those Syrians who have fled their country, perhaps more so because those who stay are trying to live in the midst of the war.

[3] A prior post described Vânskä’s playing the clarinet in a Havana music club after the Orchestra’s second concert in Cuba last May. Minnesota Orchestra’s Cuba trip Garners National Recognition (Dec. 17, 2015).