Folking up Mozart with Neo Muyanga and the world’s most beautiful music
“If only the whole world could feel the power of harmony,” was a timeless comment that musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once made. Executive director of the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, Richard Cock, has taken this comment to a greater depth this year, where folk music will be celebrated throughout the festival. The ninth annual Mozart Festival takes place, under the theme of “That’s all, folk(s)!” with explosions of beautiful music in various Johannesburg venues, between January 21 and February 5.
Says Cock: “It’s going to be an exciting look at how folk and indigenous music and western art music have interacted and influenced each other across the centuries. What better place to see this in action than in South Africa, where we have so many different cultural interfaces! With a range of artists from Michael Collins and Christoph von Weitzel to Dizu Plaatjies and Stéphane Réty, and with Neo Muyanga as our 2017 Composer-in-Residence, this promises to be a Johannesburg International Mozart Festival to remember.”
Indeed, featuring everything from a brand new opera called A Sea Point Story, by Bongani Ndodana-Breen, based on Nicholas Spagnoletti’s awarding winning play London Road, and a rendition of Don Giovanni at the Brooklyn Theatre in Pretoria, to a recital by local songbird Magdalene Minnaar, as well as a South African adaptation of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf – Pieter and the Horrible Hyena, featuring Nicholas Nicolaides as narrator, the festival offers an assortment of must-see musical events.
Traditionally, the festival will feature the work of one key South African composer in a range of contexts. Now in his early 40s, Neo Muyanga is no stranger to South African music fans. Born in Soweto in 1974, his musical talent took him from local community choirs to Trieste, the home of the madrigal tradition, in Italy. One of the cofounders of BLK Sonshine with Masauko Chipembere, Muyanga has stirred the world with songs such as “Born in a Taxi” and “Soul Smiles”, but popular music isn’t his only forte.Of course, there are also the regular JIMF highlights on the programme including Cinema Improvisando at the Bioscope in Maboneng precinct, featuring Paul Hamner on keyboard playing to the 1916 film of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, this year, as well as the delightful Viennese New Year concert which opens the festival under the baton of Richard Cock; Orchestra from Scratch which embraces members of the public with just a touch of musical skills and savvy; a delicious performance by Buskaid under the baton of Rosemary Nalden and CEOs in front of the orchestra, an initiative of Business Arts South Africa. On February 4, the Johannesburg Musical Society will be collaborating with the Mozart Festival as they start their year with a piano recital by Joanna MacGregor.
One of the special features of this gem of a festival is the Composer-in-Residence.
Indeed, armed with his fascination and understanding of a vast array of musical styles from Brazil to India, Egypt to Uruguay, he has composed chamber operas, music plays and ensemble works melding Basotho and isiZulu music tropes with those of jazz and classical western sound. Two years ago, Muyanga collaborated with South African born London based pianist Renée Reznek in a fantastic tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, hade Tata, a work that draws from the compositional idiosyncrasies of both musicians.
The festival takes place at a range of Johannesburg venues, including the Linder Auditorium, the Wits Theatre, Northwards House, St Francis of Assisi Anglican Church in Parkview, Maboneng in downtown Johannesburg, The Edge at St Mary’s School in Waverley and Scott Gym on Wits University’s Education Campus.
Taking music awareness to newer and greater musical heights and a sound sense of fun and possibility, the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival is sponsored and partnered by the Apollo Music Trust, The Austrian Embassy, the Bioscope, Bottega, Brooklyn Theatre in Pretoria, Business and Arts South Africa, Buskaid, Buz Publicity, Cantare Jubiloso, Classic FM, the Deutsche Schule in Johannesburg, ERT, the Goethe Institut, the Graham Beck Foundation, Gusto Project, Hochschule Dresden, Hochschule Koln, Institut Francais, Jensen Safaris, Joburg Ballet, Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, Johannesburg Musical Society, Johannesburg Youth Ballet, Johnathan Andrews Photography, Little Forest, Minuteman Press Fourways, Northwards Trust, the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, Pro Helvetia, Rupert Musiekstigting, St Francis of Assisi Anglican Church in Parkview, St Mary’s School in Waverly, SAMRO, the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State and the University of the Witwatersrand.