RIP Ventura Rosenthal: Heavenly harpist



SMALL of stature, but enormous in reach: harpist Ventura Rosenthal. Photo: facebook.

NONA VENTURA ROSENTHAL, a brilliant musician and a true treasure to everyone who met her, gave a friendly and popular profile to the notoriously difficult-to-play harp. She succumbed to breast cancer, which she had battled since 2014, on 6 November 2019. She was 70.

Fondly known as the ‘Heavenly Harpist’, Rosenthal was born on 3 September 1949 in the small town of Bucharest, southern Romania. She was a youngster when her family immigrated to Israel, where she found her passion in the harp, and studied under Judith Liber, the renowned principal harpist of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

By 1977, she had earned her stripes as a freelance harpist, having performed with various orchestras and in a solo capacity all over Israel, and she immigrated to South Africa and joined the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) of the SABC. It was there that she met her husband, Chris Boyle, a French horn player for the same orchestra. They married three years later.

In 2000, the NSO, for economic reasons, was forced to close. Armed with more than 30 years commitment to this orchestra, Rosenthal became one of the co-founders of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO), keeping serious music alive in the city. She remained principal harpist for the JPO until that orchestra reconstituted itself in 2013. She remained associated with it until 2018. Over the years, she freelanced for the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Pretoria-based Gauteng Philharmonic Orchestra, but she also made a name for herself as a soloist.

Unwieldy to cart around and hard to play, but effervescent in its aural presence, the harp is an unusual instrument, and her specialisation in it gave Rosenthal the opportunity to grow both as a soloist and an ensemble player. With several CDs under her belt, Rosenthal became well-known and deeply respected in the different strata of music appreciation; her music is often played on South African radio stations such as ClassicFM, as well as Spotify, Youtube and various other music platforms.

A frequent fixture on the Friday lunch hour concert at Sandton’s Auto and General Theatre on the Square, Rosenthal was described by the theatre’s owner, Daphne Kuhn as a “warm, loving perfectionist who played outstanding music.”

Like many musicians, Rosenthal taught as well as performed, and was a celebrated teacher in private homes as well as at several South African universities.

Known by many and loved by all, Rosenthal honoured the cliché of making heavenly music with her harp, and gave it dignity that understood harp-related platitudes but skirted away from them, gracefully. Described fondly by her husband as the little harpist who could, Rosenthal believed in the potency of giving one’s all. But she most certainly was not just made of gentle or bland crescendos. With the fresh tone to her instrument, she grabbed life by the horns, looked it in the eyes and said “let’s do this”.

Rosenthal leaves her husband, and many devastated colleagues, students, audience members and listeners.

  • Mishka Olivier is a first year Fine Arts student at the University of Pretoria. She is part of the VIT 101 class, being taught the rudiments of arts writing by Robyn Sassen during 2020.

4 replies »

  1. The JPO never formally closed as far as I know, we were still playing before lockdown. As far as I know, her husband, Chris, was a French horn player , not a trumpeter. Ventura and Chris looked after me when I was a rookie in the NSO in the early 90’s.

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