The universe in a classical guitar

jamesgrace

He laughs at the idea of being the “darling” of the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, the eighth edition of which started last Saturday, but classical guitarist James Grace has been an important festival drawcard, performing during the last three years of the festival to capacity-packed venues. This year he performs a solo recital again; but he will also accompany a chamber concert and will perform as a soloist in the closing concert. He has nothing but praise for the initiative of the festival, coined as it has been by Richard Cock and Florian Uhlig. “It might look small on paper,” he says “but it punches way above its weight.”

Opting to play guitar seemed an obvious choice for a young man of a particular generation, in England, when the Beatles were burgeoning and pop stars were growing out of their parents’ garages. Grace, born in 1978, weathered all the conventional, well-intentioned questions: “Guitar? Do you sing? Do you have a band?”

“The whole band thing,” he says, “with the possibilities of electric guitar and amplification – with mechanisms and accessories – is nothing to do with what I do. The guitar for me is the instrument you have the most physical contact with while you play it. All that pushing and plucking … it’s very intimate. You hold it against your chest, and armed only with your hands, fingertips and fingernails, you experience the most extraordinary resonances with your body.”

Grace speaks also of the kind of simplicity honed by Hermann Hesse over a recorder in his novel, The Glass Bead Game: “An acoustic guitar, unlike most instruments, is something you can just pick up and play. You can take it anywhere. You don’t need to plug it in, or have to drive a truck to transport it. You don’t need to take it apart and put it together again,” he says.

Born in Kent, England, Grace grew up in a house full of music. His dad also played the guitar, and as an eight- or nine-year-old, James started private music lessons. He immigrated with his family to South Africa at the age of 10 – on the impetus of a football scholarship which his dad, a housepainter by trade, won – and James learned guitar from then Stellenbosch lecturer, Dietrich Wagner.

He returned to the UK to finish his high school education, where he was tutored privately in guitar by Carlos Bonell and then went on to study at the Royal College of Music in London, an experience he describes as “amazing!” At the college, between 1997 and 2001, Grace was what is known as a foundation scholar, which means that he successfully auditioned for a place each year and was sponsored by the institution, based on the quality of his performed work each year. “At the Royal College, I really got to see the best of the best in this field, from all walks of life.”

But a love for Cape Town was ignited in his adolescent heart in those precious years between the age of 10 and the beginning of high school. Referring to both South African cousins and the magnificence of South African rain storms, Grace knew he would be back. After he graduated from the Royal College of Music in London in 2001, he spent time in Qatar in the Middle East.

“After that I wanted to come back to South Africa. At that point in my career, I felt I could make my own way more convincingly than in London, for instance, where there are a lot more professional classical guitarists. Being in South Africa” – he has been teaching guitar for 20 years and heads the classical guitar department at the University of Cape Town – “gives me space to do what I want.”

The disciplines of teaching and recording vie in his calendar and heart: “I love teaching. It’s a very rewarding experience for me. As a music teacher, one plays a significant role in someone’s life: it’s a very unique position. You are not a parent or a friend, but there is a trust and a very special relationship that remains impartial. You inspire them. They inspire you.

“Recording is another version of making music and listening to it. It is important for posterity. Every album reflects certain stages in your personal life.” In 2007, Grace started his own recording label, Stringwise Records. “It gives me the opportunity to record what I want, to be in control of the process. The company handles everything from CD production to cover design.

“CD stores are closing, these days,” he comments on the need for artists to be proactive not only in making work, but also in marketing it. “People come straight to the artist via a website.”

Stringwise has a vision that extends beyond releasing great CDs. It plans to create an opportunity for selected graduates in music at a South African university to study further abroad. “It will be structured to provide a leg up to would-be professional musicians,” Grace emphasises that it is not for beginner musicians in need of financial assistance.

This year’s JIMF is themed ‘Alla Turca’, and as festival director Cock explains, the programme explores not only Turkish aspects in Mozart’s work, but the idea of exoticism generally. “Much of my repertoire is Spanish,” says Grace. “I’ve always loved Spanish music; there is no shortage of it in this festival’s programme.” He cites the exoticism and mystery of the classical guitar as one of the aspects that made him fall in love with the instrument.

In his solo concert on February 4, Grace will play “fantasy inspired music, featuring works from the Suite Española  (Spanish Suite) by Isaac Albeniz, the evocative Invocacion y Danza (Invocation and Dance) by Joaquin Rodrigo [whose Concierto de Aranjuez Grace performs on February 7 at the Linder Auditorium] and Fernando Sor’s popular Gran Solo.”

 

 

 

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In love with the San people’s harmony of being in the world: meet Peter Klatzow

Peter Klatzow with Japanese Marimbist Kunihiko Komori at a festival in 2011. Photograph courtesy blog.livedoor.jp

Peter Klatzow at work with Japanese marimbist Kunihiko Komori at a festival in Tokyo in 2011. Photograph courtesy blog.livedoor.jp

If you’ve been at any of this year’s Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, you may have had your proverbial envelope of expectations stretched wide. Arguably, the festival’s pièce de résistance is still to come – on February 8, when this year’s festival’s composer-in-residence Peter Klatzow debuts a work Johannesburg audiences haven’t experienced. Klatzow spoke to My View about the lost years of his youth, San harmony and how he learned African music through his feet.

Klatzow – who turns 70 this year – trained at the Royal College of Music in England, from 1964. “The seed was always there,” he quips, speaking of his upbringing in Brakpan, east of Johannesburg. “There were lots of people who tried to pull that seed it out,” he guffaws. “But they failed!

“My piano teacher wanted me to study with Lamar Crowson at London’s Royal College of Music. When I arrived, he said he’d love to have me as a student, but he was on his way to Cape Town! I studied instead with a wonderful lady called Kathleen Long – amongst others.” Klatzow’s and Crowson’s paths crossed again in 1973 in Cape Town. “We developed a close artistic friendship, which included playing bridge,” Klatzow learnt the game from his grandmother, a cherished woman who taught him more than card games.

“I am a practising Anglican; I come of curious family roots.” Born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother, Klatzow and his brother David – today the eminent forensic scientist—were not considered Jewish by religious law. “My parents fought about many things in their tumultuous, long marriage. The one thing they agreed on was for their children to be Jewish. But the rabbi said no.”

The two Klatzow boys slipped into a limbo devoid of religious ritual until Peter was four and his maternal grandmother “took us to church. The rest,” he grins, “is history. I still remember being baptised!” Klatzow’s considerable body of compositions includes many significant forays into church music and religious paradigms, from masses to requiems, beatitudes to carols.

Speaking of the composer-in-residence title at the Mozart Festival, he recognises his own value: “I’m delighted with the honour; but I bring a lot of work with me. It’s important for a festival’s profile to have a composer-in-residence with international recognition.”

International recognition he has. But do we, as a listenership, know him? There’s a trend in South African radio to not play the music of contemporary local composers.  “Composers are downplayed in South Africa. There are very clear stipulations for local radio stations to play local music: any work has a composer, a recording and a performer. Some works have lyrics. If the person behind two of these categories in a work is South African, the work is considered South African. Obviously, the most important one is the composer.

“But they skip past it,” he speaks of, for instance, a situation where  the leader of an orchestra is South African born, but resident elsewhere, and the music gets punted as South African. “For me that’s cheating.” It’s a cheat not only for Klatzow’s image, but for South Africans’ awareness. “My work is known better overseas than here. We live in a cultureless society that doesn’t look after its artists. So that’s why it is so important that we have a composer-in-residence in this festival and that Richard Cock and Florian Uhlig, JIMF’s directors do make sure our works get played.”

Klatzow’s taste and palette of influences is rich and diverse. He admires the work of 20th century British composer Benjamin Britten as well as the dynamics of African traditional music. Recognised for his use of the marimba, he also works with choirs. Explaining the difference between the concert marimba and the African marimba, he adds, “It is very difficult to combine an African instrument with a concert instrument: the intonation is different. I have a relationship with both western and African instruments. When I wrote Prayers and Dances of Praise from Africa (1996), the sound I had for the two marimbas in that piece was more African.

His love for African music grew from the bottom up: “While I taught at Cape Town’s College of Music, the Kirby Collection – a pre-urbanisation collection of South Africa’s musical heritage – was housed in the room under mine. Those instruments were played, taught and made. So I learnt African music through my feet. I could hear it through the floor.

“Percival Kirby was a minor composer, an internationally acknowledged musicologist and a very decent man. He was also the collector of any instrument that caught his fancy and this enabled him to leave a lasting and proud legacy. There are harps there and pianos, and African instruments. The collection which was started in the 1930s originally belonged to Wits, but is now housed in UCT’s College of Music.

“My one and only instrument is the piano,” he continues. “It’s wonderful for composing: you quickly develop a sense of harmony. If you play an instrument like the flute or the violin, you don’t develop a sense of harmony easily. In fact, I’ve noticed this with students I have had to teach who only play a monophonic instrument. They write contrapuntally with ease; when it comes to chords or harmony, they’re deficient. They cannot put down ten notes at once and hear what it sounds like. Pianists can.

“Most composers begin life as pianists. Like Beethoven. It was only much later that people said ‘Hey! This guy can write music too, what do you know!?’ In those days, everybody read music. Making music was family participation. They wrote string quartets together. It was the parlour thing to do.

In the thick of a rich annual Mozart Festival – the seventh, since its inception – there has been several opportunities to hear Klatzow’s music. But February 8, the final day of the festival, sees the performance of a Klatzow debut: All people become spirit people when they die.

“This piece has evolved over many years, when I was asked by the British a capella group The King’s Singers (founded in 1968) to write them a work for them to be accompanied by Evelyn Glennie on marimba in 1997. It was a very good commission: it was recorded by RCA on their gold label series. I looked around for texts and came across a wonderful little book by Stephen Watson, called Return of the Moon (1991).

“The book’s most moving aspect is its introduction to the San people’s history. The San were here before anyone else; I am so attracted to these people who harmonised so beautifully with nature … and I wrote a piece about them called Return of the Moon, which ends with a movement called The Broken String which talks about their alienation once they lost their land and sense of belonging.

“This performance you will hear next Sunday evening is a rearrangement of the work for a full choir. It’s a new combination for me: choir, piano played by a fabulous pianist – Florian Uhlig – and marimba played by beloved percussionist Magda de Vries. The piece isn’t just a setting of the text. It’s a landscape offering that open barren countryside during daytime and at night.

  • Klatzow’s Vivace, the third movement from his 2010 Cello Sonata will be performed as part of the Mozart Festival in a Chamber concert at Northwards House, Parktown on February 5 at 19:30
  • His All People Become Spirit People When They Die, a world prémiere of this work for choir, piano and orchestra and his Lightscapes for marimba and five instruments will be performed in of the final concert of the Mozart Festival, at the Linder Auditorium, Parktown on February 8 at 15:00.
  • His The Healing Melody will be performed by the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra later this year.
  • In May, the Soweto Opera Company performs his opera Words from a Broken String.

Zaidel-Rudolph and the writing of a perfect song for a Rainbow Nation

Nelson Mandela examining the CD of a composition Zaidel-Rudolph made, celebrating his life. Photograph courtesy Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph

Nelson Mandela holding the CD of a work Zaidel-Rudolph composed, celebrating his life. Photograph courtesy Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph

Possibly one of the most potent symbols of our identity as a unique culture is our National Anthem. Lee Hirsch in 2002 constructing the important film Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony gave beautiful documentary insight into how music and history cleave together in South Africa, and have done so, through the Struggle, informing who we are as South Africans.

But through layer upon layer of song and tune, of protest ditty and household chorus, the national anthem must shine through. Johannesburg-based Professor Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, arguably one of the more recognised contemporary composers in the world – and the first woman to attain her doctorate in music composition in South Africa, was responsible for the composite version of our current national anthem.

“The process for me started in 1995,” Zaidel-Rudolph, now, since her retirement last year, an honorary research academic at the University of the Witwatersrand, told My View. “I was approached by President Nelson Mandela’s office to be part of the committee to organise and rearrange a composite version of the two anthems – the old national anthem, Die Stem, and the African anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika

The process had begun a couple of years earlier, formally in April of 1993. Musicologist Michael Levy writes: “the Multiparty Negotiating Forum (MPNF) began work in Kempton Park outside Johannesburg, with the aim of creating a democratic South Africa, and in November of that year ratified the Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa which regulated government of the country through the 1994 elections until the adoption of the final Constitution in 1996.

“Professor Elize Botha was appointed by the MPNF as chairman of its commission on national symbols which at first invited submissions from the public for the creation of a completely new and original national anthem.A sub-committee was appointed to oversee this process.Although more than 200 new proposed anthems were received, none was considered suitable.”

Zaidel-Rudolph was appointed, some three years later, a member of a committee to focus on the anthem. It was chaired by professor of African languages at the University of the Witwatersrand, Mzilikazi Khumalo, and in addition to Zaidel-Rudolph, comprised other musical and linguistic heavy-weights in the country: Richard Cock, Professor Khabi Mngoma, Professor Mazizi Kunene, Professor Elize Botha, Fatima Meer, Dr Wally Serote, Professor John Lenake, Anna Bender and Professor Johan de Villiers.

“The committee drew from all over the country. Dr Ben Ngubane, minister of Arts and Culture at the time initiated the process and facilitated it,” said Zaidel-Rudolph. “In this committee, they asked people to make suggestions. How do you take an anthem that is 5’20” – because it was two anthems conjoined – “and compress it into an intelligible,singable composite version? What do you remove?” She explains that traditionally, an anthem should never be longer than two minutes.

“Mandela’s directive was that it should be under two minutes, and I reckoned 1’50” would have been okay – even 1’48”- whichis what she eventually achieved.

Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph with Nelson Mandela. Photograph courtesy Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph.

Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph with Nelson Mandela. Photograph courtesy Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph.

“So, Richard Cock and Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo, who have worked together for many years on massed choir festivals, developed a blueprint, which put Die Stem first, and then Nkosi. There were no English words.

“I arrived with my idea: I’d put Nkosi first, in a particular key, then added a bridge passage, because the average man cannot sing those two songs in the same key as the one becomes terribly high. So after Nkosi is finished, in G Major, the music modulates down to D Major for excerpts of Die Stem. I also wrote the English words.

“A discussion proffered unanimous support for my suggested structure and though Cabinet found my original English words to be a little too militaristic, I re-submitted fresh lyricsand was asked to put the final version into practice.”

She described this decision at the time in the local newspaper as “the highlight of my life. My roots are in Africa and through my great love of music and especially of composition, this has been an incredible experience. It is such an honour for me to hear my own work on the national and international stage, radio and television. And it has been an honour to do this for my country and our President.I spent many weeks in my studio in Bagleyston agonising over the final composite,” she told Joy Kanter of the Rosebank Killarney Gazette in 1995.

“They tasked me with doing this whole thing, which was cutting, cutting, cutting. Also at that committee meeting, a very interesting thing happened. Fatima Meer, who was very close to Mandela, and a Muslim woman with whom I became quite friendly,, was adamant that the ‘Woza Moya’ section of Nkosi, should come out. It means ‘Come Oh Spirit’.At the time, it was strongly felt around the table that ‘Come Oh Spirit’ meant the Christian holy Trinity, so it wasn’t appropriate for Muslims. Or Jews.So, that was adopted.”

The anthem contains isiZulu, isiXhosa, Setswana and Sesotho, in addition to Afrikaans and English. “I do not speak the African languages,” said Zaidel-Rudolph. “So I consulted Khumalo, the professor of African languages on the committee. I had done all the music and I asked him how we do this so that we don’t chop any of the words in half. Most of the repetitions we took out, which helped a lot with the shortening and editing process of the work.

“After all this I did a piano and vocal score, with new English words which I had written and then they asked me to do a full orchestration for full orchestra. And I had a lot of fun with that, because I tried to think of ways of being symbolic. In the one section near the end, I put Nkosi as a counterpoint because it worked harmonically. I superimposed it with Die Stem in the orchestration to show reconciliation and all the symbolism of what was transpiring which the average guy would not have recognised, but which a musician might have heard, because I put it also in African instruments. It is in the marimba and the cabassa in the original orchestral version.”

For a while now, there has been talk of wanting to rework the national anthem. Zaidel-Rudolph is cognisant of this: “People don’t like the composite version. The real die-hards and stalwarts of the struggle feel that there shouldn’t be any of Die Stem in there.”

But if this happened, would it change the anthem’s identity? Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika composed as a hymn in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, means God bless Africa, and is a part of several anthems throughout the continent. It was adopted by the ANC as the closing song for its meetings in 1912.

Levy explains in Samro’s publication Notes: “Although Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika was originally written in Zulu, in the 1920s, Xhosa stanzas were added to it by Samuel Mqhayi, a Xhosa poet and historian who sat on the Xhosa language bible revision board. In 1942, Moses Mphahlele, an ANC secretary, poet and musician published Morena Boloka, the Sesotho version.”

Involved as a Director in the SA Music Rights Organisation (Samro) since 2008, Zaidel-Rudolph is also a Director on the board of the Samro Foundation. She’s also a member of the Social and Ethics Committee and its Nominations and Governance Committee. “We are involved in music policy, especially when it relates to government.

“I wouldn’t say that this national anthem is the perfect blend, but I believe it is the best one at the moment. I thought very carefully about it keeping some Afrikaans words because Mandela said we must.Just like he said with the Springboks: you don’t destroy. You elevate and re-use.”

Conceived as a poem in 1918, Die Stem was written by the poet CJ Langenhoven and composed by Marthinus Lourens De Villiers in 1921. It was adopted as the official national anthem of South Africa in May 1957, shortly before South Africa became independent.

“Maybe it is time for a new anthem,” Zaidel-Rudolph continues. “But I don’t know where that anthem will come from. Because people, now that it’s taken nearly 20 years to learn it, are not so happy to let go of it.

“When first I was approached, the idea of composing the country’s national anthem was quite a thought for me. I had never been involved in thinking about the anthem. At that stage, I didn’t know Nkosi and I had to make it my business very speedily to know it.”

This selected version was officially adopted as the National Anthem of South Africa by President, Nelson Mandela, by Proclamation No. 68 in the Government Gazette of October 10, 1997.

But who owns it? While Zaidel-Rudolph was paid for her work, copyright for a national anthem is more complicated and no royalties accrue to anyone. Levy adds: “Strictly speaking, all South African own the anthem, but free of any and all copyright and commercial restraints. The national anthem of South Africa is owned by the state which has determined that the work is in the public domain.”