On Wings of Song

Johannesburg International Mozart Festival 2011

“Tout finit par des chansons – everything ends in songs”, Beaumarchais wrote as his last line in The Marriage of Figaro. By contrast, in the 2011 edition of the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival everything began with songs. With its theme “On Wings of Song” (after the eponymous lied by Felix Mendelssohn), the Festival took place between 27 January and 13 February, offering an exciting tribute to vocal music and to music inspired by vocal genres. The spectrum ranged from Mozart’s Requiem, via Schubert’s epic song-cycle Die Winterreise and African choral music, to cabaret songs by Weill and Eisler and back to a programme of operatic arias and duets by Mozart.

The human voice is the most natural and, perhaps, the most fascinating of all “instruments”. For many centuries it has attracted composers from diverse historical, geographical and stylistic backgrounds. The very first beginnings of music-making by man – thousands of years ago – were vocal, while the most recent and most (commercially) successful genres in popular music, too, are predominantly vocal. The expressive possibilities of the human voice have cast their spell upon every single musician in between. Mozart, for example, once noted that he liked an aria to fit a singer “as perfectly as a well-tailored suit of clothes”. Not surprisingly, vocal genres have also made their way into instrumental music. Franz Liszt, the great piano virtuoso of the nineteenth century, produced hundreds of so-called transcriptions and paraphrases of original songs for piano solo which he performed at his own concerts. By doing so, he popularised many songs by Schubert, for instance (as can be seen – and heard – in the Piano Recital on 6 February), and arguably became a kind of nineteenth-century “disc-jockey”. Opera lent itself even more successfully as a model for manipulation. Here, it was the commercial aspect that interested many a composer. A great deal of concert paraphrases and brilliant variations on favourite operatic themes by other composers were written to cash in on the popularity of well-known tunes. 

Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen“ from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute“ are just one example of such a “remix”. The piece was actually performed twice during the Festival: Beethoven’s “fake” version for cello and piano was featured in Chamber Concert I on 29 January, while the original duet for soprano and baritone from Mozart’s The Magic Flute could be heard in Symphony Concert II on 12 February.

Throughout the 2011 programme, there were similarly interesting juxtapositions as the Festival continued to articulate new contextualisations of familiar works by Mozart & Co. The platforms for such encounters included symphony and chamber concerts, a piano recital, a concert and oratorio recital, an African choral concert and three song recitals. Hand in hand with the main concerts, there were additional events that formed a vital part of the Festival, including a follow-up edition of the successful “Music and Exile” Symposium was started with the Goethe Institute in 2010, a workshop for young vocal soloists and a composers’ workshop, as well as workshop concerts with schoolchildren and with the young musicians from Nimrod Moloto’s Melodi Music Project.

The increased emphasis on the workshop format was a new and enthralling development, marking the Festival’s genuine commitment to initiating educational activities as well as discourses on cultural diversities and their intersections.

Furthermore, two other new schemes were introduced. The year 2011 saw the appointment of the Festival’s first Composer-in-Residence: Mokale Koapeng. Apart from composing Dipesalema Tsa Dafita, a new large-scale choral work commissioned by the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival for the Opening Concert on 27 January, Mokale Koapeng’s name appeared in a number of contexts: as the composer of various works throughout the Festival programme, as a performer/director (Choral Concert on 5 February), as a pedagogue (Composers’ Workshop on 6 February), as a speaker (Symposium on 4 and 5 February) and as a contributor of programme notes. We were extremely privileged to have been collaborating with such a creative and versatile artist.

Secondly, the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival was honoured to join forces with the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in Germany for a programme, which provides support for young South African vocal talents. This collaboration started in 2009 when Rolf Beck, internationally renowned choir director and Intendant of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, and his colleagues flew to South Africa to audition young singers for the prestigious Schleswig-Holstein Choir Academy.

Seven promising talents were chosen and invited to spend the summer of 2010 at the Festival in Germany, joining about 60 other young colleagues from 21 different nations. For several weeks, the choir worked with such renowned conductors as Christopher Hogwood, Bobby McFerrin, Christoph Eschenbach and Rolf Beck himself and appeared in a number of concerts. The participation of the South African delegation, in particular, was a huge success.

Both festivals worked hard to ensure a continuation of the support for more young South African singers. Auditions for the 2011 Schleswig-Holstein Choir Academy were held in Johannesburg and Cape Town at the end of January, and Rolf Beck directed a three-day masterclass for young South African vocal soloists.

Though 2011 only saw the third international edition of the Festival, important developments had already been achieved and we are looking forward to welcoming many new audiences to our Festival in the years to come.

 

Festival Programme 2011