Sunday, July 12, 2009

Music in Gaborone!

So you think I am in a cultural desert? Well, almost, but not quite.....tonight we had, in the 400-seat Maitisong concert hall/theatre (the only one purpose-built since independence in 1966) a concert of Soweto Buskaid.

Soweto Buskaid is an outfit founded by a VIOLA Player, Rosemary Nalden, in response to a BBC programme about the 'difficulties besetting a string project in Diepkloof, Soweto. It is a band of about 20 - 25 young string players who tour the world, have played at the Proms (to '5-star reviews'), and voted as 'one of the world's most inspirational orchestras' by Grammophone magazine. Hmmmm. You know how it is when you have a blind pianist or someone else overcoming seemingly overwhelming odds, that sometimes judgement goes out of the window, a bit?

Yes, they played very nicely - but world class? They need to let their personalities out.

There was something funny about it. I found them rather timid. Someone said 'it's because they are very young' - that's no excuse; young people don't tend to be timid. Think of the Bolivar Youth Orchestra, or any other major youth orchestra - usually they are full of exuberance. I did wonder about the conductor's personality (more about that anon).

They started with some Purcell, a dance suite, of short dances. They were very nice; played with a nice baroque bow hold and so on, but Purcell is Purcell, fairly straight music, precise, at times not all that exciting....There were a couple of amazing dancers (one also a violinist in the band); I thought of the two Tumi Mapholo was the more talented one - they had done their own choreography which was very interesting, and Mapholo was really, really good. Drop the violin, boy!

This was followed by two Kreisler pieces, played very nicely by a violinist from the back row. In the second piece there were some intonation issues, and maybe not enough give and take on the tempi. There was the odd bit of funny bow direction, but he was having fun. I did wonder about him going to a music school in Europe, say Lithuania; he would have the talent though I would not wish Lithuania on a lad from Soweto.

Then we had two Beatles songs, sung by Cecilia Manyama; she was far more at home in Preacherman than in 'Michelle' (which the band is hoping to send to Mrs Michelle Obama). I think that needs a bit more practice to get more into the singer's comfort zone.  This was followed by the first movement of the Brandenburg 3; we have all played it, haven't we. It was nice, though again not as lively as it might have been.

Finally they ended with the Beale Street Blues, an old American piece, nicely played by the band and the basses (they seem to have streamlined basses - they had the thickness of the cellos rather than being deeper as is normally the case). 

The second half opened with the best of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, No 6 for violas and basso continuo. I was listening closely to the violas - during the first half emotions had taken over and I was wondering about sponsoring (or helping to sponsor) one of the viola players to participate in the viola congress at the other end of South Africa in a couple of weeks' time. When I was listening to them, they were good, again lots of musicality, but at times (mildly) iffy technique, and damn it, can those personalities not be let out?  I thought of the standards of other viola players and wondered whether really theirs would be up to congress level.  Still some time to think.

Then we had two slow Gymnopedies by Satie - those that we all know and can sing along to. The dancers appeared again and did very nice dances indeed. I see that the programme notes suggest that Satie may have suffered from 'compulsive neuroses' (hence the 'hypnotic repetitions' of the piece??? though you could say the same about any ground bass; and I wonder if people like Philip Glass have similar neuroses??? - Freud - where are you?). Does this come from Wikipedia, one of the sources of the programme notes?

Another two Kreisler pieces followed - again not as much give and take (rubatos) as there might have been, but pleasant and nice.  Finally we had an African Kwela; African music arranged by Buskaid students - these were fun.  Again I wondered if the players had restrained themselves a bit too much, and were a bit too much in the European music straight jacket - it was pleasant music, but I would have expected some raucousness.

But overall I thought temperaments were curbed, the members of the group were too restrained, and there was not as much fun as there might have been. '5-star reviews?'   At the end I went to ask a member of the accompanying team about the viola congress; not only had she not heard about it, but she also felt 'we should have been invited' - before she dropped me to speak to the US embassy representatives.  Well, with that attitude of 'entitlement' (I am sure the congress is run on a shoe-string budget, and could probably not invite a whole group) I could see no reason to offer to support anyone.  Money saved.

Will blog a bit more about Buskaid and saving the world and so on....