School concerts have certainly come a long way since my day. I mean this as a compliment.
But, in fact, we never mounted a concert at Rustenburg. Our once-a-year highlight for parents and friends was the carol service on a summer Sunday evening when the choir would make your skin tingle singing the descant of the First Noel as they walked slowly around the quadrangle to join the rest of us in the courtyard.
It was a great night but nothing like the achievement of Westerford High School last week filling the City Hall on two consecutive nights for their “Classical Pops 2017” concerts. These were presented in the packed Grand Hall which looked stunning with the huge organ pipes illuminated in different hues including the gold and purple colours of the school.
The programme, just a tad too long, showcased some remarkable soloists – like soprano Genevieve Heathcote-Marks singing the famous aria O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicci and Victoria Fokkens, who gave a mature rendering of the first movement of Grieg’s well-known Piano Concerto in A minor.
However this was a night for everyone to strut their stuff. From the diminutive penny-whistler Elizabeth Bentley to the entire school staff joyously belting out Neil Diamond’s famous I’m a Believer. In addition there were contributions from the choir of 125 voices, the 70-piece orchestra and the Big Band of 21 enthusiasts playing saxes, trumpets, trombones, guitar and bass.
In the defence of Rustenburg there was only one permanent music teacher in my time. Westerford boasts six – plus several part-timers who teach a variety of instruments. The head of music, Birgit Penny, proved a lively conductor of the 60-strong concert band and the chamber Orchestra. Her five colleagues, Richard Haigh (choirmaster and orchestra conductor), Shelley Ainsworth, Charles Daniell, Marike Grobbelaar and Peter Narun shared the responsibilities of conducting chamber groups of enthusiastic music makers.
Three things really impressed: the commitment of the whole school to make a success of such a complex programme; the way the young conducted themselves on stage like the professional musicians which some may eventually become and, be- cause the concerts involved a late night, school the following morning started an hour later. Now that would never have happened at Rusten- burg.
Admiring the palms
Have you noticed how beautiful some of the palm trees around here are looking? Not the very tall thin kind or the small ones popular for planting along roads but the stately, thick-set palms which make fine specimen trees for a suburban garden.
Some have recently been pruned and shaped by a professional tree cutter transforming them into eye-catching garden objects.
What’s surprising is that by removing the topmost fronds and clearing the dead wood off the trunk, the palms reveal an unexpectedly rich glowing colour.
There are a couple of examples in Tokai’s Maryland Avenue which have had this makeover and there was another in Brocker Way.
However, to my surprise last Thursday it was most carefully removed, placed in all its glory outside the property and carted away in a huge truck and trailer to a new home.
I received an amusing message on my phone from a reader about the inaccuracies of the movie Dunkirk. He’d picked up all sorts of things like the modern items visible in the town supposedly in 1940 and the paucity of the flotilla of small boats which rescued 300 000 off the beaches. Where, he asked, were all thousands of soldiers?
I wanted to write back saying that as I had spent most of the movie with my eyes closed and ears blocked I had not picked up these flaws. Alas his email disappeared with his address before I could get back to him.
About 10 years ago when driving through France we made a detour to visit Dunkirk and were disappointed to find this world famous town such a dreary spot. I don’t recall anything modern about it but we did enjoy bowls of excellent mussel soup in a café for lunch.
Young talents sprouting
In light of the musical talent at the Westerford concert, it seems that the young are getting better and better. The two soloists for the first concerts in the Spring Season of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra are both teenagers.
On Thursday August 24 the diminutive French trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary, (born in 1999) stunned the audience with her relaxed virtuosic performance of Hummel’s Concerto for Trumpet, under the baton of Bernhard Gueller. Then on August 31 the sensational young Russian pianist Daniel Kharitonov (born at the end of 1998) was due to perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1
In June 2015 when Daniel was 16 and a half and still a school boy, he was the youngest competitor in the piano division of the pres tigious International Tchaikovsky Competition and came third.
For multiple reasons, Lucienne says, she fell in love at the age of nine with the trumpet and studied classical trumpet with Philippe Lafitte at the Conservatoire in Mans. From the age of 14 she has won numerous prizes and last year was the winner of the ‘Révélation’ category of the Victoires de la Musique Classique. She is also an avid jazz performer.
Most recently Lucienne made her debut with Daniel and the London Chamber Orchestra perform- ing Shostakovich’s Piano and Trumpet Concerto No 1 in Turkey. The conductor was Vladimir Ashkenazy who many Capetonians will remember performing here as a great pianist before turning to conduct- ing.
They say money talks …but all mine ever says is “totsiens”.