Poles Apart: Music from opposite ends of the scales at JIMF 2018

You say Papageno, I say Papagena … Opposites attract, they say. From January 26 until February 4, expect to be blown hither and yon, by some of the world’s finest music: light and dark, brothers and sisters, high notes and lows, husbands and wives … It’s the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, and it commemorates the 262nd birthday of the great composer in eight Johannesburg venues.

The festival boasts for the first time two composers in residence, Capetonians Matthijs van Dyk and Lungiswa Plaatjies, and their ensemble, ShhArt.

And it’s unapologetically a programme of new music, but fear not: Your favourite favourites and all the old chestnuts are there too: the Viennese New Year’s Concert with its pizzicato magic; Orchestra from Scratch, which gets amateurs playing like professionals; Cinema Improvisando, in which Paul Hanmer jives to silent film; Conduct the Orchestra, which puts the baton into the hands of CEOs, just for larks; something for the littlies, and lots of chamber music. Not to forget a Buskaid event under the baton of Rosemary Nalden.

But that’s not all. Collaborations are high on the programme’s agenda: from the Charl du Plessis trio to husband and wife team Lukhanyo Moyake and Siphamandla Yakupa; the Johannesburg Music Society collaborates with the Mozart Festival to bring Lithuanian Muza Rubackyte, who lends choreography to the fierce art of piano playing.

If the conventional is not your thing, opt to be challenged by young composers Cara Stacey, Arthur Feder and Nomapostile Nyiki who work with visual artist Naomi van Niekerk, doing the unexpected with sand art.

Hanmer gives aural life to the 1918 classic film “I don’t want to be a man”, a gender tale from the pre-talkie era. It’s not all you’ll get to see of Hanmer: This festival features his Mass for the First Peoples, a brand new work.

The festival’s opera event is a potted version of Mozart’s Magic Flute, featuring the inimitable tenor Nicholas Nicolaidis as Papagena and soprano Jessica Ng as Queen of the Night.

One of the gems in the crown of the Mozart Festival under the curatorship of Richard Cock and Florian Uhlig, is the institution of the Composer-in-Residence. The value of having two composers this year is priceless, as it enhances the programme’s richness and diversity.

Van Dijk first composed music when he was nine. He’s developed a following which reaches from New York’s Clockwise duo to Freshly Ground. Van Dijk has enjoyed commissions by the Carnegie Hall-affiliated Decoda ensemble. He’s worked in the film industry with Simon Ratcliffe and in 2016 he worked with Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg, on a musical foray into the life of an anti-apartheid hero.

Plaatjies was bitten by the music bug when she was eight. She grew up to become the lead vocalist of Amampondo; her career has taken her all over the world. She’s collaborated with Don Laka, Neo Muyanga and Swiss guitarist Max Lasser. She’s diversified from a vocalist to a performer of traditional African instruments, drawing from ancient Xhosa music and dance traditions to create her work.

And the other chamber concerts? They’ll set you afire. From Schubert’s work for four hands played by Uhlig and Russian-German Olga Scheps, flautist Bridget Rennie-Salonen and harpist Gaylen Sales who bring some lesser known and some popular pieces in an all-Mozart programme; to a spot of Alban Berg and a dash of Alma Maler played by Uhlig and Michel Lethiec, a former Paris Conservatoire professor.

One cherry on top of this year’s festival is how it caters for young festivalgoers. Last year saw a local version of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf; this year, youngsters get to see Peter Klatzow’s Tintinyane, a musical tale of heroes and villains in which a little girl is captured by a forest monster.

Be mesmerised and spoilt for choice by the opposites that this year’s Mozart festival offers: the loud and the soft, the old and the new, the boys and the girls.

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