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WE OFTEN think of jazz and classical music as two different genres. Not so, says piano virtuoso Charl du Plessis. To prove his point he’s coming to the Mother City to perform Gershwin’s jazz-inspired Rhapsody in Blue with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra at the Cape Town City Hall on August 23.
Gershwin’s composition was revolutionary in the way it took jazz music out of smoke-filled clubs, dressed it up in fine concert gear and brought it to the symphony hall.
The piece, arranged for piano and orchestra, begins with a playful clarinet solo that introduces the orchestra with a challenging glissando stretching more than two octaves.
The pianist is allowed to shine with colourful cadenza-style islands that make the pianist’s fingers run along the full range of the piano. It’s a playful piece with the whole orchestra used fully with dramatic changes in tempo and dynamics and comical muted sounds from the brass.
Du Plessis, a doctor of music, enjoys the “general excitement in the piece”.
It is difficult to categorise him. His recordings range from the heavy classics of Beethoven and Mozart to the light-hearted feel-good songs of Billie Joel and Sting.
Born and raised in Bloemfontein, the good doctor says he has always wanted to be a musician and performer.
“I’ve always wanted to be a performer,” he says. “I love the privilege of being on stage and giving the audience the pleasure of hearing something they’ve never heard before.”
His PhD in classical and jazz from the University of Pretoria allows him to be comfortable playing in any setting and mood. It was the guidance of a teacher during his musical training that allowed him to step out of the “genre box”. He describes his former teacher as being “bilingual in style” which opened the doors of improvisation to him.
In addition to his performance commitments, both local and abroad, he lectures in classical and jazz music at the University of Pretoria and Unisa. In teaching people from a classical background, he says he tries to “free them from what is written down” and encourages them to “play without rules”.
He is also involved in developing and training people from disadvantaged backgrounds regardless of age. He tries to make his teaching enjoyable.
“Some classical pieces are not fun when you’re young. If we can teach someone to emulate someone they know, like Abdullah Ibrahim or McCoy Mrubata, then they get motivated.”
Also on the cards for the Cape Town audience is a new composition by Du Plessis especially composed for the Cape Philharmonic: Re-Invention Suite No 1. He describes the composition as “a piece that entertains from both genres”.
The three-part suite incorporates influences from the classical and the jazz worlds.
“The first part is inspired by Mozart, known by many as the demi-god of music. The second is inspired by Latin American music. The third is a new cocktail for the Cape Town audience. It brings together the two Gs of music [pianist and composer Edvard Grieg and pop sensation Lady Gaga].”
He jovially describes the last part as a bad romance between Grieg and Lady Gaga.
To people who may be in two minds about coming to the concert, the Steinway-performing artist has a few words of advice.
“Go and experience something new,” he says, urging people to be open-minded.
The doctor promises an “ear massage” for all on the evening of the August 23. – Cadet News Agency email@example.com
l To book, call Artscape Dial-a-Seat at 021 421 7695, or Computicket at 0861 915 8000. See www.cpo.org.za