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They stole my heart the first time I saw them almost two years ago in Berlin, and they did it again a few weeks back at Joburg’s Linder, where they were performing the concert they are going to perform all across Europe later this month.
The Miagi Youth Orchestra, the brainchild of among others Robert Brooks and the New Skool Orchestra, created by one of the livewires in the orchestra, will be touring Europe (The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden) from June 22 to celebrate 20 years of freedom. Partnering them on the Swedish leg of the tour are Ahmed Kathrada, Barbara Hogan and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.
“It’s the sense of community as well as the music,” says Tshepo Tsotetsi, the driving force and founder of the New Skool Orchestra. But for many South Africans, it’s also the vision of what we imagine our country could be.
This young saxophonist and clarinettist, only 22, says he wants his compositions to reflect his age.
“I don’t want to sound older,” he says. And that’s also his thinking about this leg of the orchestra, The New Skool. “I want to attract new audiences, orchestra should be cool,” he says.
And believe me, when he has the baton and those kids start jamming, even as the classics still underline the sounds emanating, they’re cool.
In one of the pieces, the young men in the back row (see picture), all with trumpet and flute instruments, keep jumping up and sitting down again, seemingly randomly but creating a rhythm and youthfulness that’s extraordinary. The energy exuded sets them apart as from this continent and more specifically South Africa. That’s part of the reason the concert in Hamburg has been sold out for weeks and in Berlin, they’re almost there in a more than 2 000-seater. The audiences have these past few years experienced the exuberance yet not without the musicality of the Miagi Youth Orchestra and its more modern counterpart, The New Skool.
Tsotetsi’s aim was to build a new body of orchestral work of which most is composed by members of the orchestra. “The European model of orchestras clearly don’t work for us. If you can trigger that we are a people who dance, if you can wake that up, it will be blast off.”
“They are a core group of 45 and then members of the regular Miagi Youth Orchestra join in according to their needs,” explains Brooks.
What Brooks also emphasises is that although they are opting for new and perhaps often avant garde music with The New Skool, they can just as easily switch to Haydn or Mozart. There’s a work ethic that goes along with what might be perceived as laidback kids.
“We should be reflecting our reality today however,” says Tsotetsi, and when he looks back at the two years of the New Skool existence, their vision is stronger than ever.
Their tour at the end of the week starts with a week-long rehearsal in the tiny German town of Soest. There they are the guests of the villagers and they end their stay with a concert for the town folk.
On Sunday, June 29, they will be performing at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, which seats 2 400. “The tickets are flying. There are still a few left, but I know the hall will be packed,” says Brooks.
Then they travel to Sweden, where they will be part of democracy celebrations as well as the 20 Years of Freedom concert in Stockholm on July 4. Hamburg follows on July 11 and on July 17 an international Nelson Mandela concert will be presented at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
They will be joined at their concerts on stage by Swedish flautist Anders Paulsson who performed during the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony of Nelson Mandela. At the local concert a few weeks back, he introduced himself by saying that we shouldn’t forget the miracle that is South Africa’s. “That’s how you’re perceived internationally,” he says.
And again, he was an example of someone who had lost his heart to our young musicians. Because they seem to attract so much more attention internationally than locally, Brooks is especially pleased that a documentary will be made of their current tour. “We need to create a market for our orchestras,” he says. These youngsters also have to make a living as they move up the ladder and this is specifically what the New Skool is aiming for.
The conductors on tour will be Brandon Phillips for the Miagi Youth Orchestra and Tshepo Tsotetsi for the New Skool performances.
If ever you have a chance to catch any of their performances, don’t miss out. They are something quite extraordinary.
• MIAGI’s Partners: The South African Department of Arts and Culture, The Embassy of Sweden through SIDA, the EU and LANXESS.