Sheer musical poetry

By Time of article published Mar 19, 2014

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Terri Dunbar-Curran

TO REACH people through music is a powerful gift, says conductor Alex Fokkens, who’ll wield the baton at the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of Carmina Burana at Kirstenbosch on Friday at 5.30pm.

“I love working with people and I truly enjoy making music. I was conducting at high school already,” he says. “The excitement of recreating something written ages ago and finding the clues the composer left on the page… it’s like a putting a puzzle together.”

He adds that one of the greatest things about music is creating an experience with the audience. “Working together and creating some sort of emotion or mood is truly inspirational stuff.”

The Human Rights Day concert will be a fundraiser for Kirstenbosch’s participation in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Carmina Burana is a collection of 24 poems from around the 12th century, many of them bawdy and satirical, which were set to music by Carl Orff in 1936. “It’s a very popular and powerful work, and it lends itself quite well to outside, especially at this time of year. It could be quite dramatic,” says Fokkens.

He has been involved in performances of the work several times. “It’s funny, this particular piece I’ve been involved in performances since I was 12,” he says, explaining that Rondebosch Boys used to stage it every few years. “And I’ll actually be doing it twice this year. It’s an exciting piece of music. I love doing it.”

While he and his choir are familiar with it, and the orchestra has played it before, they do have some members who are new to the piece.

“We started rehearsing once a week at the end of last year. To be able to put on a good performance you have to know it well.” As the performance date draws closer they will up their rehearsal schedule to a couple of times a week. “It’s a wonderful piece to bring to people new to choral singing. O Fortuna in itself is a rousing, powerful thing. And the percussion and brass make for a fantastic, fun experience.”

One of the biggest challenges Fokkens and the performers will have to deal with is the difference between performing in a concert hall designed with acoustics in mind, and the open air venue at Kirstenbosch.

“In a concert hall sound can only go so far before it bounces off the walls and ceiling. Outdoors is difficult to sing because you struggle to hear yourself and the people around you, even with monitors,” explains Fokkens. “For the audience it will be very much the same as indoors. But for the choir you’re almost singing into the void.”

He says that if a singer is in any way insecure it can prove problematic – even more reason to make sure they get as much practice in as possible. “You almost have to spit the words out so there’s no question of what you’re singing.”

There’s a long list of pieces Fokkens would love to work on, but he is pleased have just done Mozart’s opera Cosi fan Tutte in Pretoria.

“I love the Mozart operas and I’ve wanted to do it for a long time.

“Then there are works like the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss. To get to do that would be a wonderful experience.”

Despite the works he’s still keen to tackle, he says that it’s always fun to do a piece more than once, adding that as Leonard Bernstein once said, every time you work on a piece you find something new.

Fokkens encourages Cape- tonians not to miss out on the chance to see Carmina Burana, not only to support fundraising efforts, but also to take some time out to be surrounded by the beauty of nature and music.

“The most important thing is the great experience that is live music,” he says. “We spend so much time with the television, our phones and computers. There’s something truly wonderful about being part of a live performance.

“That’s something you’ll never get at home. The people, the views and the setting – it all creates a wonderful and powerful experience.”

l Gates open at 4pm. Tickets are R120. See

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