Charl du Plessis

Diane de Beer

It’s noT easy for a classical musician to make a living, especially if the dream is to perform. There are only so many options and talent isn’t always the thing that will pull you through.

Charl du Plessis (pictured) is one of the lucky few but it is because he has worked hard and been innovative with his career. “I am obsessed with pianos and as a Steinway Artist I felt I had to do something to make the public aware of these great instruments and why it is important to celebrate pianos and piano music,” he says of his latest venture.

Most concert pianists depend on concert promoters to organise concerts but from the start, he realised that he wanted to take his own career in hand – or it might not happen.

“South Africa has some incredible venues with great pianos and to celebrate this, I chose 10 cities with my favourite venues and pianos in mind,” he says.

The initial spark for this latest series originated from an urban legend. It is said that after the turn of the previous century a British concert pianist toured South Africa. The woman who organised his tour fell madly in love with this young artist. On the last night of the tour she wrote him a love letter declaring undying love and a willingness to leave her husband. She promised to take care of him and travel the world with him. Before he went on stage she whispered to him to look under the piano chair before leaving the hall.

He left the next day without a word and she did not know if he was too scared or simply not interested. The truth is the letter was never found because he forgot to look under the piano chair.

“This was my inspiration to recreate this tour in my imagination and go in search of this missing letter,” explains the pianist.

Hence The 10 Chair Tour.

“I sit on the 10 most important piano chairs in South Africa,” says Du Plessis.

But the tour also got another initiative off the ground.

He explains: “I get so upset when I travel through the country and see neglected pianos. I am passionate about the opportunity to play on a decent instrument and for young people to have access to pianos. How can I give something back and ensure that the good pianos in concert halls remain cared for as it is such a luxury for some institutions to spend money on the upkeep of pianos.”

What he did was to contact the Steinway-trained piano technician Ian Burgess-Simpson in Cape Town, the largest staff of Steinway- trained piano technicians in the southern hemisphere. They had discussions and he leapt on board to offer a full piano service in each city on the day of the concert.

“This means that the piano is fixed to the value of R10 000 in each city and the concert venue does not pay anything. And I have the chance to give something back with a piano that is left in better shape than when we found it,” he says.

Burgess-Simpson also plays a role during the evening recital when he comes on stage to take the piano apart. This is a special feature incorporated in the show to show audiences the inside of the piano for the first time.

“The music I play during this concert is full-blooded classical music in the first half and lighter classical music and some jazz in conclusion. I also talk about the music in an attempt to unlock the mysteries for listeners who might not be that familiar with Rachmaninoff, Bach, Chopin or Gershwin.”

The Pretoria concert of the 10 Chair Tour will be on Sunday at 4pm in the Musaion at the University of Pretoria. Tickets: R120 at Computicket. The 10 cities are Pretoria, Cape Town, Kimberley, Potchefstroom, Port Elizabeth (October 7), East London (October 8), Roodepoort (August 3), Kroonstad (August 8), Bloemfontein (August 7) and Joburg (Linder, October 12).