Conductor Leon Starker spoke about this extraordinary choir, which has 32 to 38 members between the ages of 16 and 28, many of whom hold full-time jobs.
He says the choir started in Durbanville back in 1997 as the Pro Cantu Youth Choir under the baton of Andre van der Merwe. “When I became conductor in 2003, I moved the rehearsal venue to Cape Town and changed the name to the Cape Town Youth Choir while keeping ‘Pro Cantu’ as our motto (meaning ‘for singing’).”
A definite highlight for the choir was a concert tour to the US earlier this year – to New York, New Haven and Boston.
The choir performed at schools and at Yale University and Harvard. “Our concert was titled Songs of Loss and Hope and it was very well-received,” says Starker.
What are some of the other highlights over the years? “Performing Rachmaninov Vespers and Handel’s Messiah, both in Cape Town; various tours to Europe and performing in Salisbury, London, Berlin, Prague and Hamburg; a tour to China – there have been too many highlights to mention,” he says.
Wednesday’s concert celebrates Hofmeyr’s contribution to the South African choral oeuvre as a music academic and an acclaimed composer, says Starker.
“He has the ability to make the text come alive while at the same being able to write beautiful melodies. Having said that, keep in mind that he is a modern composer – expect dissonance and challenging harmonic structures in his music.
His music demands a high level of technical competence on the part of the singers, but in the end (in the words of one of the choristers), ‘once you’ve sung Hendrik Hofmeyr it becomes difficult to find singing easy pieces satisfying’.”
Starker adds: “Hofmeyr has written a huge amount of choral works and we will only be performing about 12 pieces.
The common thread that runs through Wednesday’s programme is that the choir (or conductor) has a personal link to each of the pieces that we’ll perform – some of the pieces were commissioned by the choir in previous years. You can expect an hour of challenging, but hugely satisfying choral music.”
Starker says that, as the conductor, the challenge was that the music is very difficult and the group had very little time to prepare.
“We have a significant number of UCT students in the choir and because their second semester only started this week, we’ve been practising the past month with about a third of the choir absent. Also we could only start preparing for this concert after returning from New York in April.
But the choir has incredibly dedicated and extremely musical members. They rose to the challenge and we’re looking forward to the 23rd.” Starker was recently in Barcelona at a choral symposium, which is held every three years in a different city.
“For a week attendees could attend lectures, workshops and masterclasses and listen to 24 of the world’s best choirs perform. It was an incredibly enriching experience and I aim to apply many of the new things I learned to my teaching,” he said, But back home there is much on the cards for the choir.
On September 6, in an exciting programme, the choristers will perform with dance groups at the Youngblood Gallery in Loop Street for a concert at which some of the Hofmeyr repertoire will be repeated, but they will also sing some folk songs.
He says: “The dancers will improvise while the choir is singing. I was surprised to learn that we will not be practising with them beforehand and that they won’t be listening to recordings of the songs – dances will be totally improvised.
This is something new for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
At the end of November, the group will be host holiday concerts – singing carols, folk songs and a cappella arrangements of contemporary music. l The choral music of Hendrik Hofmeyr will be performed at the Baxter Concert Hall on Wednesday at 7.30pm.
Tickets are R70 each, UCT staff pay R65, senior citizens and students R55, and pupils R45. UCT students with a valid student card get in free. Book at Computicket.