The purpose of The Miagi (Music is a Great Investment) Youth Orchestra, a section 21 (not-for-profit) company, is to address the issue of ethnic relationships through its all-inclusive programming. By offering a platform for intercultural creative dialogue, they bring youth, artists and audiences together that would otherwise never meet.

Miagi promotes music education for children and youth as an effective tool for social upliftment and offers SA artists opportunities to showcase their talent nationally and abroad.

With their approach and the music selected, they hope to inspire dialogue among people of different cultures through an intense process of artistic exchange that includes commissioning new intercultural compositions. This underlines their objective to educate in the broadest sense of the word by uniting people through music and empowering musicians throughout SA.

Miagi has commissioned and premiered 14 new intercultural works with the 2012 commission part of their European tour concerts. Recently they received sponsorship from the German specialty chemicals group Lanxess, with its introduction of its global arts and culture programme, the young.euro classic initiative. This promotes the bi-national and |bi-cultural exchange of youth orchestras through a concert project set to commence in SA next year.

As a first step towards the SA-German project, Lanxess donated R100 000 towards a two-week long Miagi tour to Europe which culminates with the orchestra featured as the opening act at the Young Euro Classic festival to be held in Berlin on July 27 and 28.

PAUL BOEKKOOI reviews their farewell concert in Joburg, reflecting their international performances on their European tour:


PROGRAMME: Music by Christian Muthspiel/Tshepo Tsotetsi, Dvorák, Bernstein,

Debussy & Gershwin

CONDUCTOR: Christian Muthspiel

SOLOIST: Ane du Toit, violin

VENUE: Linder auditorium, Parktown

RATING: ****

By the time you read this, the Miagi Youth Orchestra (MYO) has already landed in Europe for a fortnight’s tour through Germany and Austria. Their farewell concert on Sunday was adventurous to say the least.

Under the inspired leadership of the Austrian conductor/composer Christian Muthspiel, the 88-piece ensemble once again proved their versatility in American, Czech, French and South African music.

Miagi’s tradition to commission a new work led them to perform Muthspiel’s Out of South Africa – Symphonic Poem on Themes by Tshepo Tsotetsi. This premiere was one of their most successful.

It opens with a jazz combo in full flight playing the music of Tsotetsi, who is also a clarinettist in the orchestra. His music is sophisticated and reflects a wide scope of easy-on-the-ear indigenous styles.

Muthspiel’s task was to develop or echo Tsotetsi’s themes for the full orchestra and often, within a recognisable nucleus, he ornamented them with variations.

There are also traits of a concerto grosso style coming to the centre stage when two violinists perform solos.

It’s an extended piece, taking the listener through many moods, while the spotlighting of instrumental groups gave the work a wide colouristic breadth which, among many others, included harps, the full range of woodwind and even well behaved vuvuzelas!

In Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune Muthspiel gave us a delicate, luminous account which later led to a string climax which was powerful and languorous. It’s seldom one hears an SA youth orchestra wearing a Gallic mantle so marvellously. Monique van Willingh’s flute solo sounded beautifully controlled, even if the playing was slightly too metrical.

An American in Paris by George Gershwin is ideal repertoire for young musicians. Miagi’s conductor presented the work with controlled extroversion. He concentrated on those rich, smoky and especially translucent textures one finds in this score when one digs deep enough. However, there were as many quirky accents – another Gershwin trait.

The MYO has a trump card in the magnificent solos we heard – trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and many others.

This is Gershwin with a cultivated European veneer in the sense of, say, Gershwin meeting Ravel. It does not rob the music of any of its vitality, but gives it a new look and a sound that is gently affectionate.

The greatest artistic challenge of the afternoon was the orchestra’s performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Rhapsody from On the Waterfront. This is not a piece for beginners. Not only are the notes highly complex, but as a whole it’s extremely complicated. Muthspiel gave the musicians a freedom of expression in this (even for Bernstein) experimental work.

The MYO nearly made it sound like a masterpiece – especially of orchestral colouring and unusual sound combinations. Here one also realised that they have by far the most solid French horn section in the country.

Disappointing though was the less than ideal tuning in various works from time to time, and Ane du Toit’s solo playing in Dvorak’s Romance for violin and orchestra which hardly reflected international standards.