THE FIRST concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s 30th anniversary season, in the Durban City Hall, turned out to be a triumphant occasion in which, oddly enough, the KZNPO itself played little part.

The stars of the evening were the young players of the World Orchestra, 80 of them from 25 countries. They produced a big, opulent sound and generated great enthusiasm in the large audience.

The World Orchestra is a group of young musicians formed about 40 years ago with the noble objective of using music and musicians to entertain, communicate ideas and promote social involvement with people of different countries.

Talented young players from many countries get together twice a year for the orchestra’s concerts. The Durban concert was their first of a brief tour of South Africa.

The conductor is Josep Vicent, a 42-year-old Spaniard who has taken the baton with many major European orchestras and who has been in charge of the World Orchestra for several years.

The World Orchestra opened the programme with Dvorak’s brilliant and exuberant Carnival Overture, and the 45 string players continued with a very different kind of composition, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Barber, who died in 1981, was a gifted American composer, and this is his best-known work. It started life in 1936 as the slow movement of a string quartet, and the composer recast it for the string instruments of an orchestra. It is simple, solemn, emotional and beautiful, and the World Orchestra (pictured) played it with admirable control and precision.

I would not have thought that a South African composer would be the hit of the evening, but this was the case with the three-movement Partita Africana by Hendrik Hofmeyr, who was born in 1957 and is a music professor in Cape Town with an impressive list of compositions, including 10 concertos.

The opening Preludio of his Partita was dissonant, harsh and rhythmical in the modern manner, but this was followed by some truly invigorating music based on traditional Xhosa and Zulu themes.

In this the orchestra was joined by a 150-voice choir from the JG Zuma High School at Inanda. Conductor, players and singers all joined in the happy spirit of the music, the singers swinging their arms, the violinists and even the cellists rising in their seats at moments of emphasis, and the singers and audience clapping in time to the music. The total effect was captivating.

Finally, about 20 string players from the KZNPO joined the World Orchestra in music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet suites. With about 100 players on the platform, the effect was one of brilliant fortissimo contrasting with some exquisite quieter passages.

This exceptional concert earned a prolonged ovation at the end. –