Latoya Newman

THE KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (KZNPO) has a busy few weeks ahead what with hosting the international Cirque de la Symphonie across the country and its involvement in the National Arts Festival where it is the resident orchestra.

It all begins next Saturday when Cirque de la Symphonie starts its national tour in Durban at the Playhouse Opera Theatre.

Tonight spoke with the orchestra’s chief executive and artistic director, Bongani Tembe, to find out more about both events, starting with the imminent Cirque de la Symphonie.

“This is an international show. It has been travelling the world for a few years and does very well, selling out all over; Australia, America, Canada.We were looking for a blockbuster kind of a show and it was suggested to us by Theodore Kuchar, who also conducts the show. Last year the show came to Cape Town and Joburg and it did so well they wanted to bring it this year.

“Last year we were not involved. We agreed to do it this year because combining circus and dance and orchestra attracts an audience who normally wouldn’t come to a regular symphony concert. Yet the music is actually very serious.

“The music is operatic and classical, but when you combine it with dancers and cirque acrobatics, it’s just something spectacular. So our hope is that we draw people in and attract them to the regular symphony concerts.

“Also these shows tend to attract people of all ages and all races so it’s a fantastic tool to mix people in terms of age, race and different interests and expose them to classical music,” he explained, adding that most of the dancers are from Russia and eastern Europe.

Under the baton of Kuchar, the show will also run in Joburg at the Joburg Theatre from June 27 to 29. It will then stage in Cape Town at the GrandWest Arena on June 21 and 22, accompanied by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.

According to a press statement, the programme will include favourites from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, Dvorak, Bernstein, Shostakovich and many more.

The audience can expect to also enjoy aerial flyers, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers, balancers and strongmen.

The statement also details co-founder Alexander Streltsov’s description of the show, saying: “We have to balance a full circus programme in the limited stage space shared with the orchestra, usually three metres downstage from the conductor’s podium with rigging for aerialists, special lighting needs and other technical innovations not normally associated with a symphony concert.

“Our show is not about smoke and lights. It’s about artistry and excellent music and this has proved to be a phenomenal fusion.”

Commenting on the KZNPO’s involvement in the National Arts Festival, Tembe said this is their fourth year as the resident orchestra for the festival.

“It’s the festival’s 40th anniversary, so we are proud to support that,” he said.

“What we are doing, it’s quite comprehensive. We open with Ballet du Grand Thèâtre de Genève, a Swiss-based ballet company, in Le Songe d’une Nuit d’été (based on Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) that’s going to be spectacular.

“Then we do an operatic symphony concert, a repeat of what we will be doing in Durban on June 19, except that we won’t have choirs in Grahamstown.

“We do a gala concert with some of the Standard Bank Young Artist awardees, we do a concert with students, we also do a popular concert. “Last year it was Nat King Cole, this year it’s Cole Porter and Friends.

“In addition, our musicians also do chamber concerts which is very good for them and nice for us as well,” he said.

Asked what was key for an arts institution managing to develop and stay afloat all these years, Tembe said: “We are lucky that we are one of the few artistic organisations in the country that is supported by all three levels of government.

“The City (eThekwini Municipality) supports us in a big way, the Department of Arts and Culture in the province (KZN) and nationally, which is very significant.

“I suppose government and the community and the sponsors like our vision of pursuing excellence, at the same time having a comprehensive community engagement programme. I think that’s very important and people relate to that,” he explained.

For the full details of KZNPO performances at the National Arts Festival see the programme at www. Booking for the Cirque de la Symphonie shows is through Computicket. Joburg bookings are through the Joburg Theatre website: