A Trip to the Symphony
Text and photographs by Sharon Warr
When I was growing up, music played a big role in my life. It was like wallpaper in our home; always there in the background, emanating softly from the wireless in the lounge and later, as technology advanced, through the little transistor radio in the kitchen. Then when I was about seven or eight years old, we got the ultimate in ‘hi fi’: a stereo record player and a world of audio wonder unfolded.
My father would take me down to the public library in Wynberg and we were allowed to loan records for a week or so at a time. They mostly had classical music LPs and this is how I was introduced to that genre of music and I loved it! This was quite surprising as I had cut my musical teeth on The Beatles, The Everly Brothers and Elvis. What had me riveted was the sheer size and dynamic range of the orchestral sound - not that I could describe it in as many words back then. The other thing about it was the beautiful melodies played on intriguing instruments that I knew nothing about but that appealed to my senses. I started reading up on them and learned about the composers and discovered a whole new world in the musical universe. We listened to Von Suppé, Dvorak, Beethoven, Mozart, Elgar, Ketèlbey and many more. I couldn’t get enough. I loved this world so much that I wanted to be involved somehow and many years later after starting work at the SABC and spending every spare moment in the music studio watching various music recordings, from big bands under the direction of Gerry Bosman to the Navy Band, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I eventually achieved my goal and specialised in music recordings for twelve years.
Part of my work involved regular recordings of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra at the Cape Town City Hall. They had concerts there every Thursday and Sunday evening and my colleague, Johan Roos and myself shared the rehearsal and recording schedule. How privileged we were. We worked with all the visiting artists and conductors and were exposed to a wide variety of music from the earliest compositions to modern works.
Many years have passed since those days. I left the SABC in the mid 1990s and sadly stopped attending the concerts; only the odd one here or there. Last month however, I had the privilege of going again, this time with my daughter Nicole, who is the editor of Georgette Magazine. Memories rushed at me like a tsunami. From the smell, so unique to this old building, to the lovely quality of the wood paneled rooms and foyer. The beautiful marble staircase too brought back memories of lugging heavy equipment bags laden with microphones, cabling and assorted headphones and microphone stands (every job has its drawbacks). I never appreciated how fit I was back then.
But the greatest joy of those happy memories came from the familiar sound of the musicians warming up backstage and eventually taking their seats on the stage with the magnificent organ pipes as a backdrop. They all looked very dashing dressed in their finest penguin suits and black outfits and then, just as I remember, that amazing wash of sound began as they tuned together just before the orchestra leader appeared to take his bow.
In this programme, we were treated to Mozart’s Overture: La Clemenza di Tito, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 under the baton of Conrad van Alphen. The gifted and very young pianist Mariam Batsashvili gave a masterful performance of the Emperor and received a well-deserved standing ovation. We thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
It still amazes me that so many musicians can sit together, each one an individual, each with their own way of playing, each with their differing musical preferences and yet when the baton comes down for that first note of music, they are one. The dynamics and the rhythm and flow of the piece is all that matters and they merge seamlessly to interpret what the composer intended when he wrote it.
I was so pleased to see that every seat was taken even though it was raining and there was a nice mix of younger and older generations attending. We shall definitely be going again and I will almost certainly experience more pleasant flashbacks to those earlier years.