On Thursday I attended a performance of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO). I had a great time, but I don’t know a lot about classical music so I feel uncomfortable reviewing the performance in the traditional sense.

Also photography isn’t allowed during JPO performances so I don’t have any pics. (I can’t stand to publish a photo-less post so I’m including some shots I took a few months ago at an outdoor JPO performance downtown.)

JPO at Rand Club

The JPO performs outside the Rand Club during the Joburg City Media Weekend in May 2013.

So in place of a review, here is a list of random thoughts that occurred to me during and after the performance.

1) Watching an orchestra is different from listening on the radio.

I hardly ever listened to classical music when I lived in America. But when I moved to Joburg I became a fan of Classic FM and now I listen to it almost every day. Listening to classical music on the radio is soothing and makes great background noise while I’m working.

Attending a live orchestral performance is another story. Rather than soothing background noise, the music becomes an exciting main event. There are crashing cymbals, animated conductors and soloists, and, in my opinion, dramatic suspense. (More on that later.) I also think that the music sounds totally different when you’re watching the faces of the musicians playing it.


See what I mean?

2) Orchestra percussionists are like American football kickers.

In an average football game, the kicker is on the field for about 45 seconds. All he has to do is kick the ball through the uprights, often from a relatively short distance. But if he misses…well, that’s all that anyone will remember about him for the next few weeks (or months, or even years).

In the same vein, imagine the percussionist in the orchestra, whose only job for a particular piece is to play four or five notes on the triangle or clang the cymbals once or twice. Easy, right? I don’t think so. The percussionist always comes in at the most dramatic moment of the performance. What if he/she gets the timing wrong, or drops the triangle (or worse, a cymbal) and it clangs loudly to the floor?

Fortunately this didn’t happen on Thursday but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Suspense.

3) The conductor of the orchestra is like a classical music rock star.

It killed me that I couldn’t take photos of Thursday night’s guest conductor, Yasuo Shinozaki, during the performance. As a live performer, Yasuo is slightly less animated than Mick Jagger. But only slightly.

4) Good violins are hard to come by.

The performance included a violin concerto by British composer Benjamin Britten, featuring a solo by renowned violinist Matthew Trussler. Matthew plays a 1711 Stradivarius violin. As in, a 302-year-old violin.

In the same way that I imagined the percussionists dropping their triangles and cymbals, I worried about Matthew (who was also quite animated) dropping that ancient violin, which I’m sure is worth millions of dollars. Suspense! Matthew’s performance was amazing.


I don’t have any violin pics so a trumpet will have to do.

5) The JPO is rad.

I don’t know if this is the case for every professional orchestra. But for a form of entertainment that many might consider old-fashioned, the JPO is quite cool. Granted, the crowd is a bit more…ahem…mature than the crowd at, say, a BCUC performance on the roof of Randlords. But I spoke with several other JPO guests and trust me, these folk are hip.

The musicians are super-cool too. After the concert, they all hang out at the bar next to the concert hall and anyone is welcome to go in and talk to them. I met the lady who played the triangle and asked her if being a percussionist is stressful for the reasons I described above. She laughed at me (in the nicest possible way).

The JPO is also a good place to meet local celebrities. During the intermission I ran into Deano Maduramuthu, who hosts the morning show on Classic FM. I love Deano’s Breakfast Quiz and listen to it every chance I get.

In fact, Deano actually recognized me and came up to say hello. (We met a few months ago at a dinner.) This was my own rock-star moment for the month.

The JPO’s current season lasts for three more weeks so you should go experience the excitement for yourself. Performances take place at the Linder Auditorium in Parktown. Tickets cost between R250 and R300.

JPO at Reef

Rock on, JPO.

Post-script: Thursday would have been Jon’s 48th birthday. Jon loved classical music and he’s the one who got me listening to Classic FM. Wherever Jon is, I know he’s pleased that I chose to go to the JPO on that particular day.

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