Five Random Thoughts on the Joburg Philharmonic Orchestra

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.

Cellists

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.

Trumpet

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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14 Comments

  • Reply Jeroen October 27, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I love the JPO, and visited often when I lived in Joburg. The quality is really good for the price you pay. As a foreigner, a few other aspects are also interesting. The complete lack of dress code – people show up in all kinds of clothing, mainly fleece sweaters in funny colours, but I’ve also seen people in T-shirt, shorts and flipflops, and one couple with children in pyjamas. The entrance/exit circus is also interesting, with the park guards handing out and recollecting slips of paper.
    Taking pics may not be allowed, but you can still respectfully snap away just before and after the music.

    • Reply 2summers October 27, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      Kids in pyjamas — ha!

  • Reply Sine October 27, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    I love this post, because it is so unexpected. I never made it to any of their performances. My dream would have been to play there one day. Not sure if I told you, but towards the end of our SA stay I started taking violin lessons at my kids’ school, to take up where I left it off (gulp!) almost 28 years earlier. I played (or should say was made to play) the violin for ten years, and thought that in my mid-forties I’d basically have to start from scratch to relearn it. Imagine my surprise, and that of my techer, when it all pretty much came back as I had left it off, this time with more enthusiasm for practicing. So – maybe a few more years and I could have tried out for them:-) Although, to be sure, most definitely not with a Stradivarius!

    • Reply 2summers October 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      Wow Sine, that’s awesome. You’re obviously a natural. Are you continuing to take lessons back in the States?

      • Reply Sine October 28, 2013 at 5:06 pm

        No, at least not yet. The curse of the expat. Takes so darn long to get all that stuff lined up again. Though you’d think in music city capital it would be a piece of cake to find someone, but I admit I haven’t yet tried.

  • Reply eremophila October 28, 2013 at 1:38 am

    You’re getting cultured gal! 🙂 Love it!!

    • Reply 2summers October 28, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      That’s right! I am so sophisticated now.

  • Reply roetsuprooted October 28, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Love it! Need to go see them more often. I also like listening to Classic FM – Deano is the best!

    • Reply 2summers October 28, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Yes, and Deano has the best laugh on the radio.

  • Reply horsesofthesun October 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Awesome….! And definitely a genre of music I should be listening to whilst in traffic!

    • Reply 2summers October 28, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Yep, classical music on the radio is great for calming the nerves.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough October 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Believe it or not, the symphony is Cuenca is FREE–as are nearly all artistic events–subsidized by the government. Sorry to say, we haven’t been to a symphony performance yet, but we did see an incredible modern dance performance. I couldn’t believe it was free.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers October 28, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      Wow, that’s amazing! I’d be curious to hear how the symphony is.

  • Reply bwcarey October 30, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    i have recently tried to learn guitar, have been trying hard, will try even harder, i might even make it to a band, even an orchestra, but only in my dreams…

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