Pretoria’s Schalk van der Merwe was the winner of the 4th Len van Zyl Conductors’ Competition on February 10, 2019. Len van Zyl, founder of the national conductors’ competition that bears his name, is confident that the fourth winner will benefit from specialized training in America, following in the footsteps of Brandon Phillips (2010), Xavier Cloete (2013) and Chad Hendricks (2016).
Always mindful of the fact that South Africa is blessed with an abundance of musical talent and that the country is privileged to have many good teachers at a large number of music education facilities where students can hone their skills as singers, dancers and instrumentalists, Van Zyl was also aware that the same cannot be said for the advanced training of conductors. He saw the need for the specialised and vitally important function of music making which is essential to ensure that ensemble playing is achieved in a way which maximises the quality and coordination of the end product, especially in orchestral music.
He thus conceived the idea of creating a platform for young South Africans with the potential to become symphony conductors, whereby they could have the opportunity to learn from experts and gain exposure to world-class conductors and orchestras.
In 2008, his dream was realized and the Len van Zyl Conductors’ Competition was established in partnership with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, with which the contestants work in the final rounds; with the participation of Professor Victor Yampolsky of Northwestern University, Chicago, the chairman of the adjudication panel and who also provides coaching and master classes to all participants; the renowned Philadelphia Orchestra which takes on the winner as a conducting intern; and counsel and advice from various well-known conductors both South African and international.
For photographs of the 2018/9 competition, click here
Who may participate:
The Len van Zyl Conductor’s Competition is open to South African nationals who are not older than 33 on 1 January in the year of the finals and who have undergone at least part of their music training in South Africa.
What is the prize?
Participants will compete for a single prize which will include a trip abroad to study, with all travel and accommodation expenses paid. The winner will also be given the opportunity to conduct the CPO when appropriate.
What makes this competition so special?
Len van Zyl: “Classical music is a very important pillar in the cultural life of any civilised community. It is alive in South Africa but certainly needs all the support it can muster in order to ensure its continued success and growth.”
Louis Heyneman, CEO of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra:
“The CPO has benefited hugely from the competition and we are proud to be part of it. It’s thrilling for us to see such huge talents as Brandon Phillips, Xavier Cloete and Chad Hendricks on the podium with our musicians. Without this important pioneer project, we will never develop young professional orchestral conductors in South Africa.”
For all three winners, the experience was indispensable on their paths to conducting as a career.
Brandon Phillips, the inaugural winner in 2010 and now the resident conductor of the CPO and music director of the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, says that for someone starting out, where performance opportunities are very hard to come by, the chance to conduct an orchestra in master classes with experienced conductors and then in the semi-finals and finals went a long way to helping him achieve his goals.
Who is Len van Zyl?
Len van Zyl had a successful international career in the fields of advertising and marketing, has also had a passionate interest in music throughout his life.
His career included among others the chairmanship of South Africa’s biggest advertising agency (Lindsay Smithers-FCB) and President/CEO of Foote Cone & Belding, the largest advertising agency in Philadelphia, USA. From 1992 to 1995, Mr Van Zyl was also chief executive of the South African Foreign Trade Organization (SAFTO). Van Zyl and his wife now split their residence between Cape Town and Philadelphia, USA. During his years in the United States he served on the development committee of the famous Philadelphia Orchestra and was also a member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild.