Madame Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape; Madame Anroux Marais, Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport; Mr Ian Neilson, Executive Deputy Mayor;
And most important of all: you, the Ladies and Gentlemen of our most loyal concert-going audience
Good evening, Mholo ngokuhlwa, Goeienaand, Guten Abend!
On behalf of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, its Board of Directors, Staff and musicians, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you most sincerely to this first concert of the CPO Winter Season and the orchestra’s return to what has up to now been its permanent home, the Cape Town City Hall. I am certain we can all agree that the visible results of the nine month’s refurbishment of this venerable building – the first substantial restorative work that has been undertaken since 1947 – are superb. It certainly has brought back a sparkle and elegance to what had become a rather tired facility and Cape Town can now rightfully boast a concert hall of the highest standard. We all are very grateful that the City of Cape Town has finally funded this major upgrade – with further work to follow – and am sure that the disruption to the orchestra schedule has been worth the wait.
I should like in this regard to pay special tribute to MAYCO member Stuart Diamond who has worked tirelessly (and might I add inclusively in terms of consultation with the orchestra) to achieve the result we see here tonight and without whose enthusiasm and dedication we might not have been back in this beautiful hall this evening. To John Rennie, the heritage architect who oversaw the entire restoration project and Richard Jackson, the Head: Specialised Operations, Priority Assets of the City, who was the ringmaster that supervised the operations, and to their teams, our sincere thanks and appreciation for your considerable contributions and a job well done.
It is most appropriate that the work chosen to re-open the City Hall this evening is Mahler’s 2nd Symphony – “Resurrection” – for it represents also what has taken place in respect of this building. The Cape Town City Hall has a rich and eventful history and has seen the cultural diversity of Cape Town on display since its opening in 1905. I am sure that it will continue to fulfill that role in its new garb.
I want to take this opportunity specifically to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to the Rupert Music Foundation, the sponsors of the concert this evening, for its enduring support of the orchestra. Your contribution has in the past been, and is now, inestimable and is an example that bears emulation.
I should also, on behalf of us all, like to extend a warm word of welcome to our distinguished Principal Guest Conductor, Maestro Bernhard Gueller, on his permanent return to Cape Town. We look forward to your frequent presence on the podium, Maestro.
This evening should be an occasion to celebrate and rejoice. Regrettably, there are some matters from which we cannot, perforce, shy away and about which you, our loyal supporters, should be informed. From my notes in the programme you will have gathered that the orchestra is facing a serious challenge and it is not always certain whether it can survive financially from month to month. This impacts not only the future of the CPO, but especially also the CPO Youth Orchestra and the large number of young people for whom we provide training and ultimately positions in the orchestra. You have just heard the youth orchestra vividly demonstrate why this orchestra is considered to be the best in the country, and you may have read the programme which tells you how vibrant the CPO youth education and development programme is. We reach well over 300 youngsters each year, teaching them how to play their instruments well; we teach theory and we give many of them orchestral and performance experience which offers career options for the future. Investing in music education has an impact far beyond the music curriculum. Important life-skills are taught and learned throughout the programme that is aimed specifically at, and benefits, the development of young musicians.
The provision of such organised extra-mural activities for youth, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, provide alternative choices and options in what are often bleak circumstances. Offering music as this alternative has added benefits other than just a diversion from what could become a life involved in gangs, drugs, alcohol dependence, amidst few economic opportunities. It reaches deep into the community and touches parents, family and friends and, if taken away, would deal a body blow to many. In addition, music provides discipline and accountability to a larger group of peers and teachers, and it has a direct impact on developing self-esteem, relationship skills and emotional and behavioural growth. It has been proven beyond doubt that an education in music has the potential to create a better and safer community for all. We have a responsibility to ensure that this continues.
I wish to assure you that the Board is doing what it can to deal with this perilous financial situation, but it is not easy and most regrettably, we cannot always rely on the support of some of our traditional benefactors. Moreover, dealing with the City is made increasingly difficult by the constant changing of the goalposts and the increased layers of red tape that its officials apparently delight in imposing, raising the question whether the game is worth the candle in terms of our continued presence here. However, despite these impediments our goal is simple: we will do what it takes to avoid the music falling silent and we rely on the support of each one of you to assist us in achieving this objective. Letting the music die is not an option!
Music is essential to any complete national life. Government, at all levels, and the South African corporate sector, owe it to themselves to nurture, sustain and encourage music, for it is by music that mankind gets nearest to the angels and farthest from the animals. Provincial and local government, each company or corporation that does business here and every citizen of Cape Town benefit directly or indirectly from the presence of the CPO. The orchestra is at once a tourist draw card and an element that sets Cape Town apart, as it does other cities such as London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney and many others who have orchestras, from cities that are without doubt diminished for lack of such an important social structure.
Music transcends all cultural and linguistic borders and brings people together. Indeed, music is the one thing that is created which carries its shining message of inspiration not only to all who are living with it on this earth, but across hundreds of years to future generations. It lights the way and links the thoughts of one generation with another. Ill fares the society which fails to support music and does not salute it with the reverence and delight which is its due.
It only remains for me to wish you much joy and listening pleasure with the concert this evening. And I leave you with this thought: When a journalist suggested to Winston Churchill during the dark and dire days of World War II that the government cut funding for the arts, he responded: “Then what would we be fighting for?”. I suggest that the situation is no different today.
I thank you.