Musician, Tenor, Conductor, Voice Teacher, Christian.

8 Apr 2012 - Cape Town City Hall  
Handel’s Messiah with Philharmonia Choir and Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Good Friday and Easter 2012. My association with this great work stretches back to 1988 when I began as a chorister at the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School. The director at the time was Christian Ashley Botha who had, for a number of years been investing in the training and education of the boys with this work as a primary tool. For many a new boy arriving at the school it was one of the first great works we were exposed to, having to learn either one of the alto, or in my case soprano arias whilst singing in the new boys choir. And so it was from then that my love and close association for this great work began.

In my post matric year at St John’s College I began studying singing with Sarie Lamprecht, who I certainly regard as a highly influential force in my ever developing education. She advised me that due to my stature, planning a course towards a career in opera would not be the most prudent, and so began our exploration in the genres of Lieder and oratorio beginning with the tenor recitatives and arias from Handel’s Messiah. It was during these lessons that I was challenged to make the performance of oratorio as dramatic, if not more so, from a musical and textual perspective. These were wonderful times and so stimulating and rewarding, as it was like revisiting a familiar friend. With her encouragement and guidance I began to be asked to sing the tenor solos for choirs and music groups in and around Johannesburg and also further afield in KZN and the Eastern Cape. These experiences and opportunities culminated in an invitation to sing with Richard Cock and the Symphony Choir of Johannesburg, with whom I have been privileged to enjoy a close and fruitful association. I realized during the Mozart festival this year that I have sung the Messiah under Maestro Cock’s direction for 10 years now during the Chanticleer Singers, SACC and the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra’s performance of Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s Messiah. This certainly too has been part of my wonderful and varied study of this work.

I have sung it in all the official South African languages as well as in German. I have sung it under the direction of many distinguished conductors such as C. York, C. Ashley-Botha, R. Cock, L. Koors, C. van Alphen, C. Dowdswell, L. Magangane, B. Toms, K. Masote, N. Cleobury, A. Tien, and K. Hanken. And in each performance I have learnt something new about the interpretation of the arias from the various soloists, from the choirs and from the orchestra we have had the joy of working with.

It is thus from that background that I began my approach to the preparation of my first complete performance of the work with one more critical ingredient, a heart that believes fully in the unfolding revelation of ‘God’ through the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, as laid out in this monumental work.

The choir and I had our first rehearsal the week preceding Easter week and I flew down to Cape Town to rehearse with them twice that week at their regular rehearsal venue, which is a beautiful old church building in Rondebosch outside Bishops College. During these rehearsals, using the text and unfolding dramatic story to guide us, we tried to engender a new excitement for this work, which has become so familiar to us over the years. Regardless of how many times one may have performed this work, the very nature of its subject matter, the use of what I believe is sacred and God breathed text, straight out of the King James translation of the Holy Bible, the work has new and always relevant meaning to us today. I must profess that the choir’s sound has improved immensely since I last conducted them, and this thanks to the sterling work their musical director Antoinette Blythe is doing with them. They have been investing in improving their vocal technique and it is certainly paying dividends to the overall sound of the choir. The work we did was wonderful both vocally and stylistically and we had had a great deal of fun during those rehearsals.

On the Tuesday of that week I arranged to have a piano rehearsal with the soloists. All of who were young, enthusiastic singers at the dawn of their careers. The soloists also had to buy into the notion of more than telling the story, but dramatizing it, and so our point of departure was also text, text, text! Some were musically more prepared than others whilst others needed to work on fine-tuning their interpretation to fit the overall picture I had in mind. Of all the soloists I was most impressed with the soprano Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi. She possesses a good technique and the musical, intellectual and emotional capabilities to make the arias and recitatives speak from the heart without losing the beautiful and subtle musical nuances that Handel requires of the soloists. All in all the soloists had work to do before I saw them next. And so I left Cape Town that week confident that the choir and I were on the same page and working well together, but a little anxious that the soloists were going to put in the additional effort required for their performances to shine.

On Monday of Easter week I met some of the band that would be joining us in our quest to present a new and fresh Handel’s Messiah during my rehearsal with the soloists. They were members of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra led by Patrick Goodwin. Having carefully planned the order in which each individual aria and recitative would be rehearsed so as not to tire out any of the singers and yet to keep them involved, I was rather irritated when the only person to be ready to start the rehearsal on time was Monika Voysey. I began with her arias and then when the other soloists arrived, well after the expected time, my rehearsal plan was thrown into disarray. Nevertheless, we managed to get through all the arias and recitatives I had planned to get through, even though with a great deal more stress. It really is the kind of thing that I feel is totally unacceptable from the soloists’ perspective as it is their responsibility to know when the rehearsals are taking place, and not to be late. The string players, led by Patrick, and I worked well together and I certainly got a feel for exactly what I needed to work on from my own perspective in terms of clarity and precision of my conducting action, which would make the bands job so much easier and more enjoyable.

And so for the next two days I locked myself away in my base for my Cape Town trips, my uncle’s house in Bergvliet, and poured over the score again and again working on the moments in the arias and choruses where I could best facilitate the desired musical and artistic outcome I was hoping to achieve. It was a wonderful time of concentrated work that made me feel more confident. And so when the choir had their opportunity to rehearse with the orchestra on the Wednesday before the performance I was able to put what I had been working on into action with wonderful results. This final rehearsal left us all feeling confident with a certain amount of excitement, which is needed for the performance.

The performances, what can I say. They were a great privilege to be part of from both a musical and spiritual perspective. It was wonderful to have Angela, my darling wife, and Annie and Mark, my sister and her husband in the audience supporting me that first evening, as well as my brilliant conducting professor and friend Kåre Hanken and his wife who had travelled down from Stellenbosch. Kåre came to chat to me after the performance and gave me the most wonderful advice to enhance what we had done even more. His suggestion was simply this, “allow the music to breathe more!” This may sound very cryptic but just what I needed to hear and implement during our second performance which was even better than the first.

And so I left Cape Town on a cloud of goodwill and feeling a real sense of joy that our performances went off as best as we could have presented them, which in this case was excellent. In all that we did Soli Deo Gloria! Thank you God for Handel, thank you God for the Messiah!

21 Mar 2011 - Cape Town  
I have been considering over the last couple of weeks what my favourite oratorio is. It is a hard question to answer as many can easily vie for the number one spot. I guess it might change over the years as I change and develop. But as it stands now, I think it might be J.S. Bach’s St John’s Passion. And so it stands to reason that I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town’s two performances of this extraordinary work this past week.

For this performance under the baton of Kåre Hanken and Tinta Barroca (sic), I was required to sing the role of the Evangelist John, and sing the Tenor solos. A tall order if I may say so myself. Nevertheless, I tried my best and the performances were well received. My profile as a singer down in the Cape has improved I hope as a result of these performances. But only time will tell.

Viva Bach, Viva, and as always Deo Soli Gloria!

10 Jun 2010 - Cape Town, South Africa  
With Only one day to go before South Africa's, and Africa's very first soccer spectacular I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my musical year thus far. Considering also that we are nearly half way through the year.

It seems to be the year when my boyhood dreams and aspirations of conducting orchestral and choral works have began to materialise. From the wonderfully inspiring and challenging experience of conducting 2 performances of J S Bach's, St John's Passion, whilst also singing the role of the Evangelist, to the opening gala performances of the new Brooklyn Theatre which included Saint-Saen's Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso with Zanta Hoffmeyer, Beethoven's Choral Fantasia with Charl du Plessis and a selection of opera arias. And it doesn't stop there as tonight I look forward to a memorable performance of 3 works with the Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town. Those works include Missa Luba - Guido Haazen, Prayers and Dances of Praise from Africa - Peter Klatzow and Missa Criolla - Ariel Ramierez. The rehearsals thus far have been wonderfully enjoyable and it has been exciting working with the choir, Sunnyboy Dladla the tenor soloist, and Frank Mallows and his dynamic team of percussionists.

Where to from here? It will be wonderful to finally go home after being away for a week. I have missed Angela and Luke and can't wait to see them both. Family is truly a blessing from the Lord and I want to cherish them always.

On my return to Jozi it will be time to prepare for some solo singing appearances, and continue the good and stimulating work of training my own students.

Viva South Africa Viva. Ayoba, Ayoba!

25 Feb 2010 - Johannesburg  
The great year of the soccer ball in South Africa has finally come and despite all our expectations that this year would be a very exciting and busy year from an artistic point of view with many concerts being arranged to showcase South Africa’s rich talent, it has become clear that it is up to us, as singers, conductors, dancers and artists to forge our own path. Not for the world, but for us.

And that is just what we have been doing since the dawn of 2010. So far this year I have been fortunate enough to be involved in a number of exciting and very stimulating projects. The 20Tenors have already performed on a beach in Cape Town, singing and dancing in our Dinner jackets without shoes on, so the white sand was massaging our feet. This performance was also the first performance we did with backtracks, which I have to say was not as thrilling as performing with a full orchestra. It nevertheless was a wonderful performance and gave us great confidence leading up to the annual Starlight Classic’s @ Vergelegen Wine Estate.

The conducting competition has also now been concluded. What a wonderful and fantastic experience that was. Challenging of course, and very enjoyable. We had to prepare 3 tone poems, Smetana’s ‘Moldau’, Dvorak’s ‘Scherzo Capriccioso’ and Liszt’s ‘Les Preludes’. I managed to draw the Dvorak after drawing lots, which was certainly the most challenging of the 3 works. On the final evening we also had to conduct one movement from Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano concerto. We made music; I tried my utmost and managed to secure the silver medal. The Cape Philharmonic played like absolute stars, and it was a real privilege to make music with them. I wish Brandon Philips every success as the winner of the competition and trust that he will enjoy his time abroad. God willing, I hope to conduct a professional orchestra again.

Easter is fast approaching us too and this means we are already hard at work preparing for the exciting Easter concerts that will be happening in Gauteng over the Easter weekend. Bach’s St John’s Passion, with Cantamus Corde, another performance with the Symphony Choir of Johannesburg, and Handel’s Messiah with the Chanticleer Singers. For both the Bach performances I am going to be singing the role of the Evangelist, which is a role I love singing. What is new though is that for the performance with Cantamus Corde I am also going to be conducting, ala Peter Schreier. For this performance we have handpicked some wonderful players who I am really looking forward to working with as a conductor.

Other than that the LORD continues to be very gracious and I very grateful. My family and I, initially 2 have now become 3 with the arrival of our son Luke Nèo, who is fast approaching his fourth month in this world.

Deo Soli Gloria!

11 Aug 2009 - Cape Town  
I remember the day in vivid Technicolor, that day, when sometime in 1988, whilst I was a pupil at the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School, singing Haydn’s Paukenmesse with the then NAPAC orchestra, I decided I wanted to become a professional musician. In particular, a conductor. It could have been Roberto Benzi at the helm I can’t quite remember that detail, but what I do recall is the wonderful music, the thrill of singing with an orchestra for the very first time and the excitement of it all.

And so it was with great anticipation and much excitement that I took part in the Symphony Choir’s performance of that work as the tenor soloist. The performance by the choir and the orchestra was fantastic. Maestro Cock held everything together inspiring all the singers to give of their best. The choir continues to improve. Especially the sound of the sopranos and the altos. This may have something to do with the new venue they rehearse in which exposes bad tone quality and really demands greater blend and focussed tone during the rehearsal. Nevertheless the choir must be commended for a wonderful performance. The soloists who included Hanli Stapela, Vera Marie Meyer, Jaco Klopper and I worked well together. Not that I had much to sing. The real fire and excitement was to be heard in the choir parts which are just brilliant. Those who attended were certainly treated to a really special performance. Viva Haydn Viva!

No sooner had the applause subsided than I had to depart for the opening round of the inaugural Len van Zyl conducting competition held in conjunction with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. For this first round we had to prepare to conduct Mozart’s first Piano Quartet and 3 movements from Haydn’s ‘Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross’ arranged for string quartet. It was wonderful to be working through this music, making music, enjoying music. Maestro Victor Yampolsky directed proceedings with the help of Maestro Cock, Maestro Dowdswell and Len van Zyl himself. Of the eleven candidates that were chosen to participate only 7 made it through to the semi-final round which will be held next year in February. I feel very honoured to have made it through to the next round and have already started busying myself with studying the music for the last 2 rounds. The semi-final and final rounds are going to be held within 4 days of each other so a great deal of music must be prepared before the next round.

Upcoming concerts include an exciting concert with the Chanticleer Singers of music by Purcell and Villa Lobos. Thereafter it is a hectic schedule of rehearsals with the 20Tenors in preparation for Starlight Classics in Johannesburg. Exciting times, busy times, music times.

Soli Deo Gloria!

22 May 2009 - Holy Trinity, Braamfontein  
My sincerest apologies for not updating the exciting happenings as regularly as I should. Many wonderful and exciting things have taken place since my last update.

The Easter series of concerts was a great success what with Haydn’s ‘Stabat Mater’ and Handel’s ‘Messiah’ being performed in the same week. The Stabat Mater was certainly one of the highlights for me as I had never sung this work. It truly is a fantastic work, full of energy and drama without being kitsch in any way. The tenor solos were meaty with beautiful lines supported by classy orchestration. I was hoping to also sing with the Chanticleer Singers, but due to the logistical implications of standing with the soloists for the ensemble sections I was unable to. They sang superbly and I was very proud to be associated with the choir.

The Good Friday performance of the ‘Messiah’ is always a special event in the musical calendar, and this year was no exception. The Linder was packed to the rafters which is always adds to the brevity of the occasion. The Symphony Choir was in fine voice especially during the florid passages which they managed to sing with greater articulation and ease. For me this performance is more of a spiritual reflection than merely a performance. The text and the glorious message of the Messiah, Jesus, are the key point and driving force behind presenting the work with the greatest impact. I look forward with eager anticipation to the day I will be able to conduct this work.

Last night we celebrated Ascension Day with a performance of Haydn’s ‘Little Organ Mass’ at Holy Trinity, Braamfontein. Thanks to Cameron Upchurch, the music director there, we did it as part of the mass proper. It was really a wonderfully stimulating and rewarding performance. We did it with only 4 voices, 1 to a part, and Viennese Church trio. Soprano was sung by Talita Laubscher, Alto by Diana Cowen, Bass by Hendre van Zyl and me on Tenor whilst also directing. We hope to do many more of these performances as there are certainly enough masses to keep us busy.

Soli Deo Gloria!

29 Apr 2009 - Stellenbosch  
Voices of South Africa and the Stellenbosch University International Conducting Symposium was held during most of last week, and having returned from there yesterday I must say it was a great success.

I travelled down to the symposium with my good friend and colleague Renette Bouwer whom I have had a long association with. During this symposium I was involved in the conducting master classes, conducting competition and singing with the Schola Cantorum, whilst also attending some highly successful seminars and concerts by some of South Africa’s acclaimed choirs. Certainly the Symposium highlights included performances by the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir and the Tygebergh Children’s Choir, participating in the conducting competition and just being in one of the most beautiful and amazing places in South Africa.

It was wonderful to share this experience with a wide and diverse group of delegates who were united by their interest in and love for choral music. For many of us we were able to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and foster new ties with previously unknown friends. We all benefitted from a wonderful experience and yet it was choral music in the end that benefitted the most. For me I am particularly grateful to Rudolf de Beer and all the members of Schola Cantorum who I was privileged to make music with. I hope to do it again soon.

Easter week is upon us and it is a very busy week of exciting concerts lined up. Watch this space for the inside scoop.

Soli Deo Gloria.

19 Mar 2009 - Woodstock, Cape Town  
It has been quite a busy 2 weeks since last i updated you all on the most recent activities.

The 'Love Trust' concert held at Chrict Church was a wonderfully enjoyable concert. It was wonderfu;l to perform with the SAPS Pretoria Band and many thanks must go to Gillian and Jerome Daniels for all their hard work in arranging it.

Once again Christ Church Midrand turned out to be a fantastic venue for a concert. The only unfortunate thing was the turn out, which was not as good as we had hoped. Hopefully, with help on the marketing front this will be rectified if we do this again.

From a genre and stylistic perspective it was wonderful to delve into that treasure chest of big band repertoire that singers such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Mario Lanza became famous with. I know the audience enjoy it but am weary that it is not as technically demanding and challenging for the voice. Therefore, one could get lazy and then be unable to sing the oratorio and lieder repertoire at a high standard.

I am currently in Cape Town rehearsing with the 20Tenors for Starlight Classics 2009 @ Vergelegen. It has been a vigorous and very demanding week for all of us. Vocally, things have been going very well. The blend, tone and phrasing has been achieved with minimal fuss. Our words seemed to have stuck too, which is always good. The choreography has been the most challenging as it has totally changed from our JhB performance last October. It is also quite a shock physically to be dancing 5 hours a day being rather unfit. No wonder dancers have such good figures. The aches in my muscles are a welcome reminder that i need to get and remain fit. The next challenge. Our performance is this weekend so will be sure to update you all on how it went.

The LORD is God, Soli Deo Gloria!

26 Feb 2009 - Riverclub, Jhb.  
'Time waits for no man' so the saying goes, and how true it is. March is upon us and it is hard to comprehend that two months of this year have already raced by. Life is a fleeting journey that hopefully has us reflecting on eternity rather than on self indulgence, otherwise it is all rather meaningless. By the grace of God, through faith in Jesus, my perspective is heaven bound.

It has been a very productive week with a full complement of teaching and some wonderful work singing, both personally and corporately with my colleagues in the Chanticleer Singers. Mondays reahearsal was fantastically stimulating. Haydn's 'Stabat Mater' is taking shape beautifully. This is thanks to the application of stylistic phrasing so important to music from this period. It is so thrilling working on unravelling what the composers intention was. Handel's 'Dixit Dominus' is proving to be more challenging.

I have been working hard on preparing the tenor solos for both the 'Stabat Mater' and 'Messiah'. Today i had a wonderful time working through the different pieces with maestro Richard at the piano. As an initial run through it went quite well, but i now know what elements i still need to work on to ensure and more polished and exciting performance. It was great fun though and i will endeavour to practice with Richard on a regular basis.

My last public performance was at Christ Church Midrand (CCM) at last Sunday's morning service, leading the worship. It went well but i felt there was something lacking, not quite sure what it was but will try to ensure that it doesn't happen again. My utmost for the Lord.

Angela and i are off on an exciting road trip this weekend to visit some friends in northern KZN. Really looking forward it. Will report back anon. Viva la musica!

20 Feb 2009 - Birdhaven, JHB  
It has been a great start to the year. The teaching in the studio has been going very well and I am rather excited about the prospects for all my students.

I am also working hard on getting back into great shape vocally. There are a number of concerts coming up that require diligent and disciplined preparation. The first rehearsal went rather well for the concert with the Police Band early in March. My greatest challenge at this stage is memorising words, but with a bit of effort I am sure I will get everything learnt in time.

The solos for Handel’s ‘Messiah’ are also going to require refining. At this time of the year I am always reminded of how Sarie Lamprecht used to get me to rework the solos. It was a discipline that I only now appreciate the value of. The Symphony Choir of Johannesburg has also been working hard on their vocal production and placement, in preparation for the performance.

Our 20 Tenors project is also in full swing. Rehearsal schedules and travel arrangements have been finalised for Starlight Classics at Vergelegen down in the Cape. I have recently received the new arrangements that we are going to be singing with Johnny Clegg. It promises to be a memorable and exciting performance.

As far as conducting is concerned all I have to report is that I have yet to hear if am through to the next round of the Len van Zyl Conducting Competition held in conjunction with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. Secondly, I am going to be participating in a conducting masterclass with Kåre Hanken at the Voices of South Africa conference held in Stellenbosch early in April.

Soli Deo Gloria!