Let there be music

Chamber music is coming to Franschhoek in February and all the town will be involved in presenting and celebrating local art, wine and food in tune with the music.

The inaugural four-day Franschhoek Chamber Music Festival scheduled for the last weekend of February 2022 promises to be a world-class event.

The festival will be anchored by 10 formal concerts performed by artists of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, while various auxiliary events by local people and establishments will take place in and around the town. Above all, it will be a community event, taking the best from the successful approach of complete community buy-in as seen in the renowned Napa Valley and Lake Lugano chamber music festivals, but at the same time ensuring local authenticity in Franschhoek’s own inimitable style will be paramount.
Given all the town has to offer, a festival such as this is long overdue, especially now that so many music lovers and connoisseurs are desperate to experience an intimate occasion of excellence once again. And, says Nic Barrow, the owner of Le Lude Estate, there is no better place than Franschhoek to combine chamber music with haute cuisine, with specially crafted wines and Méthode Cap Classiques, and with fine art. He and his wife, Ferda, are the masterminds be- hind the festival, while the Rupert Music Foundation, chaired by Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg, is a founder sponsor. The festival is also sponsored by Pam Golding (Paarl). All are delighted that the Cape Town Philharmonic will perform orchestral masterpieces in a chamber-style format.

The 10 official concerts will take place mainly in the Franschhoek Dutch Reformed Church, where an elevated podium is constructed. The chamber music hall of the old wine cellar at La Motte will also play host. Impromptu smaller concerts and performances will be held at venues such as Le Lude and other estates, and they will be paired with Méthode Cap Classique tastings and speciality cuisine during the musical weekend.
Festival events coordinator Alisha Erasmus says the organisers are fully committed to ensuring the various Cap Classique and wine tastings, gourmet lunches and dinners, accommodation specials and art exhibitions will involve maximum community participation. She adds that she finds the planning inspiring because, although she has lived in Franschhoek for some two decades, every day she learns more about the nuanced and diverse benefits the festival will bring to music lovers of the Boland and the Cape Peninsula.

ABOVE LEFT: Ferda and Nic Barrow, founders of the Franschhoek Chamber Music Festival. ABOVE RIGHT: Their wine estate, Le Lude, will host some smaller concerts during the festival.

For Alisha, working with Nic and Ferda Barrow is only a pleasure “because they are passionate about the finer things in life and they put their heart and soul into everything they do”. The many accolades and awards the couple has received over the years are testament to this. Honoured for their contributions to President Nelson Mandela Park in Delft and the Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre in Mamelodi, they also donate bursaries to learners from underprivileged communities. The Barrow Family Trust is a corporate sponsor of the Cape Town Philharmonic and a contributor to the Simon van der Stel Foundation, which conserves historical buildings in the Western Cape.

Nic, an attorney by profession, was a pioneer of the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival and the Klein Karoo Klassique Arts Festival. In 2013, Business and Arts SA awarded the Barrow Family Trust a finalist certificate in the category for increasing access to the arts for starting Klein Karoo Klassique.

Nic says his love for classical music was instilled at the age of eight by his mother, Naomi, when she took the family to Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at the Bloemfonteinse Stadskouburg. It was reinforced in the Durban City Hall in 1965 when, as a scholar, he heard Piero Gamba conduct Antonín Dvořák’s ‘New World Symphony’, with French cellist Pierre Fournier in the orchestra.

“Ferda and I have experienced some of the best of the best round the world, like the Nether- lands Philharmonic Orchestra featuring violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Het Concert Gebouw and Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro being performed in the magnificent Semperoper Dresden, one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world.”

The Cape Town Philharmonic in action.

Nic adds that the Cape Town Philharmonic is a gem of an orchestra, easily comparable with the best they have heard, and under CEO Louis Heyneman, it has transformed into a premier ensemble within two decades. Founded in 1914, it is the most versatile and active orchestra in Africa, contributing handsomely to the region’s global status and appeal.

Appointed a director of the Cape Town Philharmonic on 3 November 2000, Louis started work as the CEO less than a month later, on 1 December. “In those days,” he says, “very few people had the appetite to rebuild an orchestra in liquidation from scratch. With hindsight, I was probably a little more naive than brave. Cape Town’s orchestra, in several guises and after a few name changes over 107 years, has always been playing in a league bigger than everybody anticipates. For a city this size, with similar resources, we can be extremely proud of the international reputation of our orchestra.”

He continues, “Before the turn of the century, most professional orchestras in South Africa favoured musicians from overseas. Fortunately, the labour laws changed and since 2000, all the new positions have gone to locally trained musicians. There are still musicians from abroad in the system but they came to this country a lifetime ago and became naturalised South Africans. Nevertheless, locally born musicians have taken over. It meant many young local musicians were thrown in at the deep end. But how they have blossomed! My only claim to fame at the Cape Town Phil- harmonic is that I have been around long enough to see my plans and dreams come to fruition. Very often, leaders far more dynamic and talented than me are not afforded that luxury.”

Louis expects the Franschhoek Festival to be exceptional, specifically because chamber music is an intimate and incomparable experience. Described by many as ‘the music of friends’, it conveys a sense of well-being among people who share an appreciation for it. “Chamber music is often neglected because you need the high- est possible quality of playing – every single player is exposed – and as a business entity, a small group of players cannot make a living specialising in chamber music only, especially not in a diverse country like South Africa,” he points out. However, every musician in the orchestra dreams of playing chamber music at the highest level. “It shapes the player and forces them to challenge their skills to the extreme.”

A festival like this is manna from heaven for orchestra musicians, especially as without being challenged in this way they will stagnate and become bored passengers in large ensembles.

“When Nic Barrow offered the Cape Town Philharmonic collaboration in a festival like this, we saw the opportunity to showcase our players in small groups to a new audience. A formal concert hall is often intimidating to newcomers. They do not connect with a musician on a stage 50m away. However, in the context of a friendly, intimate festival, you can now connect with the music and the players, perhaps even with a glass of bubbly in your hand.”

Louis adds the whole idea of chamber music is to be almost among the musicians in a much smaller, intimate set-up. Referring to the specifically selected venues for the formal concerts, he comments that any new festival develops and grows over the years. This first event will start in only a few venues: the Franschhoek Dutch Reformed Church, a medium-sized venue with excellent acoustics for smaller groups; the old wine cellar at La Motte, which has proven to be a premier chamber music venue over many years; and the wine cellar at Le Lude. Art exhibitions are planned in several venues in town. The visual arts, fine wine and delicious food are perfect partners for chamber music concerts.
“We specifically decided we wanted to be a founder member of the Franschhoek Festival be- cause a chamber music festival is a perfect vehicle for developing all the skills of musicians,” continues Louis. “Through the ages, formal music developed from small, intimate groups among friends and from impromptu performances by travelling troubadours in the Middle Ages eventually to organised concerts for the nobility, whose largesse made it possible for music to develop into a formal art form. The large concert hall as we know it today developed only over the past two centuries. The Cape Town Philharmonic could not miss the opportunity to be part of this new festival. Music as part of the fabric of society plays an essential role in binding communities and building bridges of social cohesion.”

As the festival is planned as a ‘four-day highlight’ for patrons – from Thursday to Sunday – it will amount to a long weekend of chamber music for devoted music lovers. However, for enthusiasts with limited time, every concert on any day will be an exceptional experience. “Furthermore, unlike most other festivals, the initial offering is only 10 formal concerts and they are conveniently spaced so you can attend every concert. None of the concerts overlap and there will be enough time to visit restaurants or enjoy the hospitality that Franschhoek offers,” Louis adds.

The music curator of the festival is well-known cellist Peter Martens, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Cape Town and a PhD from Stellenbosch University. Peter is now the artistic director of the award-winning Stellenbosch University Camerata, which under his baton has recorded several feature film scores for award-winning movies such as Khumba and Die Wonderwerker; 2016 saw the release of the first US Camerata CD on Sony Classical, featuring the Tim Kliphuis Jazz Trio as soloists.

Art doyenne Ilse Schermers Griesel is the festival’s curator of visual art. As the owner of IS Art, she has a rich history in the art culture of Franschhoek and the Boland region. Ilse will be the curator of the official festival art exhibitions in the beautiful city hall and church hall in the centre of Franschhoek.

The festival artist for 2022 will be Jan Vermeiren, who designed the festival’s poster (and official visual image). Although born in Belgium in 1949, Jan is known as a South African post-war and contemporary painter and he has exhibited widely in this country and abroad. An exhibition in the city hall will combine his latest creations with works of other contemporary South African artists in many mediums. Ceramic wares and sculptures will also feature strongly in this exhibition, including works by Anton and Esra Bosch (son and daughter of ceramic artist Esias Bosch) from White River in Mpumalanga.

The wine curator of the festival, renowned writer and connoisseur Emile Joubert, says the essence of Franschhoek stems in no small part from the town and its surroundings’ ability to produce some of the Cape’s most excellent wines and Méthode Cap Classiques.
Franschhoek winemakers, or vignerons as they prefer to be known, have made their estates some of the finest in the country. For this, different grape varieties are cultivated on the mountain slopes and the river banks, each matched to the physical conditions – the terroir – required for making a wine of expressive excellence: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; Syrah and Sémillon; Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and Malbec. The Franschhoek wine offering is a combination of diverse products that incorporate the soul, passion and provenance of the people who craft them. Pre-eminent among these is Cap Classique, the bottle-fermented sparkling wine that has captured the imagination of all South Africans. Its celebratory significance underscores above all else the town as a place where art and culture sustain the community and its visitors.

Those attending the celebration of chamber music in Franschhoek will experience the elevation of all their senses. The sound of music in a revered atmosphere. The sight of works of art. The aroma and taste of the fine wines from the valley. Each wine is a symphony to the senses, a titillation of taste. And that, like all art, moves the soul, says Emile.

The Franschhoek Chamber Music Festival is on from 24 to 27 February 2022. Ticket sales open 1 December 2021. For more information, visit fcmf.co.za.