[RU120] Rhodes University celebrates ‘A Series of Musical Firsts’ with #RU120 tribute concerts

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The composers being honoured at the #RU120 Tribute to Composers & Performers
The composers being honoured at the #RU120 Tribute to Composers & Performers

By: The Division of Communication & Advancement

As Rhodes University marks its 120th anniversary, the Department of Music and Musicology proudly presents a series of tribute concerts on 13 July 2024. These concerts celebrate "firsts," highlighting the university's pioneering role in shaping South African music and its ongoing legacy of excellence and innovation. This special event will honour the ground-breaking contributions of two distinguished composers, Dr Bongani Ndodana-Breen and Dr Paul Hanmer, whose works have set significant musical precedents.

Dr. Bongani Ndodana-Breen's composition, SAFIKA: Three Tales of African Migration, will be performed by Catherine Foxcroft and the Odeion String Quartet, renowned for its high standards in both teaching and performance, attracting talented students and distinguished artists from around the world. This piece, commissioned by the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival, made Ndodana-Breen the first Black South African composer to receive such a commission. "SAFIKA," meaning “we arrived” in isiXhosa and isiZulu, eloquently narrates the journey of African migration and memory, blending European techniques with African musical idioms. This remarkable work was a 2023 GRAMMY nominee for Contemporary Classical Composition, underscoring its global recognition and significance.

Rhodes University has a storied history of musical firsts. Michael Moerane was the first Black South African to graduate with a Bachelor of Music (BMus) from Rhodes University College in 1941. His choral piece Sylvia will be performed by the RU Chamber Choir (RUCC) and the RU African Choir (RUAC), conducted by composer, conductor, and RUCC music director, Sibusiso Njeza. Moerane’s symphonic poem "Fatse la Heso (My Country)" was performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Moerane greatly influenced music education and taught the flute to his nephew, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, setting a precedent for South African compositions on an international stage.

Njeza, an alumnus and recently appointed permanent staff member, composed Wamuhle Mzantsi! Winnie’s from Madiba the African Opera, which was commissioned by Opera South Africa and received its premiere in 2014. In this piece, Winnie Mandela has just met Nelson, a distinguished and slightly older gentleman. She is immediately enchanted by him and sings this aria to express her love. However, her father disapproves of her marrying an older man. Despite this, Winnie is resolute in her love and intention to marry Nelson. "Usana Olungakhaliyo Lufel’ Embelekweni" is an isiXhosa proverb meaning "a baby that does not cry dies on its mother’s back." This proverb encourages people to seek help when facing difficulties. The song, composed for soprano and piano, will be performed by Tshegofatso Makube and Garreth Robertson.

Premiering at the concert is the 3-Banded Armadillo by Dr Paul Hanmer, performed by Catherine Foxcroft and the Odeion String Quartet. This composition, commissioned specifically for the #RU120 celebrations, showcases Hanmer's deep connection to African musical traditions and classical forms. Hanmer’s pioneering work on The Bow Project, a major collaboration to transcribe traditional African bow music into classical compositions, highlights Rhodes University's dedication to preserving and innovating African musical traditions. This project was among the first to integrate traditional African sounds with classical music, creating a rich and multifaceted musical experience.

Compositions by Rhodes University alumni have been performed by prestigious orchestras worldwide, including in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. This global reach is a testament to the University's impact on the international music stage, positioning it as a transformative institution in music. Rhodes University's innovative music programs blend classical education with African musical traditions, fostering a unique and diverse musical environment that is both inclusive and forward-thinking.

Join us for an evening of extraordinary music as we celebrate these milestones and the legacy of firsts that have shaped Rhodes University's contribution to the world of music.

Event Details:

  • Date: Saturday, 13 July 2024
  • Time: 18H00 (pre-concert interview), 19H30 (concert)
  • Venue: Beethoven Room, Department of Music and Musicology
  • Entrance: R50 for adults; Music students enter free
  • Bookings: Email v.mnyobe@ru.ac.za