Inspiring a new generation of musical talents with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

By Deborah Rudman 14 August 2019

Mahler City Hall , image by Alain Proust (courtesy of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra)

Orchestras, says legendary conductor Sir Simon Rattle, who surely knows what he’s talking about, are like people: ‘They are the sonic embodiment of their community.’ We talked to the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s CEO and its artistic executive to tell us how it’s helping to safeguard classical music in South Africa.

Louis Heyneman

As CEO of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Heyneman has experienced the full gamut of emotions in his career, from the highs of a sell-out concert to the lows of doing battle with budgets that won’t balance. He is uniquely placed to observe the new direction of classical music in Cape Town and to guide the CPO into its next phase.

Maverick Life: What does your regular working day look like? Is there such a thing as a “normal day”?

Louis Heyneman: Thank goodness there is no such thing as a normal day. New programmes, different soloists and conductors and new funding challenges keep me going. Opening my email inbox is the most exciting part of the day. I like new challenges.

ML: What are the best moments in your job? Have there been times when you have lost heart?

LH: A full house with an exciting performance in progress is always the ultimate moment, sharing perhaps a year’s preparation with the audience. The burst of shouts and whistles at the end of a performance are the best rewards. On the other hand, I sometimes lose heart when I count the days to the next payday for the orchestra, knowing that a sponsorship or grant has not been paid into our account. We have a full-time complement of 50, with ad hoc players brought in as required, for example when we’re performing a huge work. It’s a big financial commitment.

ML: Do you have any fears for the future of the orchestra and of classical music in this country?

LH: Daily. But you only have to hear the latest young talent playing to know that each generation will solve new problems and quality music will always be there. 

ML: Can you share with our readers some of the highlights – the occasions when the music was so stirring that you thought it would raise the roof?

LH: We lobbied for 15 years to have our concert hall, the graceful Cape Town City Hall, renovated to its former glory. When it finally happened last year, there was no better or more ambitious work for the opening concert than Mahler’s massive Resurrection Symphony for soloists, choir and orchestra. At the climax of the final movement, I was quite emotional. I knew this is the concert life I always dreamt about for Cape Town. Our real mandate is to grow audiences and keep the concert life in Cape Town alive and well, in spite of the economy and all the gloom and doom in South Africa.

ML: What’s been the most heart-warming feedback you’ve received?

LH: In 2004, we started a youth orchestra with all the young players who could not afford good instruments or the best teachers. Nobody gave us a chance because we accepted into our programme everybody who could play. We only asked for hard work and enthusiasm. Fifteen years down the line the whole country is applauding the quality and excitement of the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and the CPY Wind Ensemble. Our youth orchestra have become a beacon of hope for music development in this country, with projects and performance quality far beyond our wildest dreams. Ten years ago, we introduced Masidlale, a grassroots training programme, and when these youngsters, some as young as six, play, you won’t find a dry eye in the house!

ML: In your view, and from what you’ve seen, do the youngsters today have the talent and application required for a life in music?

LH: The social and economic challenges staring young South Africans in the face are daunting. But the young talent virtually “crawling out of the woodwork” every day still amazes me. There are so many young musicians who’ve never had opportunities before, showing us that they have what it takes to make a career in music. 

ML: It’s a winter’s evening. It’s raining. You light a fire, pour a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and choose a piece of music to listen to: what will it be?

LH: Tricky question! There are so many different genres that excite me. As long as the music is emotionally charged – perhaps orchestra, choir and voice…from dramatic to quiet and serene. Anything from the Verdi Requiem to Avo Pärt’s mystical minimalism in Spiegel im Spiegel.

Heyneman graduated with a BMus and BAHons Journalism and later became the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, Die Matie, and a music and art journalist at Die Burger.  In 1991, he was appointed the director of the Oude Meester Foundation for the Performing Arts. He served as a trustee of the Unisa Music Foundation and became the CEO of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in 2000. In 2014, he and colleague Shirley de Kock Gueller published a book on 100 years of symphonic music in Cape Town, A Century of Symphony.


Sergei Burdukov, artistic executive

Proof that it can be not only a pleasurable pastime but a lifelong vocation, music has taken Sergei Burdukov from a childhood in Russia to a richly varied career in South Africa. Now the artistic executive of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Sergei started young: at age nine he entered the Leningrad children’s music school, later attending the prestigious Music Academy in Moscow and completing his military service in the army band.

While there, he auditioned for the Bolshoi Theatre and became principal oboe. In 1991, he moved to Johannesburg and joined the SABC Orchestra as principal oboe, then the Capab orchestra, the CTPO on its merger with the CTSO and later the CPO, where he was principal oboe until his retirement in January 2018.

We asked him to share with us a little more about his life in music. 

ML: You were clearly destined for a career in music. What is a stand-out memory from that time? Did music “grab” you immediately, or was it something that developed as you became immersed in it?

SG: I began to study music at the age of nine and joined the Moscow Music Academy at age 18 after taking numerous exams: that’s the way one got accepted, because there were too many people who wanted to audition for too few places. The main memory I have is how much we had to work – studying each day and living in the hostel, always hungry, while playing beautiful music. My parents used to send money from their limited income for food! The music was always inside me, and came out more and more during those long years of study.

ML: Why did you come to South Africa?

SG: The decision to immigrate here was very spontaneous and was largely prompted by the very bad economic situation in Russia in the beginning of the 1990s. In addition, I had probably reached the peak of my career in the Bolshoi, and there was no way for me to grow. I still find South Africa to be a beautiful country and so different from Europe and Russia.

ML: What were your first impressions –of the people in general and of the musicians in particular?

SG: The first friends I made where those I met when I arrived in 1991. They were the musicians from the SABC National Orchestra and were all friendly…and excellent musicians.  

ML: You have a very wide repertoire. What are the pieces of music you love best – to listen to, and to play?

SG: As a musician who has spent his whole life studying and playing music, it’s hard to say which music I love more. After ending my 42-year orchestral career, however, I started to learn how to listen to music not from the stage, but from a seat in the concert hall. It’s a very different experience.   

ML: In your career, both internationally and in South Africa, you have met countless performers. Which of them have made a big impression on you?

SG: During my work with the CPO, I have met a great number of famous, outstanding musicians, such as pianist John Lill, composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, violinists Sarah Chang and Joshua Bell, cellist Mischa Maisky, flautist James Galway, and many more.

ML: How do you catch the attention of youngsters today and encourage them to make a long-term commitment to music?

SG: The biggest role of the CPO is the education of the new generations of South Africans. We offer many education projects, but we also hold schools and community concerts, which expose youngsters to music step by step. We use social media to communicate with the youth. Music is good for the soul and we know that it works when we see oceans of enchanted faces. We use Facebook and Twitter at the concerts and encourage them to do so: a lot of sharing goes on. When we see that thousands of people have watched a video of a teaching or conducting session – or a 100-year-old woman in a rural area conducting a small group – we feel that we are reaching people.  We offer platforms not only at school concerts to learners at the schools but at community concerts to community artists. This sort of initiative shows that we are an orchestra for all seasons. 

ML: What does the role of “artistic executive” entail? Tell us a little about your average working day.

SG: All artistic decisions are made under the supervision of the CEO. My job is to create the final product of the orchestra where these be education, community outreach or symphony concerts. The working process includes the evaluation of the artists (soloists and conductors), the negotiation of concert fees and other conditions of engagement, the negotiation and confirmation of concert dates and repertoire, and booking concert venues. When all components are in place, it’s all discussed with the CEO and artistic management for confirmation and implementation. The major plan, of course, is to make the CPO sustainable and available to service all levels of the Cape Town community. ML



Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or if you are already an Insider.


This weekend we’re watching: astrology, love and mass delusion

By Tevya Turok Shapiro