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This weekend saw the ninth iteration of the University of Stellenbosch Symphony Orchestra’s (USSO) Youth Concerto Festival. The Youth Concerto Festival takes place every second year and features some of the most promising young soloists from the Department of Music at Stellenbosch University (SU). The soloists were accompanied by USSO, under the baton of Prof. Corvin Matei.

This prestigious festival was created in 2003 by Matei, the orchestra’s conductor of many years, and Prof. Hans Roosenschoon, then the head of SU’s Music Department. According to Matei, it preceded the concerto festivals of many other universities by several years.

Since its inception, the soloists for the concerto festival have always been chosen through a regulated audition process with an external panel, in order to ensure that favouritism does not impact the selection. Although the quality of the performance in the audition is a major factor, it does not guarantee a spot in the festival: other aspects, such as repertoire, the length, and even the types of instruments must be considered in order to create a balanced program for the concert.

This year’s diverse program included works by Hummel, Spohr, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Delibes, Kovács, Prokofiev, Hofmeyr and Klatzow, and were presented by singers, as well as instrumentalists on the trumpet, bassoon, piano, marimba, clarinet and saxophone.

According to Matei, a concerto festival is one of the hardest programmes to prepare, due to its varied and vast numbers of works. “It’s harder than any symphonic programme. You have to change all the time, firstly; then you have to adjust to the soloists’ movements; then, stylistically, you are going to play a very modern work, and in two minutes you have to change the mood because it’s a Mozart concerto. It’s very difficult,” said Matei.

The Youth Concerto Festival serves as a platform for young musicians to showcase their talent and to get the opportunity to perform with a full symphony orchestra. For Matei, the Concerto Festival continues to be an event of great significance to the Music Department. “I think it’s an amazing challenge for [the students] because for the first time they must behave almost professionally since they play with an orchestra.”

Chanté van der Westhuizen, a singer who performed Delibes’s “Flower Duet” with partner, Jana-Mari van Dyk, emphasised this as a very important learning curve for aspiring performers. “This was the first time that I had ever sung with a full orchestra, and in terms of both technical demand and interpretation, it is completely different to performing with piano accompaniment, which we are used to,” Van der Westhuizen explained. Emilio Lorenzo, who performed a movement from Klatzow’s concerto for marimba, echoed this. “Playing with an orchestra can be a frightful experience. You cannot just perform on your own time but have to include a large group of people. I think that the Youth Concerto Festival is a fantastic stepping stone for aspiring performers, as it helps to build their confidence.”

Josie McClure, saxophonist, said that the exposure this festival gives to young musicians is invaluable. “Performing as a soloist with an orchestra is actually not a common situation for musicians to be in, so these kinds of events are really important. It helps them to gain experience, and face new challenges,” McClure said.

According to Lara Havenga, trumpeter, and one of the soloists at the festival, it was “a dream come true” to participate in the festival. “My general experience at the festival was fantastic. The acoustics in the Endler is brilliant, and Prof. Matei was wonderful to work with,” Havenga said.

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