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SCENE IT: Maynardville festival ends on a friendly note

Maria Kearns


This year’s Maynardville Festival closed with what organisers have called an inaugural celebration of choral music. Friends in Harmony is set to become a permanent part of the annual open-air event.

The evening’s proceedings were opened by Track 5, a jazz vocal ensemble who entertained the audience with their versions of a number of favourites. Their rendition of ‘Chili con Carne’ led to a lively discussion of the best way to cook this dish (and where in Woolies to find the all-important ‘Mexican spices’) in the row behind this reviewer and her unhappy partner, who did not approve of the recipe.

Next up, the much in-demand South African Youth Choir took to the stage with a sensitively performed Chris Lamprecht hymn. This choir’s performance was filled with joy and vitality—and, importantly, with a whole lot of serious musicality. Conductor Phil Robinson’s enthusiasm for his singers was evident, and his departure from the stage as the choir performed a beautiful selection of traditional South African songs under their own direction spoke volumes about his trust in them.

Maria Viviers’ Vivox Voices showcased their mastery of a number of contemporary choral numbers, including a gorgeous rendition of Nix’s ‘Talia Miracula’ and a rousing performance of Johnson’s ‘Shout Hallelujah to the Risen Lamb’.

The Tygerberg Children’s Choir, billed as the evening’s headline act, provided a charming performance and thrilled the audience with their very well-drilled choreography. There has certainly also never been a choir in this country with this group’s uncanny ability to sing a perfectly timed and articulated hard consonant as if with one voice—a truly enviable accomplishment conductor Karina Erasmus should be very proud of. The music, including an arrangement of Toto’s ‘Africa’, was all perfectly lovely, and the choir’s performance of ‘Prayer of the Children’ was especially touching and came across as a heartfelt plea in bleak times.

It's always lovely to attend performances in the evocative Maynardville space, and this was an enjoyable evening under the open sky, but there is one aspect that could have used some more attention given the physical limitations of the venue:

If this choral event is to form part of the Maynardville festival every year, I’d urge the organisers to do everything in their power to adjust the acoustics (by perhaps employing a helpfully concave backdrop and coralling the audience to the very front of the stalls) and to upgrade the sound equipment available to them. While the amplification of the Rachmaninov recital that opened this year’s programme was surprisingly successful, the same can unfortunately not be said for that of the choral music, as the sound quality was just too tinny and unforgiving to make for entirely pleasant listening.

That being said, all the choirs did their best to work with what they’d been given, and there were moments during which it was almost possible to forget about the too-grating tones emitting from the speakers on either side of the stage. A rounder, warmer sound may also have done much to help the audience ignore the fact that the programme overran significantly.


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