Scene It: 'Famously Incidental', a Maynardville delight

January 18, 2019

Famously Incidental, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra offering for the 2019 Maynardville Open-Air Festival, kicked off the season on a high note. With only two performances left —18 & 19 January— theatre lovers with an appreciation for the symphonic side of the creative spectrum will definitely need to make Famously Incidental part of their weekend entertainment plans.

When you see that the repertroire includes works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert, you may think the title referencing of ‘incidental’ to be a bit odd.


That is, until Rodney Trudgeon, as the eloquent narrator, explains to the audience that it’s not that the works are incidental in that they’re unknown or lessor when it comes to symphonic appeal, but rather that the aim of the music was never to be the feature itself. When creating incidental music, these eminent composers got to colour outside the strict symphony lines when asked to arrange music as accompaniment to a play or film with the aim of setting a specific mood or tone.

Through the carefully selected movements, as highlighted in Famously Incidental, you can feel the magic of the stories so amplified through the notes from the pens (or quills) of the maestros. Even if you did not know the details of Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus (a von Chézy's play), the elements of unrequited versus true love, as well as a bit of death by poisoning, seep through Schubert’s Overture, allowing you the opportunity to melodically 'see' the narrative, or at least a sampling thereof.


Keeping in mind the meaning behind incidental music, my personal favourites of the opening evening performance were the Prokofiev selection from the Lieutenant Kije Suite and Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite no. 1.


Amplifying the symphonic sketching of tales of love, loss and battle is the onstage presence of artistic director and conductor, Brandon Phillips. Watching Phillips guide the orchestra through the movements is a treat and a theatrical show on its own. He truly savours the experience of every note as the music drifts through Maynardville (sometimes to the charming chorus of the birds in the background too) with a delightful sway of the hips or an expressive shoulder raise. 

With the Famously Incidental selection ranging from Mendelssohn’s March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Khachaturian’s Waltz from Masquerade, it is difficult to imagine someone not being swept away by the magic of the music on offer —even someone who doesn’t fancy themselves a classical fan.


Yes, with the venue being open-air and the elements from outside always playing an amplification factor, here and there one finds that a note perhaps does not carry the impact that it should with this calibre of orchestra. However, as an overall experience, the energy and the passion of the performance makes up for those oddly noted moments, especially if one allows your eyes to wander to the percussion section who clearly love every moment of the beating of drums and the clashing of cymbals under a starring sky.


This Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra performance is the perfect way to start the Maynardville season; it's an enchanting performance. You have until 19 January 2019 to experience the melodic magic of Famously Incidental at the Maynardville Open-air Festival. Tickets are available through Computicket.



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