Concert Review: Facing Familiarity, Or The Future Unmasked

January 25, 2015



Viennese New Year Concert / Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, conducted by Richard Cock / Linder Auditorium


The 2015 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival kicked off – as you’d expect – with a programmed packed full of, er, Strauss.

Conductor and MC Richard Cock later explained it as more of a practical consideration, placing what what would otherwise be a one-off concert (the celebration of New Year) with an established, popular festival.

The traditional masks worn to the events on which this concert focused and for which much of the music was originally written in centuries past were in evidence at the Linder Auditorium, adding splashes of colour to the audience and contributing to the cheerful atmosphere of the event.

That atmosphere is worth further comment, as it’s likely a conscious construct on the part of Cock and his fellow orchestral and chamber music evangelists, who are aware of the challenges of attracting new and younger audiences to such concerts. Cock made a point of explaining the origins and other points of interest of each composition before the orchestra played it, adding interest even for those enthusiasts who were probably well clued up beforehand.

Cock also has a charming line in self-depracating humour – “If you’re on our mailing list, please check your spam boxes; for some reason a lot of those filters don’t seem to like my name…” – that is not the norm in such settings.

There was also an opportunity for masked patrons to parade across the stage, with the most impressive get-ups being rewarded with prizes.

The Viennese New Year Concert programme included a number of much-admired favourites including Johann Strauss Jr’s Fledemaus Overture and Emperor Waltz; Johann Strauss Sr’s Radetsky March; Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance Of The Hours and Leo Delibes Flower Duet (sung beautifully by Magdalene Minaar and Kathy Neuland, who were introduced singly or together at various points in the programme).

Words that accurately describe the tone of this event would be “fun” and “familiar” (in the comfortable, made to feel at home sense), rather than “refined” or “posh”. To some – the old guard, stereotypically – that might sound like an unattractive proposition. But in practice; in the room; it works brilliantly and bodes very well for the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival and the other classical music seasons this year.