Soothing sounds: The  Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra during rehearsals in the Linder Auditorium at the University of the Witwatersrand.  Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA
Soothing sounds: The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra during rehearsals in the Linder Auditorium at the University of the Witwatersrand. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA

The soundtrack of Johannesburg is about to be complete again. The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) will once again add its sounds to the buzz and the urban choreography of "Africa’s world-class city".

The orchestra disappeared into obscurity in 2012, when it experienced a financial meltdown. It relied mostly on lottery funding.

With the help of new government and corporate funders, the orchestra is ready to claim its place as one of the best in Africa.

The refreshed version includes a new brand identity with artistic strokes of the city’s iconic landmark, the Nelson Mandela Bridge.

Steering the wheels of change is the orchestra’s CEO and artistic director Bongani Tembe. The JPO is a not-for-profit, public-benefit company and is aspiring to be an orchestra globally recognised for its artistic excellence, education initiatives, innovation and community engagement programmes.

"This vision is based on the affirmation of the value and transformative power of music to inspire and build connections among Johannesburg’s diverse population, thereby contributing to nation building," Tembe says.

The JPO has a new board that comprises business and community leaders and is led by Justice Dikgang Moseneke as chairman.

It has partnerships with Joburg Ballet, the South African National Youth Orchestra, the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and the City of Johannesburg.

During the last week of September, the JPO travelled to Mokone Maropeng Primary School in Soweto, where it performed with — and for — 10 township schools to celebrate heritage month.

"The reception from the learners and the community was positive and the atmosphere inside the school hall was absolutely electrifying," says Tembe.

He plans to produce four symphony seasons of four weeks each (two concerts a week) in 2018, which will feature renowned international artists and the cream of South African talent.

The JPO will also have two seasons with Joburg Ballet.

"We are also developing a comprehensive education and community engagement programme that will see the JPO visit townships and also harnessing the talent of young skilled South Africans," Tembe says.

He believes that with the assistance of government and corporate funders, the orchestra will once again claim its place as one of the best on the continent.

"At this stage, we have a budget of about R30m a year which will grow to about R50m a year within a few years," Tembe says.

"In terms of musicians, for now we are adopting the model of the five London orchestras, whereby we develop a meaningful and consistent schedule for musicians and pay them per session [rehearsals and performances].

"The City of Johannesburg has given us a generous grant of R10m a year, and an anonymous donor gave us a R20m donation.

"We have also received grants from many foundations including the Rupert Music Foundation, the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and the Javett Foundation. We have developed a powerful partnership with Classic FM."

He is encouraging Joburg residents to come to the Linder Auditorium in Parktown after work to enjoy great music and take their minds away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

"Live music infuses a sense of joy. While classical music can be dramatic, it often has a calming effect," Tembe says.

The administrative capacity of the organisation is still being rebuilt, so he is assisted by only one full-time staff member, an office co-ordinator.

The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra kicks off on October 25 at the Linder Auditorium in Parktown.

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