The impressive and impressionable players of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO) became enraptured by the South African people and their country over an extraordinary six-concert tour in mid June; South Africans responded in kind to these remarkable young musicians. Pretoria, Cape Town, and Makhanda witnessed Beethoven 5th and Ein Heldenleben; Mahler’s Second Symphony came to Johannesburg, Soweto, and Cape Town, where BPYO shared the stage with Gauteng Choristers, directed by Sidwell Mhlongo; soprano Andiswa Makana, and mezzo-soprano Bongiwe Nakani Mcetywa—South African musicians singing Mahler for the first time. The SA Daily Maverick recounted:
On his first trip to South Africa years ago, Zander fell in love with the country, the people and the way everybody seemed absorbed and fascinated by South Africa. “Every conversation, it seemed, was about the country, its future, its problems and the solutions.” Zander met Nelson Mandela on that trip. He said to him: “It is a great honour to meet you, for you are the first leader of Symphonia.” “Oh?” said Mandela. “What is that?” Zander explained: “Sym-phonia: Sounding together. You didn’t lead one party against another. You listened to all the voices and conducted the whole ‘orchestra’.”
Madiba beamed from ear to ear. “I like that.”
On that occasion Zander promised Mandela that one day he would bring his youth orchestra to South Africa. He wanted them to experience the country and mould their lives around Mandela’s vision.
Twenty-five years later it happened.
In his report, Benjamin Zander says, “They (the BPYO) discovered, many for the very first time, the power that their music has to bring together people who have nothing but music in common. Many of them expressed a sense of wonder and awe that people with so little could emanate such joy. They had, in the words of El Sistema founder, José Antonio Abreu, an “affluence of the spirit.” It inspired the BPYO members to dig deep into their hearts to find that joy for themselves.
Zander invites everyone to read the massive document detailing the meaningful tour HERE. Lauren Radnofsky, who 25 years ago belonged to his youth orchestra, remains a devoted collaborator in this document and in general.