May 8th 2011, 23:38
Louis Heyneman, CEO of Cape Town’s Philharmonic Orchestra, in conversation with 021’s editor Bernard Franz.
Louis, I see that you have all the latest electronic gadgets on your desk. How do you
see the future of classical music in this digital age?
We do have phenomenal access to the electronic media and they are all competing for our attention. With faster Internet speeds, we will see many more changes in South Africa in the very near future. With better cameras, surround systems, and high definition TVs, the sound and images will be better than in the opera house itself.
Do you think people are ready to substitute a real live experience for an electronic format?
We are not robots; we are social and creative creatures and don’t want to spend our Saturday nights in front of TVs. How do you compete with this continuous technological improvement when the City Hall, your concert venue, hasn’t been upgraded for years? City Hall has excellent acoustics for symphonic music, but we desperately need better lighting conditions and ventilation, and the seating is also not very comfortable. The Cape Town City Council can build a wonderful stadium for a couple of billion rand in record time, but for years they can’t upgrade the public toilets
in City Hall, which are currently in a disgusting state.
How about using venues other than City Hall?
Cape Town is not Sydney with a world-famous opera house at its disposal, but it has many wonderful locations that are beckoning to be used. We would like to do this, but you can’t just take an orchestra out of its home. A symphony orchestra only sounds good in the right venue. Of course it would be great to perform in the townships and expose more people to classical music, which is what we do with our youth orchestras. But logistically it’s very difficult to pull this off for a big orchestra.
Overseas, Cape Town doesn’t promote itself much as a cultural destination. Do you see opportunities for classical music to play a role in this?
We don’t get much support for in this. Ideally, Cape Town Tourism should be a partner in promoting the city in the US during our upcoming tour of 18 concerts on the American East Coast. We have also negotiated to put on a big event in the stadium, but we are in a very different position from, say, a pop band like U2. We simply can’t afford to take such a huge financial risk.
Do you think you could draw larger audiences if you had some big names visiting from overseas?
The Berlin Philharmonic has plans to come to City Hall and Kirstenbosch on the 24th and 25th November 2012 and we are willing to help them with marketing and outreach projects. This would be fantastic, but it will only happen if they get the sponsors to fund their trip. Performers of serious music share similar problems worldwide and Cape Town is actually a very small place when you look at the number of people who have access to transport, leisure time and money for a ticket, and who have been exposed to classical music in the past. I don’t think that there are
more than about 5000 people who come to our performances regularly.
How can you grow these numbers?
It’s all about exposure. If we expose our youngsters to animals, chances are they
will become animal lovers. The same applies to mathematics, literature and
music. This is how civilisations work. A few days ago I saw a small boy at St Michael’s Church in Rondebosch, who certainly had never seen a harp in his life. He just stood there and listened and couldn’t take his eyes off the harp player. You could see how the windows in his mind were opening. Now, I’m quite sure that this experience will have an impact on this boy if he listens to classical music at a later stage in his life. As we get older and more complex, we will often appreciate music in a different way. This is a normal progression of interest. That’s why serious music will never die.
What is your reply to those who question the necessity of classical music in a city where many people don’t have access to basic services?
We can’t live by bread alone. We are not just machines. Life is not just about
eating, breathing and possessions. Instead we are creatures that feel emotions, good
or bad. It’s important to strike the right balance between all of this. I ask for respect towards classical music. I respect sports people, I love to watch a Gripen fighter jet take off into the air , and I love the music of Beethoven and a walk in nature. To stand on top of Table Mountain on a crisp clear morning and listen to the city rumble below, to hear a tenor reach a high C after years of practising, to have fun with friends at a braai – this is to see everything as an experience, as a challenge and in beauty. I believe the more interests we have, the more human we are.