SAMRO Crowns SA’s Top Young Composers

By Vanessa Perumal – Keith Moss (23) and James Bassingthwaighte (28) were named the winners of SAMRO’s 2010 Overseas Scholarships for composers following a hard-fought music contest at the UJ Arts Centre on Saturday night.

Each young composer walks off with a scholarship to study music abroad worth R170 000, in this prestigious competition that has been run by the Southern African Music Rights Organisation since 1962. On a four-yearly cycle, it alternates between awarding singers, instrumentalists, keyboard players and composers of exceptional promise.

The packed Arts Centre at the University of Johannesburg witnessed renditions of indigenous compositions by the vibrant Wits Choir, and the audience was also treated to acclaimed jazz duo Paul Hanmer and McCoy Mrubata performing a thrilling set of Hanmer’s music.

These quality choral and jazz performances set the tone for a lively evening celebrating South Africa’s musical diversity, variety, creativity and originality. It was made all the more special by the lifetime achievement award presented by SAMRO chairperson Annette Emdon to eminent composer, arranger and recently retired SAMRO deputy chairperson Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo, who continues to serve on the SAMRO Board.

The four finalists had the privilege of having their compositions performed by the cream of South African music talent.

Keith Moss (who studied at Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town, with Prof Peter Klatzow and Dr Péter Louis van Dyk as teachers) and Angie Mullins (24, who studied at Wits University and was taught by Dr Michael Blake, Prof Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph and Dr

Clare Loveday) were the finalists in the Western Art Music category.

Mullins’s unconventional contemporary style – as well as the fascinating variety in all four finalists’ entries – underscored the fact that the competition is moving into the modern era while retaining its high standards. Her composition for trio, City Must Burn, was performed by Jill Richards on piano, Magda de Vries on marimbas and percussion and Waldo Alexander on Italian violin; while her vocal piece Street Study was interpreted with gusto by the Street Voices ensemble.

Moss’s Trio Lamentation was performed by Richards on piano, Susan Mouton on cello and Lesley Stansell on cor anglais; while his choral works – I Carry Your Heart With Me (an interpretation of an e.e. cummings poem inspired by composer Eric Whitacre) and Into This Universe (written after a friend’s death and based on a quote by Persian philosopher Omar Khayyan) – were sung by the Chanticleer Singers, conducted by Richard Cock.

In the Jazz/Popular Music category, competition was also tight. Kingsley Alexander Buitendag (25, taught by Prof Marc Duby and John Edward at Rhodes University) and James Bassingthwaighte (who studied at UCT, under the tutelage of Prof Mike Campbell) vied for top honours.

Buitendag’s work for jazz quartet, Mr Gaulana, is a tribute to East London jazz guitarist and composer Lulama Gaulana and was performed by Roland Moses on piano, Mthunzi Mvubu on saxophone, Prince Bulo on bass guitar and Rob Watson on drums. His other piece, Sombras, for solo jazz piano, was performed by Moses.

The same jazz quartet performed Bassingthwaighte’s composition Song for Sam, a tribute to Sam Mtukudzi, musician son of Zimbabwe’s legendary Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. Sam died tragically in a car accident earlier this year. Bassingthwaighte’s other piece, Un Asunto Familiar con los Valdes, was rendered by the versatile Grammy-nominated pianist Jill Richards.

The adjudicators, under the non-voting chairmanship of Joyce Schulten from SAMRO, were Prof Chatradari Devroop and Prof Marc Duby (both dual-genre panellists), as well as Prof Christopher Collins, Victor Masondo, Dr Carlo Mombelli, Noel Stockton and Denzil Weale (Jazz/Popular Music category); and Prof Tania Leon, Prof Hendrik Hofmeyr, Bongani Ndodana-Breen and Prof Christine Lucia (Western Art Music category).

Bassingthwaighte was named the Jazz/Popular Music winner, with Buitendag receiving the R40 000 runner-up prize; and Moss triumphed in the Western Art section, with Mullins being awarded R40 000 as runner-up. Merit awards also went to composers Prince Bulo and Christo Jankowitz.

SAMRO’s general manager: corporate affairs, André le Roux, commented that the record number of entries in the composers category this year – 22 – was extremely encouraging to SAMRO as a composers’ society. “If you listen to these compositions, there are little pieces of excellence in each of them, and it is exciting to be highlighting new and different kinds of work. These young people all have enormous talent, and we look forward to a long and prosperous relationship with them.”

Added SAMRO CEO Nicholas Motsatse: “We are very proud to see, every year, young people with skill and talent being given the opportunity to explore and polish that skill and talent. We are also pleased that we, in a small way, are contributing towards the development of music in this country and ensuring that culture plays a role in society.”