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Swan Song or Song and Dance?
The Final Chapter
Part IV

Over the past few weeks, we've heard a number of thoughts from figures in the music world about the current state of live classical music. From hopes of more government funding to cries for more adventurous programming, it is clear that there are many explanations and solutions to alter the course of classical music for the better.

Perhaps some of the strongest beacons of light for the future can be found in cities not usually thought of as bastions of the arts. A recent example is the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra in Johannesburg, South Africa ( When South Africa's National Symphony Orchestra disbanded a few years ago, a determined group of musicians decided that the city of Johannesburg would not go without an orchestra. They formed the musician-owned, self-funded Johannesburg Philharmonic. This courageous ensemble doesn't just stick to the basics to draw audiences to its concerts; programmes over the next few months will include works by Kurt Weill and African composer Mzilikazi Khumalo alongside pieces by Bizet and Elgar. Survival isn't easy for this band of brave souls. The orchestra had to cancel some of its concerts in 2001 due to a lack of funds, and even now musicians are occasionally lured away to other organisations and, indeed, other countries in search of more steady employment. However, the orchestra continues on, and quite healthily, according to General Manager Sara Gon, who says that during each season the Philharmonic plays two nights a week to audiences of 1,000 each night. Determined to remain as a foundation for classical music in Johannesburg, the JPO has sought private financial sponsors and even provides light classical concerts at conferences and events for a small fee. They also are laying the groundwork for classical music's future in South Africa by educating young musicians through their Performer Development Initiative (PDI) programme and by working with composers and artists to create a genre of orchestral music that is uniquely South African.

According to columnist and author Norman Lebrecht, "Mostly, ensembles struggle on, barely performing, in the hope of a white knight on a charger." However, it appears that one organisation is set on rescuing itself, and its city, from the ashes of classical music. Many of us would do well to follow the Johannesburg Philharmonic's example, whether we are musicians, directors, or audience members, and rescue ourselves and those around us from the shadows of classical oblivion. No more waiting for the shining white knight; find your own way to save music in your organisation, your city, or your country.

Check back with at the end of August to learn the results of our "Saving Classical Music" contest.

Copyright 2003, May not be reprinted without permission.


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