Odeion String QuartetA PIONEERING partnership between the National Arts Festival and the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) will see the annual festival decisively extending its footprint into Port Elizabeth through a first of its kind performance by the Odeion String Quartet as part of the Hidden Treasures programme on July 8 at the Athenaeum Little Theatre.

Hidden Treasures is a project comprising of compositions by contemporary composers Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, and John Tavener, who are regarded as the most influential composers in the genre of minimalism. 

The Odeion String Quartet will perform these pieces, led by Samson Diamond, 2010 Standard Bank Young Artist for Music. The foursome is performing over the closing weekend of the National Arts Festival and will then move to Port Elizabeth on Monday July 8, for an unorthodox but ground-breaking National Arts Festival finale performance, together with ten musicians from the Port Elizabeth Youth Violin Project – part of the East Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.

The event is co-hosted by the two organisations and indicates greater collaboration between the cities, in profiling what Ismail Mahomed, Artistic Director at  the National Arts Festival, emphasizes is an “Eastern Cape festival” rather than one based exclusively in Grahamstown.  

“The Athenaeum is just a dynamic space. It has enormous potential and it is managed by a young and visionary team. Partnering with the Athenaeum is such a natural extension through which we can expose our artists to the year round potential for cultural collaboration that is available in Port Elizabeth. I am absolutely confident that the outstanding standard of musicians will become superb ambassadors for the visionary work that is taking place at the Athenaeum,” said Mahomed.

The collaboration is the result of a recent partnership agreement between the MBDA and National Arts Festival, signed earlier this year. The MBDA is operating a dedicated public art and infrastructure upgrade of key nodes in Nelson Mandela Bay, with the aim of creating vibrant cultural life in those nodes. Central is one of the areas and the MBDA recently invested close to R5-million on the upgrade of the Athenaeum Club building, including the Little Theatre, where the Odeion String Quartet will perform.

The quartet – the only resident string quartet at a South African university – is also set on giving back to musical communities around the country, hence the “Festival Encounter” with the Port Elizabeth Youth Violin Project. The budding musicians will attend a workshop led by leading Diamond and other musicians. The workshops will offer guidance on playing techniques and life-skills that are essential for young people who intend to pursue a career in the music sector.

“I am thrilled that the NAF has extended an opportunity for the Odeion String Quartet to perform not only in Grahamstown but also in Port Elizabeth. It will be the first time that I perform in PE and cannot fathom an answer as to why I haven't performed in PE before. We are delighted and look forward to presenting a very special programme that is rarely performed in concert anywhere in the world. It is also highly likely that these works have not yet been performed in South Africa,” said Diamond.

“The works represent a new age of ‘classical music’ where the music is current and has a profound meaning and relevance to our times. The music of Arvo Part is immensely spiritual and sacred whilst Sir John Tavener's music is paradoxically calm and suspenseful, and highly emotive. It draws the audience not only to listen but to meditate, a novelty for current times.” Diamond added that as a practitioner in the classical music field, he finds himself immersed with countless moments of inspiration not only by the music but also by the skilled musicians he often works with.

“I feel that we've also reached an interesting stage in the field where education about the art form is of paramount importance and I emphasise that more can be done at every level of social development. If we don't do this work now, we will soon be without audiences. It is fantastic that the Odeion Quartet will also have the time to work with the Eastern Cape Violin Youth Project when we are in Grahamstown and we are looking forward to that,” added Diamond, who was appointed as first violin and leader of the Odeion String Quartet in January this year.

The young violinists – plus a further 40 of their fellow musicians –attended the National Arts festival Children’s Festival on Monday, July 1, and also the a musicians  other Festival concerts and a day at the Children’s festival on July 1.  MBDA Planning and Development Manager, Dorelle Sapere, said this landmark event would open the doors to future collaboration and sustainable growth of the Nelson Mandela Bay creative industries.

“We are delighted to host the Odeion String Quartet as part of the Hidden Treasures programme – not only because it profiles such a big name on our local stage, but also shows how we can collaborate with established artists in training, developing and inspiring artists in the city,” Sapere said. The MBDA believes that this coup for the arts scene marks the culmination of a three year programme of investment in the arts, through the implementation of now established Route 67 initiative, a public art driven tourism infrastructure project.

The Hidden Treasures performance will take place at the Little Theatre in the Athenaeum on Monday, July 8 at 7pm. The show runs for an hour and 15 minutes. Tickets are R60 and R50 for students and are available through Computicket. Booking is essential.