Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra on tour, South African June 2023  

Johannesburg | Pretoria |  Soweto | Cape Town | Makhanda

June 15 – 24, 2023    


For details of the programme- there are two programmes- see booking link

The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO) is touring South Africa this month – June 15 – 24, 2023. The BPYO, under the baton of Benjamin Zander, will presenting concerts in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Makhanda (National Arts Festival). In addition to the concerts, there are collaborations and interventions with community groups and schools. The concerts feature two programmes: Programme 1- Richard Strauss Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) and  Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor.  Programme II- Gustav Mahler Resurrection Symphony. For the Resurrection Symphony, the BPYO will share the stage with the Gauteng Choristers (directed by Sidwell Mhlongo), Andiswa Makana (soprano) and Bongiwe Nakani Mcetywa (mezzo soprano.) Benjamin Zander provides insights into the tour:

TCR: Has the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra toured South Africa in the past?

Benjamin Zander: This is the orchestra’s first visit. Not one member of the orchestra has ever been to South Africa.

TCR: How old are the musicians in the BPYO?

Benjamin Zander: They range in age from 12 to 21

TCR: The BPYO has not toured to South Africa but you have a long association with the country and you met Nelson Mandela on several occasions?

Benjamin Zander: I have made six visits to SA.  I have given many presentations on the Art of Possibility to organizations and companies throughout the country. I conducted the Cape Town Philharmonic in Beethoven 9th and the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra when I received the ABSA Leadership Award, which I was amazed to hear, was also given to Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu. I met Nelson Mandela three times. In 2010, I came with my former wife and life- long Partner in Possibility, Rosamund Zander. In three weeks, we gave 96 presentations to various organizations, all arranged  by Louise van Rhyn and her company Symphonia.  The impact of this visit was documented in a book called Partners in Possibility []

TCR: How many on stage on this tour for programme II- The Resurrection Symphony? 

Benjamin Zander: 192 altogether

TCR: How many in the chorus and are they all South Africans?

Benjamin Zander: 80 in the chorus and yes, they are all South Africans.

TCR: How did you go about selecting the SA choirs and soloists?

Benjamin Zander: People told us that the Gauteng Choristers was the best chorus in Johannesburg. They were available and excited. They have never sung Mahler’s 2nd. We will be flying them from Johannesburg to sing in the performance in Cape Town.

TCR: Can you provide insights into the Resurrection Symphony which premiered in 1895 in Berlin? 

Benjamin Zander: It describes Death, memories, the futility of life, turning towards God and, in the final movement, the Day of Judgment itself. It is a vast panoramic view of all of life expressed through the full resources of the romantic orchestra. I will speak before the performance to explain briefly what the piece is about to help the audience to listen to it.  On my website I have a lecture which explains it in considerable detail []

TCR: Can you talk about how SA Resurrection Symphony will be shaped by the South Africans taking part – soloists and choirs? 

Benjamin Zander: The choir and soloists only sing in the final movement.   I haven’t worked with the choir or soloists yet, but the great tradition of song in South Africa will ensure a stirring performance of the final movement.  

TCR: Do you feel a personal connection to the Resurrection Symphony as your family fled Nazi Germany in 1937, as they were Jewish? I am wondering if the symphony resonates for you on a personal level?

Benjamin Zander: All Mahler’s music resonates with me and the second symphony especially.  I feel at home in his music, like a language that I speak without an accent

TCR: Would you say that heroism is the leitmotif of this tour? You have young musicians from Boston – the BPYO -young musicians/choirs/soloists from SA- all on one stage – becoming their own heroes and inspiring others?

Benjamin Zander: We talk a lot about leadership in the BPYO.  I do see the members as heroes. The music speaks very powerfully to them and I am sure it will to the SA musicians too.

There is another leitmotif of the tour shining eyes.  The excitement of new experiences, intermingling of young people from different parts of the world; the challenge and joy of great music shared with others.  The BPYO musicians love the music and each other. During the tour they get to love and understand a new culture.  It is an unforgettable experience. They will tell their grandchildren about it!

Image of Benjamin Zander supplied. Photo by Paul Marotta.

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