Interview: Coenie Visser, director of Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival in the Cape, talks about nurturing the village vibe of the fest for 2002 and beyond

What: Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival #ClassicsForAll2022

When: May 20 – 22, 2022
Where: Villages of Greyton and Genadendal- about 90 minutes from Cape Town (two hours, in heavy traffic)
Festival programme:
Bookings: See, Computicket or call the Greyton Tourism Office, 028 254 9414/9564 and speak to Roslyn or go in and she will assist with bookings. There is a Computicket booth on site
Accommodation: Contact Roslyn at Greyton Tourism on 028 254 9414      

A popular proverb/adage goes that it takes a village to raise a child. In many ways the towns of Greyton and Genadendal in the Western Cape have raised a classical music festival: The Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival. Volunteers pull together –working with a shoe-string budget – to create three days of a ‘classics for all’ experience. Dovetailing with the no-frills festival is the opportunity to become immersed in quirky and interesting experiences – steeped in culture and food. On the music cultural side, the oldest pipe organ in South Africa is housed in the Genadendal Mission Museum and the museum has heritage collections of scores of secular and sacred music and music memorabilia. There is great chocolate (Von Geusau Chocolate), wine, beer and food. People do not simply head for the festival because of the music. They are drawn by the hospitality and the fact that one can bypass festival booking anxiety (no battling with spread sheets on a festival site- fabulous), by calling local legend, Roslyn at Greyton Tourism, to arrange everything. Festival director Coenie Visser who is based in Thailand, was at the helm when the festival was established in 2005. He talks about the genesis of the festival; what is on offer at #ClassicsForAll2022- May 20-22, 2022 -and the future as #ClassicsForAll grows, hopefully, in a post-pandemic landscape:

How the festival started – drawing visitors in quieter winter months

The festival was established in 2005 as The Greyton Winter Classical Music Festival. Who established the festival and why? Coenie Visser: “The classical music festival is my brainchild.  At the time I was a committee member and later chairperson of the Greyton Tourism Association.  We were looking at an event/festival that would draw people to Greyton during the quieter winter months.   I did not want to do the kind of festival offered by so many villages- ie. popular Afrikaans music. I was looking for something that would bring a more discerning tourist to our village.    I saw a gap in the market. At the time there were very few – if any- villages in South Africa that offered a classical music festival.  We did not have any money to stage a festival, so I contacted friends of mine- soprano Zanne Stapelberg and pianist Francois du Toit and asked them if they would do a few concerts in the village, at a minimal fee.  The first festival was attended by about 100 people. The audience was so enthusiastic that I knew from day one that we had a festival that could grow into something very special.  I was supported by a few individuals who were on the tourism committee at the time.”   

Classics – for all – the festival ethos

The festival is as the name implies – for all –and is geared for people who are not necessarily high-brow music aficionados? Coenie Visser: “During the first few years of the winter Classical Music Festival, I found that there was a perception that a classical music festival was only for a select few people, the real connoisseurs.  Since I am not an expert of classical music myself, I felt that there was a need for people like me, people who do not necessarily know who the composer of a particular piece is, but who still love classical music, whether light or more ‘serious’. That’s where the idea came to stage a classical music festival for ‘everyone’- the connoisseur as well as the novice. The ethos behind this festival is to take audiences on an accessible classical music adventure, catering for the tastes of everyone, from the aficionado to the lesser devotee”. 

Festival name expanded – to feature both Greyton and Genadendal

In 2010, the name was changed to the Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival – because a lot of events also take place in Genadendal – near to Greyton? Coenie Visser: “Yes, we expanded the festival name to Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival – so that we could put both towns on the map as part of the festival. Genadendal is about 5km from Greyton.  The village has a rich tradition of music – South Africa’s first training school, which included music tuition, was established in Genadendal in 1840.   Violin, piano, organ, brass music and choir were taught in this school.  Since there was huge interest in Genadendal for a classical music festival, and some of the concerts were offered in the beautiful historic Moravian Church, it was decided to invite Genadendal to be part of this festival.”   

Covid interruptus but the festival is back in its winter slot

The pause button was put on the festival in winter 2020 and 2021, because of the pandemic but a mini festival was presented in Dec 2021- to a rapturous response. The 2022 winter edition sees the festival back in its designated spot, which is great. Has it been scaled down in terms of the duration of the festival and programme or is the 2022 on the same scale as pre Covid? Coenie Visser: “Correct, the Classics for All festival planned for its usual calendar spot of May in 2020 and then again in 2021 were cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.  We staged a ‘mini’ festival in December 2021 – only five concerts – to ‘test the waters’ and to see if people would come back to support the festival after an absence of two years.  To our surprise all five concerts were sold out, and the ‘mini’ festival was a huge success.”

Classics for All – involving all ages – as performers and audience

What have you put in place for this comeback 2022 festival? Coenie Visser: “We feel that we have a success recipe, and we do not want to deviate too much from this recipe.  Since the festival caters for ‘All’- from the connoisseur to the novice classical music lover- we have a few ‘serious’ concerts, a few concerts offering lighter, better-known classical music. There are concerts introducing young up-and-coming artists and a concert aimed at children.  We usually involve one of two of our local school choirs, but since kids have not been able to go to school for a long time, these choirs are not performance ready. We hope to involve the schools again next year.”

A combo of well-known and experienced artists

You have a number if returnees and newcomers. The Piano Prodigies concert looks great. Can you give some insights into the 2022 programme for #ClassicsForAll2022? Coenie Visser: “We usually invite a few artists who have performed at the festival in the past, but we also want to introduce ‘new’ artists to our audiences.  One of these artists, for winter 2022, is a young baritone Van Wyk Venter who makes his debut at the festival.  Mezzo Minette du Toit Pearce has performed at the festival a few times. We are welcoming artists who have supported and performed at the festival, from the early days.  For example, soprano Janelle Visagie performed at the festival in 2006. She is back again – for the first time since 2006. And in 2022, she is a soloist at the festival.  The Charl du Plessis Trio, which has performed at the fest in the past, returns this year with a brand-new production, It Takes Three. A concert which always attracts huge attention is a performance by young up-and-coming artists.  This year, our programme features, pianists Mike Wang and Qden Blaauw. When they first performed at the festival, three years ago, they were 12 (Wang) and 14 (Blaauw).  This year they are back, and people are keen to see how these youngsters have grown as artists.  They will be performing with another young pianist, Ying-Shan Tseng.”

Logistics of navigating the festival

Logistically how far are the shows from each other? Coenie Visser: “The shows in Greyton are in walking distance from each other.  Two of the concerts are in Genadendal, 5km from Greyton. The final concert is at the beautifully restored historical The Oaks Estate, about 10kms from Greyton.  Between concerts there is enough time to explore the villages with their restaurants, art galleries and other places to browse, and then get to the next concert.”

Numbers of visitors to Classics for All- pre pandemic and #ClassicsForAll2022

How many visitors, roughly visited, pre Covid – ie 2019? What kind of revenue does the festival generate for the town? Coenie Visser: “Pre-Covid about 2 000 people visited the festival.  Since the festival is a NPO money left after everything has been paid is donated to some local charity.” With Covid seating restrictions, tickets are limited. How many people can the festival accommodate for winter 2022? “The fact that we can only house 50% of a venue’s capacity means that we have a ‘sellable capacity’ of 1,700 tickets. Classics for All is an intimate, unpretentious -no frills village festival and we aim at keeping the festival small, to maintain the ‘village vibe’- not to grow into a large festival that might put people off from attending the festival.  Also, the infrastructure of the villages cannot handle thousands of people.”

Stress fee booking for Classics for All

It can be daunting to book for festivals and Roslyn at Greyton Tourism has become a legend in terms of being super helpful in helping with bookings, accommodation etc. Coenie Visser: “Roslyn from the Greyton Tourism Office handles all the accommodation bookings and also sells tickets at the office.  Tickets are available from Computicket countrywide, but we also have a ‘satellite’ Computicket” at the Greyton Tourism Office, which means one can go to the office and buy tickets ‘over the counter’. Many of our audience members are not computer savvy, so this is a huge asset and makes it super easy to buy tickets.”

Must-do experiences at the festival

There is a lot to do, see and experience in the towns. Insights? Coenie Visser: “People do not only come to the festival to attend individual concerts.  Most of them come for the whole weekend and visit the restaurants and coffee shops, many of them offering live light classical music, the many art galleries and interesting shops i.e. the well-known Von Geusau Chocolate shop.  They can taste local wines and locally produced beer and meander in the village where there is an amazing vibe – old friends who have been coming to the fest for many years meet up again.  Historic Genadendal also has lovely shops to browse. The Moravian Mission Museum is the pride of the village. A visit to the Genadendal Mission Museum is worth a visit.  One of the rooms in the museum holds display cases that exhibit printed and handwritten scores of secular and sacred music, photographs, portraits of composers, instruments -especially positive organs, harmoniums, brass instruments, bowed string instruments, and pianos- and newspaper articles.  The museum also houses the oldest pipe organ in South Africa.”

Swallows fly in to the Cape – annually – to enjoy Classics for All

You live in Thailand and put the festival together from there. Have you been able to generate interest for people from abroad to travel to the festival? Coenie Visser: “I have lived and worked in Thailand for eight years.  I have a few enthusiastic volunteers who help me with the arrangements; a small committee which selects the concerts from the many applications we get every year. I usually come to South Africa a few weeks before the festival to add the final touches.  Of course, with modern technology it is easy to organize an event like this from anywhere in the world. Thailand has a very active classical music scene, with two symphony orchestras, and since I attend every single one for these concerts, I am in touch with many big-name artists in Thailand. It has just been financially difficult to bring these artists out to South Africa.  Many of the ‘swallows’ who live in Europe, arrange their time in South Africa to coincide with the Classics for All Festival.  We have visitors from as far as Mexico who attend the festival every year.”

Classics for All – the next edition

Looking ahead to 2023- can artists apply to be part of 2023 edition? Do you invite people to apply or is it by invite? Coenie Visser: “It is very important to understand and appreciate the fact that artists have to apply to be part of the festival.  Notice of dates when applications have to be in is usually announced on Facebook, Instagram and the Classics for All website.”

Organising Classics for All from Thailand – collabs with SA and Thailand

Do you have a background in music and can you talk about the possibility of collaborations between South Africa and Thailand? Coenie Visser: “I have no classical music training or background at all.   I have years and years of organizing events and festivals, and I saw a gap in the market – most small villages have an Afrikaans popular music festival.  Since Greyton has always been a bit ‘arty’ it made sense to offer a more ‘arty’ festival for Greyton, hence a Classical Music Festival.  In terms of my career, I studied languages, German, Afrikaans-Nederlands and Xhosa.  I worked as a reporter at Die Burger for a few years, and then taught Journalism, English and Xhosa at the Cape Technikon (CPUT).  I started the very popular The Oak & VIgne Cafe in Greyton, still a village icon today, although I have been renting it out for many years.  An opportunity arose to move to Bangkok (2014) where I worked for an English Language Institute, writing/designing (Business) English Language Courses for corporates in Thailand.  I retired at the end of last year [2021], but I see Thailand as my second home and will be living there for the next few years.  I have made many contacts in Thailand, not only classical musicians, but also jazz musicians.  I attend at least two concerts a week, both classical and jazz.  My next project is assisting a Thai company in organizing a jazz festival in Bangkok – still in its embryo stage- but very exciting.  My dream is to bring Thai (classical) musicians to South Africa, perhaps in an exchange programme.”

Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival- social media and other links:



YouTube videos of the December 2021 Classics for All Festival:

Please use the hashtag #ClassicsForAll2022 and share the news about the festival    
Recuerdos de España: The guitar quartet “pays homage to Spanish guitar music’s rich history and influence.” The quartet will be in concert at the 2022 Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival. #ClassicsForAll2022 is on from May 20 – 22, 2022. Festival programme: Pic: Supplied.
Festival faves: The Charl du Plessis Trio, which has performed at The Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival, in the past, returns to #ClassicsForAll2022, with a new production, It Takes Three. The festival is taking place from May 20 – 22, 2022. Festival programme: Pic: Supplied.

Trio Goede Hoop: Cheryl de Havilland (cello), Matthew Reid (clarinet and sax) and Tertia Visser Downie (piano), will be playing at the Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival. #ClassicsForAll2022 is on from May 20 – 22, 2022. Festival programme: Pic: Supplied.
Music heritage: In addition to the wonderful lineup of concerts at at the Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival, there is a great deal to enjoy in Greyton and Genadendal: Food, wine, beer, chocolate and heritage. In this pic – the oldest pipe organ in South Africa – which is housed in the Genadendal Mission Museum. The museum houses collections of scores of secular and sacred music and music memorabilia. #ClassicsForAll2022 is on from May 20 – 22, 2022. Pic: Supplied.

❇Featured image: Cape Town Baroque Orchestra. Image supplied.

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