For 107 years, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) has been the foremost orchestra in Africa. The most active one on the continent and in South Africa, the CPO is also extremely versatile, performing with the foremost local and international artists that include world acclaimed opera stars, Pretty Yende and the late Johan Botha, American violinist Joshua Bell and British pianists Stephen Hough and Paul Lewis.
The CPO is also the indispensable partner to Cape Town Opera locally and internationally and Cape Town City Ballet, accompanies international visiting companies, accompanied the finals of the International Hans Gabor Belvedere International Singing Competition in 2016 and performs in musicals such as West Side Story. In addition to this, the CPO has a strong association with the New Apostolic Church (NAC), and regularly engages the NAC choir for concerts.
It also plays choral, pops, rock and family concerts and provides performance opportunities to community stars. This all adds up to a staggering 130 performances per year in traditional venues such as the City Hall and Artscape Opera, community halls across the region and outdoor venues such as the internationally famed Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.
The orchestra runs a vast outreach and community programme that includes two acclaimed youth orchestras as well as grassroots training projects with several hundred students from various townships. This programme, Masidlale (from the Xhosa word “let us play”), produces a widening community reach and is part of the skills’ transfer circle in which young musicians are on a career track to a professional career, assisted by the CPO’s own musicians.
The orchestra is also part of international culture through its CDs. These include Mahler and Wagner songs with Hanneli Rupert (Bernhard Gueller, conductor), the Schnittke oratorio Nagasaki and two symphonies (no 0 and 9) and a double CD of orchestral masterpieces, with Welsh conductor Owain Arwel Hughes, the Barber and Korngold violin concerti with Alexander Gilman (Perry So, conductor), which won a Diaposon d’Or, and four Spohr Clarinet concerti with Maria du Toit and Arjan Tien, conductor. A CD with cellist Peter Martens (Bernhard Gueller, conductor) was released in 2019. The CPO’s DVD of all the Beethoven Piano Concerti with pianist François du Toit and Victor Yampolsky (conductor) was released in 2017.
The year 2020 saw the CPO prove its flexibility through a number of streamed chamber music concerts, a community spectacular concert, as well as symphony concerts. Its Covid-19 series of videos made at home on cell phones were internationally recognized, and included Lockdown Waltz with Cape Town City Ballet and The Seal Lullaby with Vox Cape Town, a local choir.