Bernhard Gueller, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal guest conductor, has some big symphonies lined up for the Autumn season. He talks to PETA STEWART about the concerts:

Bernhard Gueller: Big Symphonies

Classical music  is not there to entertain you, says Bernhard Gueller, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal guest conductor who will be on the podium for all four concerts in the Autumn Symphony season in April 2019. Then he hastens to add that of course it can do so most beautifully in, for instance, a cross-over or pops concert where artists perform to classical works.

Since music is the most moving art, it should speak to the emotions, challenge you, even thrill and excite you, he says.  “It should not calm you,” he adds – then contradicts himself to quote an instance when his mother was in a threatening situation as a young girl in a roomful of American soldiers in post-war Germany and she sat down at the piano and played a Beethoven sonata.  “The soldiers sat down, listened. The atmosphere changed and the mood became calmer. One by one they shook her hand, thanked her and left,” he says.

Music and history

Gueller is delighted to have some of the large-scale symphonies in this season.    “We are concluding the season with Beethoven’s Eroica on 25 April, but since this is on all levels probably the greatest symphony ever written it needs prime place!  I would give five years of my life to go back in time to be at the premiere which heralded not only a new century – the 19th – but a new era in music.  It’s revolutionary in terms of form and orchestration, rhythms, harmonies. It was totally new.  No superlative is too exaggerated to describe this piece.  It’s very premiere also made a statement – Napoleon had crowned himself emperor and this was too much for Beethoven who had originally planned to honour the Corsican soldier. He apparently tore the title page from the symphony.”

Gueller then goes back to the 1st Brahms Symphony which opens the season on 4 April.  “This has been called Beethoven’s 10th symphony by some and I can understand why.  There are so many elements that are Beethovenesque, especially in the first movement.

Bernhard Gueller: Big Symphonies

On 11 April, we perform the Symphonie fantastic by Berlioz. This was also a revolutionary work, coming just three years after Beethoven’s death and taking Beethoven’s breakthrough in music still further, shattering the rules still more,” reckons Gueller.

Organ takes centre stage

Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony will bring focus to the City Hall’s wonderful  century-old organ. It’s just been fixed following the refurbishment of the City Hall which was completed and relaunched with our Mahler Symphony no 2 last August.  At the time, the installation of the air-conditioning equipment affected the organ itself.  The organ was built in 1915 and was built according to the specifications of the organist of St Paul’s Cathedral.   It is made of mahogany, teak and pine and has more than 3000 metal and wooden pipes.  For Gueller, the piece is wonderfully effective, full of life and showing how brilliantly Saint-Saëns uses both organ and piano as orchestral instruments.  The organ will be played by Grant Brasler.

Gueller is looking forward also to the soloists – the Brazilian pianist Alvaro Siviero will perform the Bach Concerto in d minor which was written originally for harpsichord (4 April), the Romanian pianist Daniel Ciobanu will perform the 2nd Piano Concerto by Shostakovich (11 April), and the American-Dutch violinist Stephan Waarts will play Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 (Strasbourg) on 25 April.

Gueller is also anticipating the concert on 18 April with cellist Peter Martens who is the soloist on the CPO’s newest CD, one which will be launched at the concert.

“I have the highest regard for Peter,” he says. “He is a fine cellist and we had such fun recording the pieces and I am looking forward to another performance of the Vieuxtemps Cello Concerto No. 1.”  The new CD will be released at the concert and will be on sale at Classiccs4U in the foyer.

Bernhard Gueller: Big Symphonies

Gueller’s busy schedule

The conductor has just returned from concerts in with the KZNPO in Durban, JPO in Johannesburg and FSSO in Bloemfontein where he performed the Mozart Jupiter Symphony,  the Mozart Requiem with Gauteng  Choristers and premiered the Grove Concerto for Viola with Jeanne-Louise Moolman respectively.   He was earlier this year in Edmonton where the main work performed was the Schubert Symphony No. 3 which is on his recent CD recording of orchestrated Schubert lieder with Symphony Nova Scotia (it’s also on sale with Classics4U) and will leave for Canada in May to conduct for the third time at the Scotia Festival of Music, and will conduct Mahler Symphony No. 1.

Although he is based back in Cape Town again, he retains close links to Canada as he is still artistic advisor of Symphony Nova Scotia where he is Music Director Laureate after 16 years as its music director. He will also conduct in Princeton, New Jersey, later this year (Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5), before and after more concerts with the CPO, one of which in September will be Mahler Symphony No. 1. You could say he has had a good year with Mahler alone, having conducted his Symphony No. 2 to huge acclaim at the relaunch of the City Hall last August.

What:  CPO Autumn Symphony Season

Where:  Cape Town City Hall from 4 to 15 April (Bernhard Gueller)

Book: Computicket and Artscape Dial-A-Seat 021 421 7695