What a year it has been for Brandon Phillips, a soloist in the first concert in the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s Spring Cyber Symphony Season, where he plays the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. Brandon leads a double life – he’s the orchestra’s principal bassoon, but he is also the CPO’s resident conductor and conductor of the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, which performs a curtain raiser later in the season.

But that’s not all … he has also stepped into the role of conductor of the UCT Symphony Orchestra and its Wind Band, at least until the end of this year.

Brandon Phillips Bernhard Gueller CPO Spring Cyber Symphony Season
Brandon Phillips and Bernhard Gueller

Passed in a blur

For Brandon, that’s all in a day’s work, but it’s a scheduling nightmare. CPO rehearsals need to be jelled against UCT rehearsals, CPYO rehearsals and family time – his long-suffering wife Latecia and children Skylar (5) and Elijah (10 months).

The year has so far passed in a blur … apart from the dozen plus cyber symphonies he filmed as a bassoonist with the CPO, his conducting engagements have grown. Fortunately he recovered from Covid-19, which struck a couple of days after filming the CPYO/CPYWE year-end gala in December 2020, when the year began – with the filming of a video of the instruments of the orchestra. This has been received so well by schools and has the blessing of the Western Cape Education Department. (Brandon was, in 2012, a recipient of the Western Cape Government’s award for “outstanding achievements by the youth”.)

Brandon has also conducted the JPO in two streamed concerts this year, (one last year with the KZNPO); he has conducted Dance Can Dance, an Elvis Sibeko production which is coming back to Artscape on 10 and September; and he conducted a concert with Karen Zoid and her band with the CPO. Then of course there have been rehearsals Covid-permitting with his baby, the CPYO.

While he says there was so much happening and he is just simply grateful that the CPO has kept going and he has been able to support his family, he did experience the loss of his beloved mother, “since she had Covid I wasn’t even able to say goodbye”, who, with his father was the biggest influence in his life.

My greatest mentor

“My parents supported me in everything and when I was writing matric my father said if I passed with a university pass I could do what I like. Since I had been playing several instruments – strings, woodwinds, brass, and singing in the New Apostolic Church and at the time even teaching instruments there, I thought … why not. I passed and was accepted and completed a B Mus Hons. Bassoon was my first subject, viola my second. I had begun playing the bassoon when the NAC orchestra lacked one and I started studying after school at the Beau Soleil Music Centre and discovered I actually loved it! ”

It was in his honours year that the CPO advertised the post of sub-principal bassoon.

“I had never dreamed of playing in an orchestra. I had thought that I would continue to teach in the church. My experience was when I was a kid and went on a family ‘ice-cream’ outing to the Waterfront and listened to the old Cape Town Symphony Orchestra perform in the amphitheatre. Being in that orchestra was so far from my mind. Then the audition came and as part of my audition process I played the 1st movement of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, which I had played various times, including when I won the matric prize in the Beau Soleil Music Centre competition. I won the CPO audition and everything opened up.”

There’s no doubt about that because the multi-talented Brandon then decided he would try his hand at conducting, first in the NAC, and then he entered and won in 2010 the inaugural Len van Zyl Conductors’ Competition (now the South African Conductors’ Competition) and has been on the adjudication panel ever since. He has also conducted widely, and overseas with the Miagi Orchestra. A couple of years ago he was invited to the Beethoven Festival in Bonn to conduct the German National Youth Orchestra, and then took those young musicians on tour. He has also conducted in the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival.

So having played the 1st movement of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto several times, he was delighted when Bernhard Gueller requested the Mozart when Brandon was invited to play a concerto. “Maestro Gueller doesn’t know it, but he is my greatest mentor and will always be, and I loved filming it with him in late August.”

Brandon will also perform the 1st movement of the same concerto in the Youth Classical Music Concert at Artscape on 18 September, 2021, which will be broadcast on Fine Music Radio.

You can hear him perform the complete Mozart Bassoon Concerto in the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s Spring Cyber Symphony streaming from 16 to 20 September on the Quicket platform. This concert, conducted by Bernhard Gueller, also features the Symphony No. 1 by Beethoven.

Who: CPO Spring Cyber Symphonies Season
With: Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernhard Gueller, Jeremy Silver conductors; this concert Brandon Phillips (bassoon)
When: Streamed on Quicket platform. Series begins on 16 September 2021