When the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s Summer Season at The City Hall opens on 9 November 2023, it will be A French Affair – Debussy and Lalo, but with a soloist with a French name and partial South African upbringing, and a conductor who comes from the UK, says PETA STEWART:

Cellist Graham du Plessis will perform the Lalo Cello Concerto, while Jeremy Silver will conduct Debussy’s Prelude à laprés-midi d’un faune and La Mer. They are also colleagues, as Silver heads Opera UCT and Du Plessis is a lecturer at the SA College of Music at UCT where he has eight students, some of whom are members of the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. He also coaches chamber music.

Du Plessis himself has just returned from China, where he performed with Farida Bacharova (violin) and François du Toit (piano) at the Hong Kong University, Shenzhen, and also gave masterclasses. In the last couple of years, he has also performed in Bulgaria and helped shape the Cape Chamber Music Collective (CCMC) with co-directors Jeffrey Armstrong, Francois du Toit, and Cameron Williams.

Cellist Graham du Plessis CPO
Cellist Graham du Plessis

The CPO is the heartbeat

“Cape Town is lucky to have such a vibrant music scene. At the centre is the heartbeat that is the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. The CCMC concerts are hopefully complementing what the orchestra is consistently delivering week in, week out. It has been great to be able to collaborate with and feature several CPO players, and also to partner with various concert societies such as the Cape Town Concert Series. “

Cape Town is lucky not only to have good cellists, but also to have access to so many good ones from abroad. Torleif Thedéen recently performed the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 with the CPO and later this season the Elgar will be performed by Bryan Cheng.

Considerable  repertoire

This is Du Plessis’s first time performing with the CPO and he is pleased to perform the Lalo Concerto. “We are lucky as cellists to have a considerable concerto repertoire, and as a result there are many great pieces that should be performed more often! The Lalo is one, and it is a huge privilege to bring it to City Hall with our wonderful orchestra, for the first time in 12 years.”

Du Plessis wasn’t always going to be a musician. He did consider science but as a child living a nomadic international lifestyle. “There was a lot of music in our household. My father, who was an engineer and an excellent organist who studied with Henk Temmingh and Albert Troskie and performed radio recital broadcasts and he and I would practise in the evenings. I started learning the cello while living in Rome as a child, and the inherently musical Italian culture was also an influence. Once a week or so, we would perform baroque organ concertos with my father, two brothers on violin, and me on cello for whoever popped in. Then my mother would tell us where to improve!  I considered the sciences, but found myself spending most of my time at school composing and playing the cello, so decided to embark on a music degree at the University of Birmingham.

“I was a runner up in the BBC Proms Young Composer Competition in my last year at school but once at university I decided I wanted to perform. I specialised in both composition and performance in my undergraduate, and then did a MMus in Music Performance at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.”

Here he won the Eifion Evans award for musical excellence and the winner of the Cardiff Violins chamber music competition.

His favourite composer

Along came Brexit and all the bleakness that offered British musicians about to be cut off from the EU where Du Plessis often performed and, with his music teacher wife, Sarah, they decided that it was time to take a gap year in South Africa, drawn by their love of wildlife and the Table Mountain National Park. That was in 2017. His first concert here was a cello quartet programme with Peter Martens, Cheryl de Havilland, and Barbara Kennedy. “They were all so welcoming and helpful.” They must have been, for Graham and Sarah are still here!

Du Plessis is keen to perform the Walton Cello Concerto one day (“another under-performed masterpiece”), having performed chamber and solo recitals at La Mortella, Ischia, for Lady Walton a few years ago.

“ I would also love to play the Dutilleux Concerto, Strauss’ Don Quixote, Piano Trios by Babajanian and César Franck, the Carter, Fuchs, and Ginastera Cello Sonatas, as well as various other chamber works which are very much on the bucket list!”

Pity Brahms didn’t write a cello concerto for Brahms is his favourite composer and he is a big fan of 20th century music by composers like Janáček, Bartók, Britten, Dutilleux, and Lutosławski.

In the meantime, he will leave soon after the CPO concert to perform with the Mecklenburgische Staatskapelle in Schwerin, followed by a Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, and Dohnányi cello-piano programme with Tertia Visser for the Richard Wagner Society of South Africa in Sea Point on 14 January 14, 2024.

Who: Cellist Graham du Plessis, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Jeremy Silver  on the podium
What: Summer Symphonies
Where: Cape Town City Hall
When: 9 November 2023, 7.30pm, pre-concert talk 6.45;  open dress rehearsal 11am
Tickets: Artscape Dial-a-Seat 021 421 7695, Computicket , dress rehearsal Quicket