Words: Peta Stewart

Talking to Joanna MacGregor, the British pianist, conductor, arranger, concert presenter, fundraiser and teacher, sometimes all at once, it is this: Joanna is passionate about music. The bonus is that she has been able to fit in an engagement in Cape Town, along with a recital at Mostly Mozart festival in Johannesburg on February 4, when she plays Shostakovich Piano Concerto no 2 with the Cape Town Philharmonic in its 11th Cape Town International Summer Music Festival on February 2.

But music is not all she is passionate about .

She loves medieval literature and is busy writing music for a ballet about medieval Salome with writer Marina Warner and Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup.

Joanna MacGregor. Picture: Pal Hansen
Joanna MacGregor. Picture: Pal Hansen

Inspired by legends of Salome

They will be giving the audiences at her Festival at Dartington Hall in Devon, England, a taste of this next year when they preview Dancing Voices, a piece inspired by legends of Salome, the poetry and lives of the qiven or singing girls of the Abbasid Court in medieval Baghdad. That’s one of her appearances at Dartington – a four week festival of workshops, talks and 90 concerts in which she will give several herself, along with interviewing Alfred Brendel and being a juror in a piano competition. There are 200 music courses with 30 different top artists a week, and she arranged it all (https://www.dartington.org/whats-on/summer-school/).

‘I battened down the hatches!’

Words that are used to describe her are ‘innovative’ and ‘versatile’ and if you consider that she has recorded Bach as well as John Cage and Messaien then you get a taste for her taste! She has visited South Africa many times, playing in concerts and recitals around the country. In 2006, she played jazz with the late Moses Molelekwa in what were almost his last concerts, and she has done much work with many jazzers including Django Bates and Andy Sheppard. But asked what gives her the most pleasure, she doesn’t hesitate: sitting down at the piano and practising. She misses the 10 hours a day she used to practise and was delighted recently to “cancel” her life so she could play the big Schubert B flat Sonata. ‘It is like taking on the role of King Lear. I battened down the hatches!’ she laughs.


She has also been practising the 58 Mazurkas of Chopin, which she’ll record for release in a 3 CD box set. She will play them again at the Wigmore Hall in London about the time of the release in May. MacGregor, however, lives in the hope that another mazurka will be discovered in an attic in Paris or somewhere in Weimar. “Rubenstein’s first recording of the Mazurkas was made in 1939 when there were only 51 of them. The other seven were discovered later.” So you see why she still has this dream!

This is the kind of challenge she loves, and challenges are what she is always setting herself. The fact that she is married to a theatre director who also directs opera helps – and they can collaborate at Dartington where he is something of a Baroque specialist and will present Purcell’s King Arthur  in 2017, following the successes of Dido and Aeneas and Pyramus and  Thisbe.

Where and when: Cape Town City Hall on 2 February 2

Tickets:  0861 915 8000, www.computicket.com, Artscape Dial-a-Seat 021 421 7695

Info: 021 410 9809, cpo.org.za, luyuyo@cpo.org.zajoannamacgregor.london.com