Conductor Brandon Phillips


If there is one thing that makes Brandon Phillips, resident conductor of the Cape Town Philharmonic happy (apart from his youth orchestra, wife and daughter), it is deepening collaborations with artists. So Phillips is delighted to be conducting the final CPO concert in the Autumn symphony season in which violinist Avigail Bushakevitz will play Khachaturian.  They last played together in a symphony concert which was held at the University of the Western Cape in 2012 and it was a time when Phillips was relatively new to the podium.

He had just won the inaugural Len van Zyl Conductors’ Competition, a national competition that gives the winners a kick start to a career. He had spent three months in America, one as an intern with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the next two working with Victor Yampolsky and his graduate students in Chicago. This, he says, changed his life, giving the podium time with the CPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, of which he became artistic director and conductor, and other orchestras, time that he needed to develop and practise the art of conducting.

A star of RMB’s ‘Starlight Classics’

So, he was at the start of his career, one that has seen him soar in the city, the country and indeed in Europe, where he conducted the Miagi Orchestra in Holland and Germany to enormous  acclaim. In the intervening years, he has become a star of RMB’s Starlight Classics, which supports his tenure with the CPO, a conductor of note of ballet and of course a fixture on the symphony podium. He has conducted the KZNPO in its Symphony in the City and the CPO in Artscape’s Youth Music Festival and many more. He helped make the recent concert with septuagenarian Reggie Dreyer’s debut with the symphony a landmark success and also was the conductor for the back tracks in the movie Noem my Skollie. Under his hands, the CPYO has conceivably become the most sought-after  youth orchestra in the country. He will be conducting it in the Suidoosterfees later this month.

Life is good for Phillips. He’s in a good place, for he plays principal bassoon in the CPO as well, and is very involved in the music life of the New Apostolic Church where he got his musical grounding. While bassoon may have been his instrument of choice, he also plays strings, woodwinds, brass and he sings. It was in the NAC that this young man, born in Mitchell’s Plain in 1980, first learned the recorder in the NAC. (His talents don’t stop at music — he was  junior WP soccer player and a 100m top sprinter.) The recorder led to the flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone, trumpet, euphonium, viola, cello and violin, along with guitar.  And he taught– viola to his mother, conducting to his students.

Award for ‘outstanding achievements by the youth’

He began his orchestral career playing in the Noupoort chamber music workshops, in the Namibian Symphony Orchestra, the UCT Symphony Orchestra and as an extra musician in the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. He joined the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in 2000 as a cadet and soon became sub-principal bassoon 2002, becoming principal in 2009.

He has won music competitions, and in 2012, Phillips received a prestigious award from the Minister of Arts and Culture Ivan Meyer for “outstanding achievements by the youth”. His instrument teachers — Charles Howell, Dieter Morschel, Glyn Portridge, Becky Steltzner and the late Todor Balkandjiev – must be proud, and he has been mentored by many conductors like Arjan Tien. He admires Tien for his ability to produce and draw out such a great sound from orchestras. Tien taught him how to study scores in detail and revealing his conducting secrets. Also principal guest conductor Bernhard Gueller, who he says has always been a great support in his conducting career and has taught him so much by working with him since ad hoc times. “In my eyes, he is a Brahms and Tchaikovsky specialist.” The word he used when he heard Gueller was in the auditorium for his UWC concert (Tchaikovsky 4) can’t be repeated here! Gueller has the utmost respect for him: “His musicality is astounding and it has been a pleasure to see him develop into a national force in South African music.”

Phillips completed his diploma in orchestral studies at the College of Music at the University of Cape Town in 2002, was awarded his B Mus Honours in solo bassoon in 2005.

There will be a pre-concert talk by Rodney Trudgeon at 7.15pm, open to concertgoers. The dress rehearsal at 11am at The City Hall is open at an entrance fee of R50. The concert features Kodaly Dances of Galanta, the Khachaturian Violin Concerto with Avigail Bushakevitz and Stravinsky Petrushka. It will take place at the Cape Town City Hall on Thursday, April 20, at 8pm.

Where: Cape Town City Hall
When: Thursday, April 20, at 8pm
Tickets: Artscape Dial-a-Seat on 021 421 7695,
Info: 021 410 9866,