Peta Stewart

A musician has to have a good memory, and Jan Repko is no exception. He even remembers the first violin student when a student at the University of Port Elizabeth in 1978!

Repko has been brought out by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra to give masterclasses and present a workshop to violin teachers in June 2022.

Teaching was always his passion, from his earliest days and it is this wish to “share my teaching experience with other young musicians” that brought him to the CPO, which has invited students from the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, UCT, University of Stellenbosch, Hugo Lambrechts Music Centre, Beau Soleil Music Centre, Frank Pietersen Music Centre and some students from private music studios to learn from the master.

“This will hopefully will lead to an ongoing collaboration between me and the CPO and its youth development and education programmes, ” he says.

Jan Repko workshop Cape Town
Jan Repko workshop Cape Town

He wasn’t always a teacher

“I had quite an active career as a performing musician when I was younger, but decided at some point to dedicate my energy fully to teaching.” He regularly performed as a soloist and in chamber ensembles and, after five years as concertmaster of the Northern Philharmonic Orchestra in the Netherlands, he decided to concentrate on teaching and was appointed at the Conservatoire of Amsterdam.

Repko has always identified young talent, and he soon became a co-founder of the Netherlands Youth String Orchestra.

He has been an influence on so many lives but who was his own inspiration? The legendary Jack de Wet, under whose capable hands a generation of South Africa violinists from Avigail Bushakevitz to Christina Brabetz have flourished, is the first one he names.

“Jack de Wet was my first teacher and I will always be grateful to him for his dedication and for what he taught me. It was he who introduced me to Davina van Wely at the Sweelinck Conservatoire in Amsterdam which I entered in 1979 for the next six years. She was a real stickler for detail and managed to turn me into a professional violinist/musician. She was a very wise pedagogue and a tremendous role model for me. After my studies I became her assistant and later a colleague at the Sweelinck Conservatoire. I count Victor Lieberman, concertmaster at the Concertgebouw Orchestra, an internationally renowned pedagogue, who helped and advised me a lot as a young teacher. I also thank the American violinist Berl Synofsky, who taught me that there is no place for dogma in music!”

“Another musician who had a profound influence on me was Arnold Bosman. We met as students in Amsterdam and became close friends, until his premature death in 2005 at the age of 48, far too young. This very gifted South African pianist and composer introduced me to the wider world of music beyond violin playing. Finally, I credit my partner, Margaret Rutherford, a wonderful, intelligent person with tremendous musical insight. I value her critique and advice very highly!”

In deciding to study abroad – he had been with Jack de Wet for 15 years and it was time to move on. Repko “was not keen to go to the USA like many of my peers, and Jack de Wet advised me to go to Amsterdam.”

What he learnt there set him up as one of the UK’s most revered teachers and he in turn  has influenced the next generation and more, with student like Jordan Brooks, for whom he arranged a full scholarship to study at Chetham’s School of Music  in Manchester because he thinks this young man has a future.

“Jordan is a very sensitive and gifted young violinist – he certainly has something to say. If he works hard and keep making the same progress as during the past two years, he could develop into one of the most important SA violinists.”

Jan Repko with Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s Dimpho Makena
Jan Repko with Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s Dimpho Makena

Making music was always on the cards

“Although my parents weren’t musicians, there was always music in the home – the classical records my mother loved to play. Apparently, I nagged her to no end as a child that I wanted to learn to play the violin. I started lessons at five and already knew then that I was going to become a professional violinist” so it wasn’t long before his formal education began.”

After several years of teaching in Amsterdam, he accepted a position at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London and this soon led to a division of time …. He teaches two days a week at Chetham’s and three days at the RCM. He also teaches at several summer schools, is a faculty member of the Academie Internationale de Tignes (Musicalp), founder and artistic director of Festival Quattro Corde in Sant’ Agata Feltria in Italy, gives masterclasses around the world, serves as a jury member in many international violin competitions and pre-Covid came back to work with the ARCO programme that offers (online) string teaching to young children in Soweto.

This means that when he wakes up in the morning the first thought that crosses his mind is  that “there is still so much more to do and that the day only has 24 hours.”

Repko survived lockdown unscathed, but hopes it won’t happen again. “As with everyone all over the world, lockdown was a dreadful period. So many of my (performing) colleagues fell on very hard times. Fortunately, I was able to keep working with my students online. It was very difficult to adjust to the new situation, but in the end, there were many positive aspects. It certainly forced me to reassess my teaching and I learned many new skills. The students showed incredible resolve and made the best of the situation.”

Welcome back, Jan. We hope this is the start of a long and beautiful friendship.

Who: Jan Repko violin pedagogue
When: Masterclasses in June, and a Violin Teacher’s Workshop on 4 June 2022
Info: Marvin Weavers marvin@cpo.org.za
WS