PETA STEWART speaks to Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra Chief Executive Louis Heyneman about making music in the times of Covid:

Making Music in the times of Covid Louis Heyneman
Louis Heyneman, CPO Chief Executive

With the arts one of the industries most severely knocked by the pandemic, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra is just happy to be making whatever music it can to keep its musicians employed and bring pleasure to its supporters, says Louis Heyneman, the CPO’s Chief Executive (pictured right).

“Fortunately the musicians and management bought in to cost cutting measures by accepting pay cuts which augmented budget cuts everywhere,” he says. H

eyneman, who has kept this orchestra alive and even flourishing over the past twenty years, is now splitting his time between editing videos, creating work opportunities and amending business plans that change as the virus grows and mutates.

The virus’s variables have affected the orchestra through restrictions, cancellations, adjustments and readjustments to schedules, to changing work spaces, to changing needs. For instance,  coaching and mentoring of youth orchestra musicians which was on a one-to-one basis remained that, but went on line. Cell phones became even more of a necessity tool employed as cameras to film uplifting Covid-19 videos like the Lockdown Waltz with Cape Town City Ballet. Naturally, whenever the orchestra could it got together to perform and record.

Conductor Bernhard Gueller
Conductor Bernhard Gueller

Special Cyber Symphonies 

There’s a hold on the second series of Cyber Symphonies planned for recording in the City Hall this month, but it’s created a great opportunity to offer the first Cyber Symphonies again – this time in partnership with The concerts, both conducted by the CPO’s principal guest conductor, Bernhard Gueller,  feature Peter Martens in the Elgar Cello Concerto along with the Schubert Symphony No  5, planned for 29 January 2021; and an all-Mozart programme with pianists Francois du Toit and Albie van Schalkwyk in the Double Piano Concerto along with the overture to Cosi fan Tutte and the Symphony no 39, which will go live on 5 February 2021.  Both will be on for three months and access at R100 is a once-off.  You will be able to access the concerts on

Filmed recorded concerts have been the way to go, says Heyneman.

“While some concerts by other presenters have been cancelled through lack of bookings and others have suffered from low ticket sales, we have been delighted to sell sufficient tickets to let us know that many people really do miss us.   We do know that some of our older audience find streaming difficult so we have tried to make it as easy as possible with instructions on how to book on the web.”

The Norval Wind Octet
The Norval Wind Octet

Recording has been exciting and a real challenge

“We have used several videographers in several venues and learned from each one!  We recorded in the heat with no airconditioning – air conditioning needs to be of the kind that brings in fresh air and doesn’t just regurgitate old air so maybe that was a bonus!  The City Hall, which was to have been the venue for the second Cyber Symphony series, is undergoing reconstruction so we needed to measure whether the timpani could be brought through the back doors and down the side because the only access would be from the Corporation Street entrance.  Everything else would be closed. We would even have to hire a porta potty or two!  But the acoustics at the City Hall make that worth it!,” says Heyneman.

Artscape was the venue of choice for the Youth Music Festival as well as the Community concerts which were streamed on the Quicket platform to incredible comments, so much so that the original streaming dates were extended.  The CPO Spectacular Pops and the CPO Community Classics underscore the versatility, flexibility and commitment to the city as an orchestra for all.

“The recordings went smoothly if you consider that Artscape’s strict Covid-19 protocols were observed at all times and the orchestra occasionally had to manoeuvre around the permitted number allowed on stage at one time,” he says.

Violinist Frank Stadler appeared with the CPO at their Klein Karoo Klassique concert series
Violinist Frank Stadler appeared with the CPO at their Klein Karoo Klassique concert series

Beloved orchestral works

Symphonic Masterpieces in Miniature at Erin Hall were performed and recorded in the window before the new variant of Covid-19 was identified. Because there was no way that full symphonies could be filmed, the CPO chose a selection of arrangements of beloved orchestra works like Beethoven piano concerti and the Elgar cello and Mozart clarinet concertos. The numbers’ constraint meant that just 40 tickets could be sold. On the occasion when there were 11 musicians on stage, a friendly audience member among the 40 allowed was asked to stand outside with the staff! Doors and windows were kept open which was fine in October, but not for one poor neighbour who had to listen to the Brass Quintet performing Mozart, loudly, in rehearsal while she needed to have Zoom meetings!

With hindsight, says Heyneman, “we could have repeated those concerts perhaps even twice more because the limited seats were sold very quickly.”

Of course, Covid-19 reared its ugly head amongst the musicians, several of whom were affected. This impacted on the ballet production, but came too late fortunately to affect the recording and streaming of the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and Wind Ensemble gala concerts with some CPO mentors at the Hugo Lambrechts.  This had also been the venue of choice for Peter Martens to record his Bach Suites for the National Arts Festival, while  the CPO was able to record at Artscape in the relatively early days when masks were still only an option not mandatory.  The Norval Foundation was perfect for recording the octets and nonets for the Klein Karoo Klassique Festival  – the handful of musicians was virtually outnumbered by the recording crew in a beautiful museum closed to the public. Ideal!

While it was sad for all the musicians to perform without an audience but they did play for each other and the overall feeling was one of: “Wow. Are we glad to be performing!” Let’s hope the CPO will soon be back on track.

What: CPO Cyber Symphonies

When: 29 January 2021 and 5 February 2021