Cellist Peter Martens and the 1st Vieuxtemps Cello Concerto are meant to be, as PETA STEWART discovers when she speaks to the musician:

Peter Martens and Vieuxtemps

When cellist Peter Martens, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s soloist on 18 April 2019, arrived at the Austrian home of leading cellist Heinrich Schiff for a masterclass some 27 years ago, his eyes immediately fell on an enormous poster for a performance of the Vieuxtemps Cello Concertos. This was with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Sir Neville Marriner.

It was only some time later that he discovered that the CPO’s principal guest conductor Bernhard Gueller was actually on the first desk of the Stuttgart RSO cellos for that performance and recording!  So, having collaborated on many concerts together, it was a delight for Peter Martens and Gueller to get back together, with the CPO, and record the 1st Vieuxtemps Cello Concerto, the 1st Cello Concerto by Saint-Saëns, The Swan and Allegro appassionato, also by Saint-Saëns and the Elègie by Fauré.  The CD will be released by Cello Classics at the concert on 18 April 2019 at the City Hall where copies will be on sale, and they will reprise the Vieuxtemps.

Gorgeous sweeping melodies

Why record the Vieuxtemps?  Martens says that it was the Schiff recording that “inspired many of us to take up the challenge of learning these beautiful but fiendishly difficult works. Vieuxtemps’ compositions are characterised by gorgeous sweeping melodies juxtaposed with technical wizardry of the sort that only a virtuoso violinist himself would be able to conjure up.”

Peter Martens says he didn’t choose music.  He was born into it.

“When I was about four, an artisan came to fix something. I asked my Dad which instrument he played and was very surprised that he did not play anything. I thought everyone could play an instrument, and it was just a question of which one. I come from a big musical family – the Martens, Schwietering and De Groote families were not only related, but we grew up together. If I was not listening to Steven de Groote playing on my grandmother’s piano or my dad and uncle Jürgen playing the Brahms Double with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, I was playing chamber music with siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. My mother, Marianne, teaches and plays flute; my father Eric the cello,” says Peter. “When I was in matric I was toying with becoming a vet, electrical engineer or professional musician.  I enrolled at the Mozarteum in Salzburg but when I was chosen in 1989 as principal cello of the World Youth Orchestra in Michigan, it became quite clear that this would be my profession.”

Varied and interesting

Martens is the director of the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival and also teaches at the Stellenbosch Conservatoire, privately and one weekend a month at the Xiquitsi Music Project in Maputo.

“As SICMF Director I am a music administrator – mostly a fundraiser actually. I complain a lot about this work that takes me away from the cello, but I have to admit that it is a varied and interesting job. In a strange way it has also liberated me as a musician, because I basically only play solo and chamber music – the stuff I love most. I don’t really miss playing in the orchestra, but I do very much enjoy attending as many CPO concerts as I can so that I can still enjoy this great music live,” Peter continues. “I must say there is nothing quite as exhilarating as playing with a good orchestra and fine conductor. The Dvorak Cello Concerto with Bernhard Gueller and the Cape Town Philharmonic almost three years ago is memorable.”

The cello and Kilimanjaro …

He may be a workaholic but he is also a family man, and fortunately his wife, Suzanne, is a leading violinist, teaching at Stellenbosch and a guest concertmaster with the CPO. They play a fair amount together in ensembles such as the Amici String Quartet.

What’s next? “The music profession in South Africa has a unique set of idiosyncrasies… I believe I can play a role in the perpetuation, success and growth of our kind of music here in the Western Cape where it is truly appreciated. This is a desperate time for university music departments, orchestras and festivals and I’ll go where I can find a job, where I am most needed, where I can make a positive difference and/or where the music takes me!” he says.

“I want to play the cello as long as possible, and also climb Mount Kilimanjaro …”

What: CPO’s Autumn Symphony Season

Where and when: Cape Town City Hall on 18 April 2019

Book: Artscape Dial-A-Seat on 021 421 7695 or Computicket