Violinist Suzanne Martens loves the darker Mozart writes PETA STEWART.
Guest concertmaster with the CPO, violin teacher at the University of Stellenbosch, chamber musician and soloist with the Cape Town Philharmonic on 9 June, 2022, at 8pm, Suzanne Martens nearly, but nearly, became a French teacher. Or a percussionist. Really!
She was spoiled for choice as a child growing up with a very patient father, who fortunately was an amateur opera singer his whole life, for Chris Swanepoel had to contend with a violin teacher wife, Anne-Marie, son Andre, who played violin, French horn and percussion and is now principal second violin in the Irish Chamber Orchestra, another son Cobus who is an established cellist in Switzerland and who also studied bassoon, and Suzanne – who studied violin, piano and percussion, even trying her hand at the drum kit.
At one time, then, there were at least six instruments being played around him, all the time! “It was a very supportive environment,” she says.
Suzanne is performing the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with Petrus Coetzee (viola) in Winter Symphonies at The City Hall and she is very much looking forward to this. “I find Petrus very sensitive as a musician, and he has a singing tone with really suits the piece. He’s a creative player.”
She enjoys the fact that it is like chamber music, with a conversation between violin and viola. She is also happy that Bernhard Gueller is conducting – “I have done this a couple of times without a conductor, and this time I don’t have to worry about bringing in the horns and things at the right place!”
The piece was first scheduled for the January Season, but Parliament’s fire and subsequent commandeering The City Hall postponed it once; then an injury put her out of contention for the Autumn Season so now it is third time lucky.
“I enjoy this piece very much. It’s darker than his violin concertos
She took her first lessons with Alan Solomon in Pretoria when she was five, and when she was eight, or nine, he had her playing in Betty Pack’s orchestra – perhaps the forerunner of every youth orchestra in this country, and before she was 10, she went on tour with them to Israel.
She stayed with Alan until she completed her B Mus Hons (she now has a doctorate). Then she joined the CAPAB orchestra, won a bursary to The Netherlands where she studied with Jan Repko, now at the Royal College of Music, then went to the Mozarteum in Salzburg, drawn perhaps not only by the rich musical environment there but by also the fact that one young man from Cape Town was there. No prizes for guessing that young man was Peter Martens!
Medieval music, harpsichord, rap
Suzanne has an eclectic taste in music – much as she loves medieval music, harpsichord, organ and St John’s Passion, she also loves rap, Sting and Dire Straits … how much more can her diverse taste run? But she draws the line at heavy metal, for she confesses to hating this!
So why did she choose to become a violinist? “When I heard my first international competition at UNISA, at a time that sanctions kept many top musicians away, I was completely blown away by what I heard. Some years before, I had heard a recital by Thomas Zehetmair that really inspired me and I thought … let’s see where this takes me.” Another little spur may have been the fact that it was a question of reading Voltaire in French or practising.” No contest.
She has the best of all possible worlds, teaching at Stellenbosch, playing chamber music, the occasional concerto and playing as a guest concertmaster with the CPO.
Teaching and the administration that goes with it make up the bulk of her daily life and she has to work hard at making time for practising and performing. “I create pockets for myself, juggle a bit and block off time. During the concerto week I have told my students they are on their own!”
“I began as an orchestral musician and I need to do this to round off my life,” she says. ‘’I need the input from conductors and colleagues to make me a better teacher.”
Rounded off it may be …. but all she wants to do is get better at playing and teaching.
“When Casals was already very old, he was asked why he practised every day and he said it was because he thought he was making progress! I have lots to achieve in playing and in teaching and I am grateful for all the opportunities I get to play. I want to play more string quartets and other chamber music … and visit the UK after our first grandchild is born later this year.”
Entry is with a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test less than 72 hours old. Tickets for this concert have been in great demand, so if there are none left at Computicket/Artscape Dial-a-Seat then go to the dress rehearsal at 11am on 9 June at The City Hall.