It’s no accident that the Classics for All Festival in the historic Overberg villages of Greyton and Genadendal takes place in the autumn (this year from 24 – 26 May). There’s a flamboyance in the air as the last leaves flutter from the oaks to join the golden flurry on the pavements. Despite a nip in the evening air, the days in these peaceful, white-washed villages are usually glorious at this time of the year and their residents throw themselves heart and soul into welcoming music lovers from far and wide.

Coenie Visser, one of the original founders of Classics for All and its director from the beginning, emphasises that it is indeed the village atmosphere that makes this festival so unique. “This is our 15th festival and one of its joys is that many of our festival-goers have been coming here year after year since the very first one. It’s become an occasion for old friends to meet – like an extended-family reunion, really.

“Apart from the top-class music by some of the country’s finest musicians, what visitors enjoy most is the ability to mingle with the artists as well as locals over a meal or a glass of wine in one of our excellent restaurants or coffee shops. For these three days every year, our twin villages and their people are the festival. That’s why we never want it to grow too big so that it loses its laid-back warmth and the opportunity for personal interaction.”

The music on offer covers a wide range of genres, from opera and orchestral and choral performances to chamber music; and in style it ranges from the great masters of baroque to modern international and South African compositions. This year’s programme of 10 concerts has again been designed to cater for all tastes, from the aficionado to the enthusiast who loves to listen to good music, but isn’t an expert. And all this, in very special settings. In fact, it could be said that until you’ve attended a concert in the beautiful old Moravian Church in Genadendal, you have never lived.

Along with regular concert-goers, some of the musicians have supported the initiative from its first tentative steps. To celebrate this 15th milestone, many of them have once again been included in the programme – artists like pianist Philippus Hugo, singers Minette du Toit-Pearce and Zanne Stapelberg de Lange, and instrumentalists, Erik Dippenaar, Bridget Rennie-Salonen and Peter Martens.

Although Coenie has been living overseas for several years, from one festival to the next he keeps his finger on the pulse of the local music scene, constantly trawling the internet to follow the younger up-and-coming performers, and sending emissaries to attend concerts and report back to him. When it comes to putting the programme together, he likes to mix experienced performers with some of the younger ones. His aim is always to create a platform for the innovative, the exciting and the stimulating.

This year is no different. One of the more unusual items is the Duo Infinite, with percussionists Cherilee Adams and Dylan Tabisher joining forces in a performance with leading South African clarinetist, Daniel Prozesky. Another intriguing item features Camerata Tinta Barocca who present a concert entitled Of Plants and Animals: Baroque music inspired by nature, performed on baroque instruments. Then there’s the Rosanthorn Electric Cello Trio comprising three talented female musicians.

Another highlight sees the combination of Latin American music and dance, featuring internationally-acclaimed dancer and choreographer, Tanya Diamond, classical guitarist, Nina Fourie-Gouws and members of the SoloFLAMENCO dance studio.

Items showcasing children’s musical talent are always favourites and this year will see the participation of the Cape Town Youth Choir under the baton of Leon Starker and the Cape Town Philharmonic Junior String Ensemble. Last year, for the first time, the festival included a choir from the local Bereaville Moravian Primary School and they will appear again this year.

Coenie has lost his heart to this little group who have received no other training than what their school teachers have been able to give them. “As festival organisers, we’ve decided to ‘adopt’ these children,” he says. “We want to send their dedicated teachers away for conductor training and to enter the choir for eisteddfods and other events. When I go to visit the school,” he laughs, “I’m greeted like a hero – for no other reason than that they love this once-a-year opportunity to perform in public. Their enthusiasm is infectious; they deserve to be offered more options to express their love of music.”

Experiences like this and the affirmation of festival-goers like the Mexican family who, for the past seven or eight years have come out to South Africa for two weeks every year, especially to attend the Franschhoek Literary Festival and then Greyton-Genadendal Classics for All, have continued to enrich Coenie’s life, despite the challenges.

“There’s a never-ending scramble for financial support for our festival, but I never get over how blessed we are to have the whole-hearted support of the small businesses of this area, including accommodation establishments. Without them, we would not be celebrating this exuberant outpouring of beautiful music for an unbelievable 15th time.”
For more information about the Greyton-Genadendal Classics for All programme, as well as accommodation and restaurants, visit www.classicsforall.co.za or call the Greyton Tourism Office at 028 254 9414/9564. Tickets can be booked online or through Computicket.

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