Cape Town Time:


Playing On: How the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra Continues to Show Up for Audiences

6 April 2021

The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra continues to entertain audiences across the globe despite restrictions brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. We caught up with the philharmonic leadership recently to find out how the orchestra is navigating the ‘new normal’. Responses attributed to Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra CEO, Louis Heyneman.

Cape Town Orchestra

How has the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra been impacted by the pandemic?

Like all orchestras across the world, we needed to adapt and adapt quickly.  Money dried up because concerts were cancelled at once but we knew how important it was to create an emotional bond with our regular audiences. The first action was to make several what we called Covid-19 videos, videos made on cell phones in the musicians’ own homes and edited professionally. These included a video each by the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble in collaboration with a choral group, Vox Cape Town; the Lockdown Waltz with Cape Town City Ballet, Meditation with international violinist Alex Gilman; the national anthem; and a message from our principal guest conductor, Bernhard Gueller. We began a programme of mentoring by our professional musicians of the young musicians in the youth orchestras for a later streamed concert; our grassroots entry level Masidlale projects took its teaching online.  We continue to mentor and we showed a different facet of ourselves by producing Symphonic Masterpieces in Miniature, a series of four hybrid concerts which featured our musicians in symphonic works for the most part adapted for chamber music.  All of this has served to show our audiences that we are there for them, doing what we do best – performing, even though it is without an audience.  Some of our musicians have ‘busked’ in busy places like the  V & A Waterfront which again shows people we are active.

We have been supported by good media coverage which included a documentary on CNN. We are very fortunate that several major sponsors and supporters have stayed with us, including the City of Cape Town. Without our loyal supporters we will not survive the pandemic.

The orchestra is well-known across the world. How can people continue to enjoy your performances?

We have been fortunate to be able to record and stream concerts which have been watched by people across the world; and also to have participated in two online festivals – the National Arts Festival and the Klein Karoo Klassique festival.  It has been gratifying to hear many positive comments from our audiences. Our first two concerts in our Cyber Symphonies series are again available for viewing on until the end of April.  A second and third series of Cyber Symphonies are being recorded over the next two months for streaming.

What are some the precautions taken to ensure that musicians are safe?

We appointed a Covid officer at once,  produced Covid protocols, and have the continuing support of a specialist nursing sister who helps with protocols like registers, temperatures and sanitization at all concerts and rehearsals.  We also have a team which sanitizes equipment before, during and after sessions.  Where we had a small audience in the period before the second wave,  we had the same procedures in place for the audience.  Social distancing is the norm, Perspex screens have been built to separate the winds players from each other and masks are mandatory except for winds players who wear them before and after playing.  Even the conductor has a screen!  The screens were built by some of our musicians which shows not only their dedication but their different skills sets!

Cape Town Orchestra

Tell us about upcoming shows. How can people view theses performances?

We continue to record and stream concerts made in isolation until we are allowed to perform for a limited audience.  We are working with the other professional orchestras in South Africa to co-ordinate streaming dates because we know that while people say they really want to hear us there are some who are not comfortable about streaming especially. Streaming has been on the Quicket platform, All streaming information is placed on our website as soon as it become available; the regular newsletter keeps people up to date and we are active on social media such as Facebook, Instagram and twitter of course.

What makes the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra unique?

In the 107 years that the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and its predecessors have been in existence,  we have always managed to attract some of the most brilliant musicians, often on their way to stardom and often at the peak of their careers. The one compliment that stands out always is how many of those at the top say: “I had no idea this orchestra was this good”.  People expect an orchestra at the tip of Africa to be ordinary and we are far from that. Our CDs have attracted international acclaim.  Artists also like visiting the CPO and are usually happy to accept far less than their usual fee because of the location of the orchestra and because in the world of music we have a reputation not only for quality but for the quality of our welcome and hospitality we show the artists.

Also, we have a huge education and development programme for youth which includes two orchestras, two training ensembles,  an academy with theory and practical lessons and Masidlale which teaches strings and winds to people from the townships to the west coast of the Western Province.  These programmes position us a leading youth educator and we have been thrilled to see how young musicians have auditioned successfully for the CPO and others have made their way in to the world of arts administration, showing that we are achieving our goals of training for careers across the arts. This is particularly gratifying when you see the impoverished communities so many come from.