After a thrilling final round of piano performances at UNISA’s ZK Matthews Hall in Pretoria, Soweto-born Ntando Ncgapu (26) was named winner of the Jazz category and Megan-Geoffrey Prins (27) from Riversdale in the Western Cape came up tops in the Western Art Music category.
The evening was also a celebration of South African music and a rallying call to forge an authentic African musical identity, with the premiere of three new homegrown compositions, various other South African compositions and powerful musical tributes to the late Ray Phiri and Johnny Mekoa.
Prins, who is studying towards his Doctorate in Musical Arts at the Cleveland Institute of Music, will receive a R200 000 scholarship to help fund his studies. He also received R10 000 for the best performance of a prescribed work in his category.
Ngcapu is a Tshwane University of Technology graduate and will be able to use his R200 000 award to further his postgraduate studies or professional development abroad.
The runners-up were Nicholas Williams (31) from Cape Town and Willem de Beer (25) from Pretoria, in the Jazz and Western Art Music categories, respectively, who will each received R70 000. Williams was also awarded R10 000 for the best performance of a prescribed Jazz composition.
Prins’s choice of repertoire encompassed challenging works by Haydn and Lyapunov, as well as Toccata for Piano, a work by South African composer Graham Newcater, 55 years after he won the first SAMRO scholarship winner in 1962. In turn, De Beer impressed with his interpretation of works by Scarlatti, Haydn and Chopin.
Both finalists also performed a SAMRO-commissioned composition by local composer Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, Catch Me if You Can, designed to test the technical prowess of the pianist as well as their interpretative ability.
Jazz pianist and former SAMRO scholarship winner André Petersen provided the commissioned work for the Jazz finalists, an ode to his wife titled For Chan.
Ngcapu gave dynamic performances of works by Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea and Antônio Carlos Jobim, while Williams brought effortless style to his renditions of songs by Herbie Hancock, Kenny Kirkland and the late South African jazz pianist Hotep Idris Galeta. Both were accompanied by Romy Brauteseth on upright bass and Marlon Witbooi on drums.
With such a high standard of technical ability and performance flair, it was a tough ask for the adjudicators, led by non-voting chairman Leon van Wyk. The blue-chip panel included Karenda Devroop and Melvin Peters (dual-genre panelists), as well as Mokale Koapeng, Theo van Wyk, Bongani Ndodana-Breen, Franklin Larey and Nina Schumann (Western Art Music); and Susan Barry, Nduduzo Makhathini, Roland Moses, André Petersen and Andile Yenana (Jazz).
In the Western Art Music section, two subsidiary awards went to semi-finalist Lourens Fick, a Master’s student at the University of Stellenbosch – the SAMRO/Flink Award of R30 000 and the merit award of R10 000. The SAMRO/Fishers Award of R6500 went to University of Cape Town graduate Bronwyn van Wieringen, who is embarking on a Master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London next month.
In the Jazz category, TUT student Teboho Kobedi scooped the R8000 SAMRO/De Waal Study Award, Gauteng music professional Lifa Arosi won the R10 000 merit award, and UCT graduate Elizabeth Gaylord received the SAMRO/Fishers Award of R6 500.
Former SAMRO scholarship winner Bokani Dyer’s rousing I Am an African jazz composition, based on the seminal speech by former president Thabo Mbeki, also premiered during the scholarships finals, with Dyer on piano, Brauteseth on bass, Witbooi on drums, Spha Mdlalose on vocals, Joe Makhanza on kora and Mandla Mlangeni on trumpet.
In keeping with the “I Am” theme – which also ties in with the unifying African humanist philosophy of Ubuntu – SAMRO Foundation Managing Director André le Roux said indigenous African music (also referred to as IAM) would be the strategic focus for the SAMRO Foundation in the coming years.
Included in this is the development of the SAMRO Online Archive, a digital music portal that will enable South African composers’ scores to be accessible by a global audience, promoting the broader performance of their work.
Another SAMRO Foundation initiative is a project to document the region’s indigenous musical heritage by transcribing recordings of fading cultures into musical scores that will be available for analysis, performance and study throughout the world. This will be carried out in partnership with specialists in the fields of ethnomusicology, composition and transcription.
“Through both the online archive and IAM projects, the increased global access and exposure to South African compositions will also translate into money in SAMRO members’ pockets,” said Le Roux.