The Minnesota Orchestra will tour five cities in South Africa this summer in what is believed to be the first such visit by any major U.S. orchestra, with concerts in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Soweto.
The concerts in August will feature a specially commissioned piece, "Harmonia Ubuntu," by South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen that celebrates the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth. In a release the composer said, "Mandela was the exemplar of the African value of Ubuntu — the knowledge that one's humanity is tied to the humanity of others."
The composition will be the centerpiece of a summer-long project called "Music for Mandela," beginning at Sommerfest in Minneapolis in July.
South African singers will travel to Minnesota to perform at Sommerfest, and members of the Minnesota Chorale will travel to South Africa for the concerts in Johannesburg and Soweto.
Orchestra president Kevin Smith said the orchestra learned from its trip to Cuba that they needed to include the Minnesota audience. "Here we really do want to focus as much on our local community as we do with our international touring, so we are connecting these two things," he said.
"We really are using music in a diplomatic sense, we are calling it musical diplomacy," he said. "And it's not just us doing the music and everyone listening. It really is a collaborative process."
In addition to the concerts, the orchestra will do side-by-side rehearsals with South African orchestras.
Smith said it's a huge endeavor involving more than 200 Minnesotans traveling to South Africa. He believes it will catch the imagination of classical fans around the world.
"I am quite confident that the orchestra world is going to be taken aback by the audacity of this whole thing."