Photos: Minnesota Orchestra plays first show of South Africa tour to sold-out crowd

Tickets for the Minnesota Orchestra concert in Cape Town sold out.
Tickets for the Minnesota Orchestra concert in Cape Town sold out weeks ago. Many audience members said they were attending their first classical concert. "Thank you Minnesota!" said one man.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Updated: Aug. 11, 7 p.m. | Posted: Aug. 10, 6:15 p.m.

The Minnesota Orchestra's triumphant launch of its South African tour on Friday was marked by four encores and repeated standing ovations.

The sold-out show at the newly refurbished City Hall auditorium in Cape Town featured music by Beethoven, Sibelius, and a new composition commissioned for the tour by South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen.

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He sat in the audience with an expression of fierce concentration on his face as South African soprano Goitsemang Lehobye sang his piece "Harmonia Ubuntu." It sets words from Nelson Mandela's writing and speeches to quintessential African rhythms.

Ndodana-Breen rose with the audience to applaud her performance and then beamed as it in turn applauded him.

The concert had been sold out for weeks and included many longtime classical music fans.

However, there were also many people attending their first concert.

Under apartheid, classical music was seen by many as an elitist white interest. But a consortium of nine Minnesota companies have coordinated outreach programs to draw in new audiences for the South African tour. Medtronic, which is part of the group, went one step further and arranged for tickets and transportation to the concert for residents of less-affluent communities.

That effort paid off at the first concert.

"Thank you, Minnesota!" said audience member Jesse Theanus, of his first classical music experience.

Tilda Smith, who had come with a friend and three children, described the concert as a beautiful experience.

"I see colors. I see nature!" she said. "You can almost see movies, or the sea and nature, and everything floating in front of you. It's beautiful, really beautiful."

The crowd roared in appreciation when, after a thunderous drum opening, the musicians set down their instruments and sang the African anthem "Shosholoza."

After the show, the musicians were almost giddy, riding the wave of audience excitement.

"Concerts like that remind us why we do this," said clarinetist Tim Zavadil.

The Minnesota Orchestra now moves on to Durban for a concert Sunday. After that there will be shows in Pretoria, Soweto, and Johannesburg.