Matthijs van Dijk

Matthijs van Dijk

The South African anti-apartheid activist and political icon, Denis Goldberg, will relate his life’s story in a new musical work by South African composer Matthijs van Dijk at the 2016 Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival (SICMF).

The SICMF, which runs from 1 to 10 July 2016, has been presented annually since 2004 by the Music Department of Stellenbosch University. A faculty of 30 internationally acclaimed musicians and about 300 mostly South African music students participate in the festival where master classes, lectures as well as chamber music and symphony concerts are presented.

Each year, the SICMF – an advocate for the creation of new South African music – commissions a local composer to write a chamber music work, which has its world premiere at the festival.

“It is an honour to stage a work that contributes towards telling our country’s unique history, particularly a work about the life of a living Struggle icon such as Denis Goldberg. Also, it is a privilege to have Denis on stage performing as the narrator of his own story,” says Peter Martens, Festival Director.

Born in 1933, Goldberg grew up in a home committed to opposition to apartheid. He was involved with the Congress of the People and the shaping of the Freedom Charter in 1954/55, and was detained under the State of Emergency for four months in 1960 after the Sharpeville massacre.

Goldberg joined the ANC’s armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe when it was formed in 1963. On 11 July 1963, he was arrested at Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg, and charged, along with former president Nelson Mandela and others, under the Sabotage Act with conspiracy to overthrow the state and other charges. He was sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment on 12 June 1964, but was released on 28 February 1985 after serving 22 years in prison.

After his release, Goldberg lived in exile in the United Kingdom, and returned to South Africa in 2002.

Van Dijk’s work, titled Moments in a Life, consists of stories of various pivotal moments in Goldberg’s life. The text was extracted from Goldberg’s autobiography, A life for freedom – The mission to end racism in South Africa, copies of which will be on sale at the performance.

With regard to his musical treatment of Goldberg’s text, Van Dijk says: “Because the stories deal with a period from 1939 to the present day, I opted to use a very eclectic musical style, encompassing ideas that range from the cinematic to very banal 1980’s glam rock/hair metal, combined with snippets of club music, representing the artificial ‘theatricism’ and perversity of the media circus surrounding the Rivonia Trial, as well as ‘free jazz’ and minimalist ideas in the prison years to convey a feeling of confinement.”

Goldberg, who now lives in Hout Bay, is looking forward to performing as narrator in this work, and has a great interest in music. He remembers the LP’s they had in prison, of which many were of classical music, such as Fauré’s Requiem. Also, he learned to play the guitar and alto recorder in prison.

Goldberg identifies with the work of the SICMF in seeing music as an activity that promotes and facilitates social cohesion. He supports the Kronendal Music Academy in Hout Bay, members of which will also perform at the SICMF.

At the festival, writer and journalist Mark Gevisser will facilitate an interview session with Goldberg about his life, his autobiography and his love of music. The public can attend the session on Wednesday, 6 July at 18:30 in the Jannasch Hall at the Stellenbosch University Konservatorium.

The concert, featuring Moments in a Life, will follow the interview at 20:00 in the Konservatorium’s Endler Hall.

Tickets are available from Computicket, or call  021 808 235 to purchase a festival pass.