Sterkfontein Composers Meeting

Sterkfontein Group inside Standing Stone CircleThe Sterkfontein Composers Meeting is a masterclass for young and emerging composers held annually at the Nirox Foundation. The unique setting, within the Cradle of Humankind, provides the ideal environment in which young composers can learn and create.

With a faculty of composers and performers, the daily programme consists of workshops with the musicians, analysis classes, individual lessons and group discussions.

The composers produce a short etude each day which is workshopped and discussed, and over the course of the second week a larger piece for informal performance to an invited audience on the final day.


Sterfontein Composers Meeting workshopThe first meeting was held from 22 January to 5 February 2012 with a faculty of Michael Blake (composition) and the Japanese duo X[iksa] - Yasutaka Hemmi (violin) and Takayo Matsumura (harp).

Blake analysed music by himself, Stravinsky, Cage, Howard Skempton, and others. The composers could also observe him working with the performers on his new Harp and Violin piece each day. Hemmi and Matsumura gave in-depth lecture-demonstrations on their instruments and analysed a range of pieces from their repertoire.

Michael Blake and Class 04 BestGuest lecturers were composer Paul Hanmer and theorist Jean-Pierre de la Porte - Hanmer on his music, looking particularly at his Clarinet Quintet; de la Porte on the “ghosts” that inhabit composers and the anxiety of influence.

Willem Boshoff guided the composers around his, and other, sculptures in the sculpture park, and Caroline Bittermann, Berlin-based land artist in residence at Nirox, gave an explication of her newly-completed installation.

The meeting was funded by SENA (SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts); the residency of Yas Hemmi and Takayo Matsumura at Nirox was made possible by the Japan Foundation, the Embassy of Japan and the Nirox Foundation. X[iksa] also performed at the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, and in Durban and Stellenbosch, during their visit to South Africa.

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Friedrich Gauwerky and participantsThe second meeting took place from 15 - 25 February 2013 with the distinguished German cellist Friedrich Gauwerky ( making up the faculty with Michael Blake (composition). Attention was focussed on the contemporary solo cello repertoire – Bernd-Alois Zimmermann Solo Sonata, Stockhausen In Freundschaft, Cage Etudes Boreales, Richard Barrett, Luigi Dallapiccola Ciaccona, Intermezzo e Adagio – with lecture-demonstrations on cello techniques and analysis of aspects of these pieces by Gauwerky.

Jean-Pierre de la Porte and participantsGuest lecturer Jean-Pierre de la Porte gave an in-depth analysis of In Freundschaft, while Blake discussed his own new piece for Gauwerky – Pentimenti – which was premiered on the final day of the meeting, and looked at music by Stravinsky, Ives, Varèse, Gerald Barry and Bunita Marcus.

The six participating composers created short etudes each day for workshopping by the faculty, appropriating the past and creating new music out of old. The final task was to transcribe some of this solo cello music for solo piano. Each composer had an opportunity to present their own ideas and existing compositions to the meeting. General discussions ranged from principles of notation to the search for a South African compositional identity.

Friedrich Gauwerky and participantsThe meeting was funded by the SAMRO Foundation; the residency of Friedrich Gauwerky was made possible by the Nirox Foundation and the Culture Ministry of North Rhine Westfalia. Gauwerky also gave a concert and workshop at the University of Stellenbosch, during his visit to South Africa.

Participant comments:

… a rare opportunity to receive compositional training that was systematic and hands-on

… the rare opportunity to have our music played by a world-renowned new music specialist

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The third meeting was held from 1-10 April 2015 with the established Swedish duo of Ivo Nilsson (trombone) and Jonny Axelsson (percussion) ( and Michael Blake as facilitator.

This year's meeting invited young professional composers to submit pieces in advance of the workshop and to use the opportunity to develop and extend their pieces, in some cases even rescoring them.

Ivo Nilsson and Jonny Axelsson presented seminars on the trombone and vibraphone respectively, played and discussed selected works from their repertoire, and the group as a whole had discussions about composition, notation and new music in general. Each afternoon one of the participants introduced and played a recording of an earlier work of theirs.

All the new pieces were performed informally on the final day of the meeting and recorded for the composers’ archives. The duo also appeared at Arts on Main, Maboneng and The Orbit, Braamfontein on Sunday 12 April in works by Kevin Volans, Swedish composers and the performers themselves.

The meeting was funded by the Nirox Foundation, Distell Foundation and Society of Swedish Composers. Percussion instruments were generously loaned by TOMS of Braamfontein.

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