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Samson Diamond, responding to SA’s cultural zeitgeist

Published on 27 February 2018

Violinist (and a former Standard Bank Young Artist) Samson Diamond is the lead curator for Classical Music on the Main programme of the 2018 National Arts Festival, which will be held in Grahamstown from 28 June to 8 July.  Works for the Main programme are selected from an annual open call for submissions by an Artistic Committee, comprising experts in their fields. This is the second year that Diamond has been the lead curator of the Music programme.

Q: You had your first taste of music in Soweto, studying with Rosemary Nalden, the founding director of Buskaid, and then you went on to further your studies in the UK. How do you feel music education in South Africa compares with the rest of the world?

A: This is a tricky question because it is quite broad. In my view, the standard in Europe is very high and extremely competitive because of the more established institutions and the acute attention to the level of instructors, facilities and cultural association. Comparatively, music education in South Africa serves a multitude of disciplines through redress, social inclusivity and transformation. Over the past 20 years, South Africa has seen an increase in community music programmes through initiatives that aspire to engage and transform disadvantaged communities.

Redressing educational inequality in the arts on an equitable social basis of opportunity and access presents many challenges, including one of cultural bias. Many of the community music programmes specialise in Western art music. Ordinarily, this would be fine because it is reflective and prevalent in our education system, but seeing that South Africa is culturally rich and diverse, I would say that our music education does not fully embrace this great resource of multiculturalism, which would help strengthen our contribution to world music.  

How did winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music in 2010 influence your career as a young musician?

Winning the award gave me the platform to engage with other artists in different music genres to create very fruitful collaborations. This has helped demonstrate my natural flair as a versatile violinist, and has had an influence on perceptions of me as a classically trained violinist.

This is your second year as the curator of Classical Music on the Main programme of the National Arts Festival. What has been your biggest highlight in this role, and what have been some of the challenges?

It has been an honour serving as Curator for Music on the Main programme of the Festival. When you look at the programme I was involved in, you will notice that presents diverse and wide-ranging musical outputs, not only classical music. Historically, the Main programme presented a substantial classical programme. Festivals respond to current social zeitgeist that inevitably reflects our era and collective consciousness. As the Artistic Committee, we endeavour to create synergy around the different forms under a themed curatorial framework, and pull the proposals that enhance this criterion. This has posed a few challenges regarding the quality of the proposals, but also some very exciting presentations because artists could no longer just pull one out of a hat. Perhaps the biggest highlight has been diversifying the music offering without alienating the loyal patrons, notwithstanding limitations on budgets for a large ensemble such as an orchestra.  

Some people argue that the audience for classical music is dying out. Do you agree with that statement?

It’s relatively true because most of the audiences are senior. Across the world, however, more people from disadvantaged and marginalised communities are learning and playing orchestral instruments. While we have not seen enough of a demographical change in audiences, participation in the genre through learning an instrument has meant awareness, which will in turn create support from communities. In terms of audience retention, people are more inclined to attend classical concerts of repertoire that they enjoy listening to, and that has proven true for the Jazz Festival. There is a misconception that classical music audiences should be filling up stadiums.  

 What can fans of classical music look forward to on this year’s Festival programme and what have you programmed to attract new and younger audiences?

The curatorial theme [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][which will be revealed soon] is very strong and exciting. This year’s programme spans classical to indigenous music, and all the way through to the avant garde. We will be releasing details in the build up to the Festival in July.

More about Samson Diamond

Diamond is the appointed leader of the Odeion String Quartet at the University of the Free State, and concertmaster of the Free State Symphony Orchestra (FSSO). He has appeared as violin soloist with all premier South African orchestras. Since its inception, Diamond has been invited as principal second of Europe’s first black and ethnic minority orchestra, Chineke! Orchestra, which has performed in London at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall (2017) and the Royal Festival Hall.

Diamond got his first taste of music in Soweto where he studied with Rosemary Nalden, founder-director of the Buskaid Project, Rosemary Nalden. He is a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK, where he obtained both Bachelor of Music Honours Degree First Class and his Master of Music Performance degree with distinction. 

Samson has won many prizes, including the Kanna award with the Odeion String Quartet (2014) and Standard Bank Young Artist for Music 2010 and has acted as a jury member at national competitions, such as the Samro Overseas Schorlaship, ATKV Muziq and the SAMRO Hubert van der Spuy competitions. A keen violin pedagogue, Diamond has taught and coached music in the UK and South Africa. He is a versatile and distinguished violinist, and he plays on a fine 1803 Wagner violin.