Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bongani Ndodana-Breen (b. 1975), South African-Canadian Composer

[Remember Dido; Bongani Ndodana-Breen, composer, Miniatures on Motherhood;
Ensemble Così Facciamo; Mucavi Records (2006)]

Bongani Ndodana-Breen was only 22 when Brett Pypper wrote this about him in a South African newspaper, The Mail & Guardian, Nov. 20, 1997:

THIS year's Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music goes to a real-life composer, that august occupation that some South Africans feel must be "preserved", while others want to consign it to the dust heap of Eurocentrism.

So how refreshing that Bongani Ndodana is a 22-year-old native of the Eastern Cape who speaks Xhosa rather than German, talks of access to music as a right instead of a privilege, and is frank about his work emerging in "a cultural paradox".

"As part of my quest for an identity as an African, I have been drawn more and more towards an 'African aesthetic' within my art form, which is riddled with European conventions," says Ndodana.

Born in Queenstown and educated in Grahamstown, Ndodana was unable to receive his award personally at Monday's ceremony in Johannesburg. He is currently in Chicago where his string quartet The Sun, the Moon and the Rain had its world première last week.

The intervening decade has seen triumph after triumph for Bongani Ndodana-Breen. Now a Canadian, he provided us with this bio:

Composer and conductor Bongani Ndodana-Breen has written a wide range of music encompassing symphonic work, opera, chamber music and vocal music. According to The New York Times his “delicately made music - airy, spacious, terribly complex but never convoluted - has a lot to teach the Western wizards of metric modulation and layered rhythms about grace and balance. He reminds us that most of our notions about musical motion in the last century came in their roundabout way from Africa or Southeast Asia in the first place, and that Africans tend to do it better than we do.”
Performers around the world including the Belgian National Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, Natal Philharmonic, New York City’s Vox Vocal Ensemble, MusicaNoir, Ensemble Cosi Facciamo Munich, Chicago’s Cube Ensemble, Ossia Ensemble and the choir of Wadham College Oxford University have performed his music.

In January 2006 The Miller Theatre, New York City presented a concert entirely of Ndodana-Breen’s music. In
The New York Times review of that concert, Bernard Holland wrote “Ndodana is not a raw talent; he is a talent and, at 31, possesses a clear and gentle voice of his own.” Current projects for 2007 and 2008 include works for the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the Oregon-based dance company, BodyVox, and also the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt for the 300th anniversary of Haydn’s birth. He is also working on a film score for actor/director LeVar Burton.

Ndodana-Breen has received commissions for works such as the multimedia opera “The Passion of Winnie”, from the Luminato Festival in Toronto, as well as a piano quintet commissioned by “Art Impressions” for Maria João Pires’ production of Schubertiade with performances pending in Madrid, Lisboa, Sao Paolo, Macao, Paris and Berlin. Other organizations that have commissioned works include the Vancouver Recital Society, Madam Walker Theatre Indianapolis, Southern African Music Rights Organization (SAMRO), UNISA International Violin Competition, The Emancipation Festival Trinidad & Tobago, Playhouse Company Durban and the Cape Town City Ballet.

Ndodana-Breen, currently Artistic Director of Toronto’s MusicaNoir/Ensemble Noir, was the youngest and first Black composer awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music in 1998, one of South Africa’s most prestigious arts prizes. This award led to a commission for his opera-oratorio Uhambo that he conducted at South Africa’s National Arts Festival. According to Canada’s The Globe and Mail “He seems to be just as interested in giving pleasure as in opening people’s minds… which makes him doubly a novelty on the Toronto New Music scene” (The Globe and Mail, Nov 2001). (Updated Sept. 2007)

Bongani's compositions are divided into four categories: Orchestra, Opera, Chamber Music, and Choral. The list can be found online at

Works for Orchestra include Symphony No. 2 “Umuntu Wa Bantu”:

45 min.; 5 movements. (2+2+2+2;2211;1,2perc,strings) Orchestra and Sop and Alt. Chorus. Texts "Veni Creator" and excerpts from the Presidential Inauguration address by Nelson Mandela of May 10, 1994. Commissioned by Madam Walker Theater Center for the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra with funding from Ford Foundation/Africa Xchange and Lilly Endowment. Premiered July 1998, Madam Walker Theatre Indianapolis. Stanley de Rusha conducting the ICO.

When he sent us his bio, Bongani asked us to also visit: The MySpace page provides media on a variety of projects, and lists 2008 performances in Chicago, Hong Kong, Portland, Oregon and Lisbon, Portugal.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

How great to discover news about a fellow South African committed to the art of composition in the way that Bongani goes about his art.

Well done and we are tremendously proud of you!

Paul Sedres
Caper Town/Paris