Tour 2019

We returned from an incredible tour to Europe on the 10th of July. Since then, in between trying to catch our breath, we took part in the final round of the Cape Town Eisteddfod where we finished first in our category with a mark of 97%.

We would like to thank everyone for their support – we exist on the one hand for the music, but on the other hand for those that hear the music. We are deeply grateful for your support.

A special word of thanks to everyone that made a financial contribution to our tour – it would not have been possible to go without your help!

We departed Cape Town on Wednesday 26 June flying with Turkish Airlines. Apart from offering the cheapest flights, Turkish Airlines also offered the choir a free night in Istanbul. On our return trip they paid for one night’s accommodation in a very good hotel – it seems that the Turkish government is doing its best to promote tourism!

We arrived in Istanbul on Thursday morning 27 June, where we had to catch our connecting flight to Athens. As we went through the security gates, one of our under 18’s (we have four choir members younger than 18) discovered that she had lost her passport on the plane. Numerous attempts to get the officials to search the plane for the passport failed, which meant that the choir left for Greece without Leon and the choir member. They were told to try and contact the South African embassy in Istanbul to see if they could help; the alternative was for the choir member to return to South Africa. As they waited for the embassy to open, they decided to make one final appeal to search the plane for the passport. This time there was a very sympathetic lady on duty at the help desk; she ordered the officials on to the plane and they returned with the passport!

So the start of the tour was a bit stressful, but Thursday had a happy ending with some of the choir members participating in a karaoke evening at a sports bar next to the youth hostel.

The choir had a free day to explore Athens in extreme heat. On Friday evening (26 June) we had a concert at the South African embassy. Ms Beryl Sisulu, South Africa’s new ambassador to Greece, had presented her credentials to the Greek Prime Minister earlier that week and the performance formed part of a function that the embassy hosted, where she was introduced to the diplomatic community.

On Saturday 27 June we left for Karpenisi, a town in a mountainous region roughly 300 km to north of Athens. We passed the statue of Leonidas on the way and were met with the most exquisite natural beauty: mountains, valleys, trees, streams – for us it was a very surprising “face “of Greece, very different from “postcard Greece” (i.e. sun and islands). Karpenisi is a well-known ski resort in winter, and one of their main activities in summer is the choir festival and competition.

The choir festival and the competition run parallel; at the festival every choir gets the opportunity to perform a 30-minute concert programme. We got to hear choirs from all over Greece and were introduced to Greek folk music. It was very interesting to hear very strong middle eastern influences. Greece was occupied for a very long time by the Ottoman Turks. When they gained independence in 1821, they destroyed all physical signs of the Ottoman occupation, but their folk music (such as the Greek choirs sang) unmistakably still bears the influence of that period of Greek history.

We competed in four categories: “Folk Music” (95%), “Musica Sacra” (96%), “Pop Music” (96%) and “Mixed Choirs” (97%). We were declared the winner in three of the categories but ended second in the folk music category. The winner in that category was the Estonian Radio Girls Choir. They were very good, as could be expected! One of the main tasks for Estonian Radio choirs is recording music by Estonian composers. The Estonian Radio Girls Choir have released 17 CDs under the label of Estonian Public Broadcast. Their CD, “Songs of Childhood“ with children’s songs by Arvo Pärt, which was released in October 2015, was awarded the Golden Disc Prize as the best-selling CD in Estonia in 2015.

In the face of such stiff competition, we were very relieved and thankful when it was announced that CTYC won the “Grand Prix” prize, i.e. the overall winner of the competition.

The weather in Karpenisi was a welcome relief after the extreme heat of Athens. The natural beauty was fantastic.

On Tuesday 2 July we returned to Athens to catch a flight to Italy. A final impression of Greece – on our last night the choir went to a farewell dinner in a restaurant with a live band, organised by the festival organisers. It was very “interesting” to see the guitar player play his instrument with a cigarette clutched between the fingers of his right hand ?

We flew to Rome and caught a bus to Florence where we spent two nights as our final stopover before going to Spittal.

The choir again had a free day which was used to explore the old city’s museums, cathedral and of course shops!

On Wednesday evening (3 July) we had a joint concert with a local choir. It was a wonderful evening with a large audience.

Thursday 4 July saw us driving to Spittal. The route took us from Florence towards Venice and then pass through the Alps as we crossed the border to Austria. Once again, we were struck by the incredible natural beauty of that region.

Spittal an der Drau is a small town in the Carinthia region of Austria. It is approximately an hour and a half’s drive from the border with Italy. In winter it is a well-known ski resort and in summer it is famous for their “International Competition of Choral Singing”. The Spittal competition for chamber choirs has a strong reputation in the choral world for its high standard of adjudication.

The competition is organised by the Cultural Committee of City of Spittal (and we use the term “City” lightly as the town of Spittal is probably the size of Worcester ?). Choirs apply from all over the world to participate and 10 choir are selected each year. 10 different countries are represented each year, as only one choir per country is selected. Once you arrive in Spittal, the city assumes full responsibility for accommodation and meals of the choir members.

The competition takes place over three rounds: folk music, prescribed music and own choice (“Kunstlied”). The folk music and Kunstlied categories take place in Schloss (Castle) Porcia and the prescribe music category in the city hall.

The public attend the competition and at the end of the folk music and Kunstlied categories, they vote for the most popular choir by placing their tickets in boxes with the names of the choirs on them. At the end this determines which choir wins the “Publikumspreis”. (Spoiler alert: CTYC won it this year ?) The prize is a giant cake which is shared by all the choirs on the final night at a party which all the choirs attend.

We placed second after the Carthage Choir from Kenosha, Wisconsin (United States). But we were extremely pleased with the results – we received a mark of 95% in the Own Choice category. We were also awarded the Günther-Mittergradnegger prize for the best performance of a contemporary work. Given that the winning choir from the US only performed contemporary works in their own choice programme, and that they won with 96.5%, we think it is safe to say that at least one of our pieces achieved a mark higher than 96.5% (And it was also very satisfying that the award came with a 1,000 Euro money prize attached to it!)

Our journey home started on Monday 8 July when we drove from Spittal to Venice to catch a flight to Istanbul. (This time we had no passport problems!)

We arrived late afternoon on the Monday morning, and our flight home was only due to depart on Tuesday evening after midnight. Thanks to Turkish Airways we had a full day to explore Istanbul. (A personal highlight for our conductor was when he went for a swim in the Bosporus!)

We are currently open for auditions. We have reconsidered our age limits and have decided to extend the upper age limit to 35. (One day we might end up having to reconsider the “Youth” portion of “Cape Town Youth Choir”) ?