In July 2019, VOX Cape Town presented a rich bouquet of botanically-inspired choral music to coincide with the UCT Irma Stern Museum’s winter botanical exhibition, Tipping Point: Threatened Plants of Southern Africa, curated by Mary van Blommestein.

The first half of the morning recital comprised two pastoral ballads by John Rutter. These wistful ballads, based on traditional folk songs from the British Isles, were especially adapted for our singers and clarinet obbligato (played by Matthew Ferrandi) by local composer Matthew Dennis. Benjamin Britten’s Five Flower Songs spanned the sublime to the ridiculous in their depiction of, for example, the fleeting nature of daffodils (a metaphor for life) and the evening primrose that “wastes its fair bloom upon the night”. Soprano Fi Smit brought the poetic texts to life by reciting them prior to each movement.

For the second half of the programme, guests were invited upstairs to the exhibition space. Grant McLachlan’s choral greeting to Mother Earth, Molweni, was contrasted with two nature-themed polyphonic works from the 16th century. Composer Nicky Schrire joined two of the three recitals to hear the first performances of her new choral work entitled Caged Bird, based on a poem by Maya Angelou. The piece was written in 2018 for a competition that called on female composers around the world to compose a vocal, choral or instrumental work inspired by the struggle for human rights.

Flower Songs concluded with two botanical blessings. The first, a prayer for rain, was accompanied by the vital sound of the djembe which gave way to a gentle hymn by Petrus Lemmer entitled, appropriately, Rooi Disa. As the final words – “Geloof, Hoop en Liefde” – faded into silence, guests were invited downstairs to enjoy two florally-inspired wines in the winter sunshine: Mount Rozier “Flower Garden” Sauvignon Blanc and Flagstone “Truth Tree” Pinotage (referring to the translation of the isiXhosa name for an Erythrina or Coral Tree).

Timothy Povall was commissioned to create a striking and original work of art to accompany this series of recitals. Drawing on his own observations of blue and red disas on Table Mountain, one of his favourite areas in which to hike, Tim used origamido paper for the Disa purpurascens and Disa uniflora flowers and bilayer elephanthide with kozo washi for the pot.

“Yet again, another wonderful musical experience for me and for all those who attended your concert on Saturday. I thought that the introduction of the clarinet brought a romantic, sometimes ethereal, dimension at times.  Each concert I attend, I look forward to hearing music that I have never heard before and of course I enjoy the few that I don’t hear very often. Congratulations and a big thank-you for all that you bring to the music lovers of Cape Town!”