This summer I was invited to Kinshasa to conduct a concert in which members of the WDR (West German Radio) Symphony Orchestra were performing with instrumentalists from the OSK (Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste). Two premiers: my first trip to Congo and the first time both orchestras had played side by side. Quite literally speaking, because this new fusion was made up of the same number of musicians from both groups, so that each player from the OSK was sharing a desk with an instrumentalist from WDR. As many of the WDR members had been to Kinshasa before, I had already heard a lot about the country and about the projects and teaching work that had been going on. I must admit that I had still found it hard to imagine what it would actually feel like being there as I had never even been to Africa, let alone Congo. If I tried to fit all the impressions and emotions I experienced into a couple of paragraphs, I could not even begin to do justice to the extremely intense and perspective-shifting time I had. However, I will attempt to give you a rough sketch of the day of the concert, which to me, in the end, acquired an almost symbolic significance.
After some productive days of preparation, our final rehearsal at the open air venue "theatre de verdure" was scheduled to start at 10am. There was a phone call – there were delays due to technical problems with the sound engineering. So we waited for someone to give us the go-ahead. We had already got used to the fact that 10am did not necessarily mean 10 o'clock sharp and I was already relaxing into a different mentality and actually quite getting to like it. In the end we squashed ourselves into a rickety little bus and arrived at the open air amphitheatre at something approaching midday. Our colleagues from the OSK were already there but still the technical problems prevented us from starting the rehearsal. In the end we decided to test the open air acoustic - sound engineering or no sound engineering. So we braved the heat, set up some parasols and got to work... it was sweltering. After a while we surrendered to the forces of nature and decided to have a break. When it had sufficiently cooled down we had an inspiring run through before the concert. Some of us were pessimistically wondering: will anybody come? So when the concert, starting later than billed of course, took place in front of an audience of about 2000 extremely attentive listeners, we were more than pleasantly surprised. The combined orchestra raised the roof with their enthusiastic and inspired playing, metaphorically speaking as there was nothing but the starry sky above our heads. Afterwards emotional embraces were followed by a party for anyone who wished to stay. It was a truly unifying moment: the music had brought us together. I personally found it quite symbolic. Our venue had formerly been part of one of the infamous president Mumbutu's residences - remnants of empty cages he had kept his pet leopards in can still be seen dotted around the surrounding park. Adding to this there was a statue of the Belgian colonial oppressor Leopold II on the same site. Two rulers who had inflicted immeasurable suffering on the people of this country. And here we were - Congolese and Europeans - celebrating a very special moment of humanity together. A memorable and uplifting evening.
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