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South African Vuvuzela Philharmonic Angered By Soccer Games Breaking Out During Concerts

JOHANNESBURG—Members of the South Africa Vuvuzela Philharmonic Orchestra, widely considered to be among the best large-scale monotonic wind instrument ensembles in the world, told reporters Friday they were furious over the recent outbreaks of international soccer matches during their traditional outdoor concerts.

"I cannot imagine what is getting into these football teams that they would suddenly begin full-scale international competition just when we are beginning our 2010 concert series," said Dr. Stefan Coetzee, the Philharmonic's program and concert director. "It is disrespectful to the performers, it is disrespectful to the music itself, and by extension, it is disrespectful to the great nation of South Africa."

Spontaneous high-caliber soccer games have thus far plagued every orchestral vuvuzela performance of the season, which opened June 11 at Cape Town Stadium. As musicians took their places in the stands and began warming up for the evening's performance of lighter pieces by post-minimalist composers, they noticed the audience was not sitting in its traditional place in the stadium's central area.

As the Philharmonic learned later, its only spectators were the national football sides of France and Uruguay, who played to a 0-0 tie as the frustrated vuvuzela virtuosi played a full program of concerti written for the distinctive straight plastic horn.

"A virtually empty house is highly unusual in a vuvuzela-mad nation such as South Africa," said first-chair vuvuzela player Moses Mtegume, who is known as the "Father of the Vuvuzela" and considered a national treasure. "And because concerts are held in the round—the better to appreciate the sonorous tonality of the massed instruments—a performer gets a sense of the crowd early."

"It doesn't even seem like these football players are paying attention to us," Mtegume added. "In fact, I would go so far as to say they are trying to ignore us."

The following days, during which a string of large-scale vuvuzela performances were held, saw the unusual events repeat in Johnnesburg, Durban, Pretoria, and Port Elizabeth as audience after audience was driven away by FIFA national football teams. As a result, the South Africa Vuvzela Philharmonic, which is supported solely by money from ticket sales, has suffered staggering losses financially. And the musicians, many of whom trained for years and underwent a harrowing audition process to earn one of the orchestra's 50,000 seats, said the biggest blow was to their professional pride.

"Do you know how difficult it is to get everyone situated, tuned, and focused for a vuvuzela concert?" said Juilliard-trained vuvuzelist Donald Frederick Gordon, a noted soloist and renowned performer whose boyhood dream of playing vuvuzela in every stadium in South Africa is now at risk. "These brash, inconsiderate outbursts of impromptu athletics have made us a laughingstock of the international music community. We have already had cancellations from the Vienna Boy's Choir and guest director Seiji Ozawa, who no doubt fear for their reputation should the Philharmonic continue to be mocked by these incongruous sportsmen."

In order to save its concert season, the orchestra has scheduled a special benefit concert for July 11 at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium. The orchestra will be accompanied by 8,000 special guest vuvuzela players from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and the concert program will include the debut of new single-tone compositions by Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, and vuvuzela fan Mark Mothersbaugh.

The musicians said they are thrilled to be performing in the nation's most prominent stadium, which is capable of holding up to 12,500 standing concertgoers in its grassy central section.

"This will be a vuvuzela tour de force the likes of which the world has never seen," Dr. Coetzee said. "We are very close to an agreement with Placido Domingo, who we're confident will show us how the greatest living tenor sings the B-flat-below-middle-C that makes the vuvuzela so magical. It will truly be a night for the ages, with, we hope, no sign of football rivals battling it out for global supremacy where the audience should be."

"We've already sold a couple dozen tickets to people in Brazil and Argentina," Dr. Coetzee added. "Mark my words, on July 11, the eyes and ears of the world will be on South Africa."

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