Violinist, Fifi Olifant, uses music to express how she feels

Fifi by Michel Schneuwly

Fifi Olifant plays the Adagio from Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Photo: Michel Schneuwly

Estelle Sinkins speaks to Fifi Olifant who will be performing as a soloist in the Symphony in the City concert, hosted by the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic, in association with Christopher Duigan’s Music Revival and Parklane SuperSpar, in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall on March 24.

REFILOE Olifant, better known as Fifi, freely admits that while she ‘can’t sing to save her life’, she uses the beautiful music she creates with her violin to express how she feels.

Now a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, Olifant began playing the violin at the age of eight, while she was a pupil at Bochabela Primary School in Mangaung, Bloemfontein, under the tutelage of Isabella Bonnet.

She has since participated in the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival, Musica Mundi International Chamber Festival, Stift International Music Festival and performed with the South African National Youth Orchestra, where she played under the batons of Viktor Yampolsky, Arjan Tien, Jonas Alber, Daniel Raskin and Evgeny Bushkov.

Olifant’s first musical memory was when she started playing her first piece on the violin – with a bow.

“It was Au Claire de La Lune from a beginner’s book,” she says, “[and a] proud musical memory for me. I am from a township, so sports and choir were the main hobbies at school until we were introduced to the violin.”

Olifant – who graduated Cum Laude for the Diploma in Practical Music at the University of Stellenbosch – is one of several young musical stars who will be performing in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall at the Symphony in the City concert at 7.30 pm on Friday, March 24.

“I will be performing the third movement from the Bruch Scottish Fantasy,” she says. “Because the whole work is linked from one movement to another, I decided to start it from the Adagio as an introduction.

“I love this movement because, for me, it is lyrical and through my experience of having the opportunity to perform it, I have been forced to concentrate on the technicality of vibrato and phrasing. I regard it as a challenge to be able to sing through my violin because, I cannot sing to save my life.”

Asked if she had a favourite composer, she says that being a student of music has allowed her to come into contact with a wide variety of styles and genres.

“Some of my fellow students were specialising in composition and that led to having a lot of respect for any composition. So, I guess I am trying to say that there are a variety of composers that I personally respect and love to study and hopefully perform,” Olifant said.

As a member of the KZN Philharmonic, Symphony in the City will not be her first visit to the City Hall. She has played in the venue several times, including once as a soloist with Ralitz Macheva.

“I enjoy performing in the hall because the acoustics are amazing and the audience’s response is genuine and welcoming,” she says.

The young violinist is also looking forward to being conducted by director of orchestral activities at the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Brandon Phillips, one of the country’s rising stars.

“I met him first in Bloemfontein as a principal bassoonist for the National Youth Orchestra,” says Olifant. “He has never ceased to amaze me.

“I have never worked under him as a conductor but have no doubt about his musicianship. I have always looked up to Brandon because he is an inspiration to young South African musicians. He is a hard working conductor and friend that I am looking forward to working with given the space and time.”

Despite her own success and that of some other young stars, Olifant does worry that not enough is being done to encourage young people to consider a career in classical music.

“I personally think that a lot of young people are participating in the arts industry and producing fresh ideas with emphasis on the diversity of South African culture, however, the Western classical music/practice still lacks support,” she says.

“A lot of instruments need to be donated to outreach music programmes and the equipment to maintain the instruments as well. Families must involve themselves in their children’s hobby in order to have a better understanding about classical music. This also means more audience and job creation.”

As for her own dreams for the future, Olifant says they change every week. “My wishes alter throughout the day, but my everyday prayer includes being thankful, patience, peace, love and happiness.”

Presented by the KZN Philharmonic, in association with Christopher Duigan’s Music Revival and Parklane SuperSpar, Symphony in the City, will feature solo performances by Aristide du Plessis (cello), Junnan Sun (clarinet) and Fifi Olifant (violin). 

Tickets for the concert, which is also supported by the Msunduzi Municipality, CPW Printers and ABI, are R190 (R170 pensioners, R120 scholars) and R250 for premier seats.

To book go to  Tickets are also available via Ticketpro representatives at Edgars Direct at the Liberty Midlands Mall and CNA at the Hilton Quarry.
There is secure, patrolled, parking in the City Hall, Bessie Head Library and Tatham Art Gallery precincts.


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