A magical visit to Cape Town

Posted By on February 5, 2006

While Kerry has already written much about our tour to Cape Town and surrounding areas, I would like to elaborate on some of the more interesting activities and sights we encountered while there. This may be of particular interest to those of you who are considering attending the 38th annual Symposium of the I.H.S. this July.

In addition to the AHQ concerts and our wedding at the Fairy Glen Game Reserve, our hosts Steve Horwood and Elizabeth Danckwerts saw to it that Kerry, Geof, Charlie, David, and I had the opportunity to explore the general area. When we first arrived, Steve and his fiancée Katherine drove us up to the slopes of Table Mountain, from which we had an unparalleled view of much of the city and the waterfront. We ate local specialties at the famous Mama Africa restaurant – Kerry ate springbok steak and I was surprised by the succulence of crocodile kebabs (okay, they taste like chicken, but not entirely!) A night drive after dinner afforded us views of the moonlight spreading over the water like a fine veil, while unfamiliar constellations shone overhead.

On one very full sightseeing day, we were taken along the coastal road, down the east side to the Cape of Good Hope and back up the west coastal area. We packed up drinks, snacks, and sunscreen (though not nearly enough of that last item!) and drove towards False Bay past scenic vistas around the Muizenberg. The quaint historical fishing village called Simon’s Town gave us the perfect opportunity to pop into a marvelous antique shop, where Kerry bought a copy of “Kipling’s South Africa.” On one of these first stops, we could see Seal Island in the distance, whose surrounding waters we were informed are also home to the greatest concentration of great white sharks in the world. Shark cage diving seems to be a popular pastime in those parts, though I must admit having something of a distaste for the idea….Much more to my taste was the next stop at Boulders Beach, home to a colony of spunky little African penguins. Somehow, these funny birds have managed to survive and thrive in temperatures unknown to their Antarctic cousins. When we were there, many of the penguins were sitting on eggs and panting in the heat, while their mates took turns swimming and fishing. They were not shy in the least of the humans who stood on the boardwalks gawking at them and snapping pictures. I could have spent hours watching their wobbling gait and comic flops into the water, but alas, more points of interest beckoned!

Next, we drove down to the southwestern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, now protected as a game reserve. The view from the lighthouse on top of the hill is truly breathtaking! You can either walk up or take the gondola (walk it if you can to catch the views on the way up.) There is some debate as to whether this is actually the point where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, but in any case it is incredibly beautiful up there. I understand that one of the symposium excursions will bring participants to the Cape. We imagined how a horn (or several) would sound echoing over the cliffs on either side of the path.

After this, we were treated to a ride along the cliffs leading towards Hout Bay. The color of the water was spectacular, yet so was the hue of our sunburned skin by this time of the early afternoon! Pale Northerners would be well advised to bring a hat to Cape Town! On one section of the cliff, we looked out the car window and saw a baboon walking beside us, not something you would see every day driving through Luxembourg…its family was visible in the trees above the road. We stopped for a late seafood lunch in Nordhoek, where many of us sampled snoek, the local fishy specialty.

Before the first AHQ concert at the Cape Town City Hall, Kerry and I haggled for wares at Greenmarket Square. Over the course of our two-week residence, we found ourselves with more paintings, sculpted Xhosa heads, and wood carvings than we could fit in our luggage! Either plan on bringing an extra suitcase, or be ready to mail a box home, because the open-air and covered arts and crafts markets will tempt you to bring home a piece of Africa.

The concert itself in the City Hall was attended by a very enthusiastic audience, and there was a wondeful reception afterwards where we met horn players from all over the country. The reception was also notable for the wine – South African vintages rank among the very best we have ever tasted, particularly the indigenous Pinotage. The following week, Elizabeth and her friend Pete introduced us to a selection of wineries in the Constantia area of Cape Town. After some wine-tasting, we brought back a bottle of Vin de Constance to open on some future anniversary or other special occasion. Some of the wineries also double as concert venues, and it is my hope that they may participate in some way in the horn symposium. Another winery we visited on the way to our second concert at the Arabella Country Estate was called Spier (near Stellenbosch.) Spier is also the home of a cheetah rehabilitation center. A few jokes were made about a cheetah rehab center being located at a wine farm… We had the chance to hold eagles and pet owls, as well as to look around the wonderful grounds of the wine farm. A large covered area plays host to special events and performances, and an extensive gift shop gives visitors the chance to buy recordings of African music or find exotic jewelry and decorations.

Our 2nd concert at Arabella gave us the chance to stay near Hermanus, an area renowned for whale watching in the winter months of June, July, and August. At our bed and breakfast, we went for an early morning walk around the tidal pools. Kelp was everywhere in the water – of particular interest to us as horn players because Steve owns a horn made from kelp! After dinner at Steve’s with the quartet one evening, we passed the kelp horn around and each had the chance to play a little something. I have been assured that this horn (or at least others like it) will be on display at the symposium – a slightly more exotic take on Dennis Brain’s garden hose!

From the Hermanus area, we drove over the mountain passes towards Fairy Glen. You can read all about the wedding elsewhere in the blogs section.

After we left Fairy Glen, Kerry and I went straight to the Mount Nelson Hotel, while Charlie, David, and Geof prepared for their flights back to Europe. The Mount Nelson has the reputation for being one of the finest hotels in Africa. We enjoyed almost obscenely good service, dips in the pool, a gourmet meal in the hotel’s Cape Colony restaurant, aromatherapy massages, and a luxurious room with a magnificent view. While lounging at the poolside in the summer heat, it was hard to imagine the icy chill back home!

Steve and Katherine took us to the Victoria and Alfred (V&A for short) Waterfront, certainly one of the most exciting spots in Cape Town. Aside from acquiring even more souvenirs at the covered craft market and sharing an Indian meal, the views of the harbor at sunset were unforgettable. We came back on another day to visit the huge Aquarium, providing me with yet one more chance to see live penguins!

During our second week, we were the guest lecturers and performers at the University of Cape Town Summer School for Prof. Sean Kierman’s seminar entitled “The Horn of Plenty,” which traced the development of the horn from its origins as a hunting instrument to its form and function in the 21st century. We performed a quartet on natural horns with Sean and his wife Pamela, who is the brass professor at Stellenbosch University. Pamela also accompanied us on piano for the Haydn Double Concerto. On the last day, Kerry gave a talk on compositional techniques for the horn, while I demonstrated excerpts, solo passages, and special effects. We also performed a couple of Kerry’s concert pieces for solo horn (not yet published – watch this space!) as well as 2 of his Duos for Horns. The participants in the seminar expressed great interest in the horn and in attending events this July during the Symposium.

On our last evening, we attempted to take the cable car up Table Mountain, but were unable to do so, thanks to a power outage. Instead we took our picnic over the hill and watched the brilliant sunset over the ocean, making up stories about the ships in the harbor with two lovely children in our company.

It was difficult for us to say goodbye to this strange and wildly beautiful land that had been our home for a couple of weeks. We look forward to returning in July and are relatively sure that we will return even after that!

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