Right from its ambitious first steps, the MUSON Symphony Orchestra had under the watch of three different directors grown from strength to strength. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes
Of course, it was an inner-circle thing! It made sense that only accomplished instrumentalists would have been chosen for the Dream Team, called the MUSON Symphony Orchestra. It really ought to be called the MUSON Centre’s magnum opus, because it is the crystallisation of its dream of establishing a top-notch orchestra.
To achieve this, it had engaged the services of US-based Nigerian-born conductor and assistant professor, Dr. Paul Konye. This was in July 2005. Dr. Konye, as the orchestra’s first artistic director, had a clear-cut task: to groom a reputable and credible orchestra. Settling down to his job soon after his arrival in Lagos was no problem. After the auditions, he had shortlisted 40 successful instrumentalists to make the initial core of the orchestra. Several rehearsals and performances later, a first-rate orchestra began to emerge under his watch.
The MUSON Centre habitués soon began to savour its quality. This was from its inaugural concert on November 4, 2005. Half of that concert’s programme featured light classics, Broadway music and show tunes among others while the other half was devoted to serious classical music. This was in sync with its offer to cater for the diverse musical tastes of its audience. Also featured in that concert – to the delight of many – was a work by a Nigerian composer.
Six concerts in 2006 further burnished the young orchestra’s credentials. Its exciting repertoire guaranteed it the audience’s hearty applause at the end of every performance. Among its offerings that year were Haydn’s London Symphony No 104, Schubert’s Unfinished and Bach’s Sleepers Awake for the annual Passion Tide concert in March.
Dr. Konye had indeed proved his mettle. Flaunting the 1997 University of Kentucky School of Music graduate’s lustrous musical antecedents, the then MUSON Centre’s general manager had unveiled him before an audience largely composed of arts writers. Shortly before assuming the post of the orchestra’s artistic director, he was a tenured assistant professor of music at the Sienna College in New York. This was where he had made his mark as a founding member of the Sienna String Quartet besides conducting both the Siena Chamber and Clifton Park Community Orchestras.
His exit from the MUSON in 2006 created a vacancy for the next artistic director, Theophilus Okang. As the orchestra’s second director, he had no problem stepping into his predecessor’s shoes. He was after all born into a musical family, having started his piano lessons at the age of 6 under his late uncle. He had joined the National Symphony of Ghana soon after his secondary education and studied the violin under Geoffrey Mensah and the organ under Frank Torto.
His joining the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation as a music producer was a logical conclusion of his foray into the musical world. Ditto his selection as a violinist of the station’s chamber orchestra. During his tenure as the MUSON Symphony Orchestra’s artistic director, he was also the organist of Our Saviour’s Church, Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos.
The ovation was still loud when he left the MUSON in 2011. Then came the German-born Thomas Kanitz. Kanitz, a highly accomplished performer, had a long illustrious musical career. This had started with his music studies at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik, Berlin, in 1961.
Besides founding the Mendelssohn Trio in the German city of Hamburg, he had served as the principal cellist of both the Symphonisches Orchester Berlin and the Rheinisches Kammerorchester. This was in addition to his several solo concerts across Europe.
Kanitz was a music instructor at several institutions, which included: the Schiller College in Berlin, Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Cologne, Delhi School of Music, India, the State University of Rhode Island, USA, and the International Summer Festival in Vancouver, Canada.
He had since his arrival in Nigeria in April 2011 to take up the post of orchestra’s artistic director and conductor, he also instructs conducting and lower strings in the MUSON School of Music.