Composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen has written a wide range of music encompassing symphonic work, opera, chamber music and vocal music. According to The New York Times his “delicately made music – airy, spacious, terribly complex but never convoluted – has a lot to teach the Western wizards of metric modulation and layered rhythms about grace and balance.”
Performers around the world have performed his music including the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Belgian National Orchestra, Kwa Zulu-Natal Philharmonic, Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, , Johannesburg Philharmonic, Cape Town Philharmonic, New York City’s Vox Vocal Ensemble, Ensemble Noir, Chicago’s Cube Ensemble, Avalon String Quartet of Chicago and Ossia.
Dr. Ndodana-Breen has received commissions from Wigmore Hall, Vancouver Recital Society, Madam Walker Theatre Indianapolis, SAMRO, University of South Africa, Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival, Cape Town Opera, the Emancipation Festival of Trinidad & Tobago, Hong Kong Arts Festival, Luminato Festival Toronto, Haydn Festspiele Eisenstadt (Haydn 200th anniversary) and the 2013 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival.
He is the composer of Winnie, The Opera based on the life of Mrs Winnie Mandela, which premiered in 2011 to great acclaim at the State Theatre in Pretoria. On this opera Die Beeld wrote: “Ndodana-Breen is a composer of stature. This is confirmed by the outstanding portraiture of Winnie.” Other operas include the children’s chamber opera Themba & Seliba, the chamber monodrama Umuntu –Threnody (commissioned by the National Arts Council) and the short opera Hani (commissioned by UCT & Cape Town Opera) premiered at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town in 2010.
In 2012 he was commissioned to write Mzilikazi: Emhlabeni (a sinfonia concertante for piano and orchestra) for pianist Florian Uhling at the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival. His multimedia oratorio Credo (based on South Africa’s Freedom Charter) with libretto by novelist Brent Meersman and multimedia design by Andrew Black was commissioned by the University of South Africa and premiered at the ZK Mathews Hall in Pretoria on July 18, 2013. Credo featured a cast led by Sibongile Khumalo and the JPO and was broadcast nationally on SABC TV in the presence of the President of South Africa. Credo was presented again on Freedom Day (April 27) 2014 by Artscape in Cape Town as part of the commemoration of 20 Years of Democracy in South Africa. 2015 saw the world premiere of Three Orchestral Songs on Poems of Ingrid Jonker which was commissioned for The Cape Town Philharmonic to mark the 50th anniversary of Jonker’s death. Recordings of Ndodana-Breen’s music are available on Naxos’ Capriccio label and MSR Classics.
Dr. Ndodana-Breen graduated from Rhodes University with a PhD in Music Composition. He was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music in 1998 and selected as one of the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans of 2011. He was Director of the Canadian new music organization Ensemble Noir from 1999 – 2007 touring to Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. According to Canada’s The Globe and Mail “He seems to be just as interested in giving pleasure as in opening people’s minds… which makes him doubly a novelty on the Toronto New Music scene” (Globe and Mail, Nov 2001).
Bio by Bongani Ndodana-Breen; photo by Anna Morris