Among Saturday’s many festivities, the Minnesota Orchestra will premiere an orchestral work called “Harmonia Ubuntu,” a tribute to the late South African leader Nelson Mandela by Cape Town composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen. We spoke with the composer via Skype about his new piece, specially commissioned by the orchestra — and about Mandela’s legacy.
Q: The Minnesota Orchestra commissioned your new piece, which you call “Harmonia Ubuntu.” Can you elaborate on the title?
A: Ubuntu is what Nelson Mandela stood for. It’s an African philosophy which says my humanity is tied to your humanity, my dignity to your dignity, and how I treat you. That was Mandela’s message. And he went to prison for it for 27 years.
Q: Were you excited to get the commission?
A: To celebrate the legacy of Mandela is a beautiful thing, especially at a time when the world faces so much inhumanity, hate and divisions. Like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, Mandela can show people the potential of actually being human.
Q: You were born and raised in South Africa. To what extent was your music shaped by your personal background?
A: Unfortunately, my life has been defined by my circumstances, which was growing up black under apartheid — a terrible thing which defined people by skin color, oppressed them and limited human potential in an incredible way.
Q: What type of impact do you think the Minnesota Orchestra’s trip to South Africa will have?
A: It’s a privilege for South Africa to get to hear world-class musicianship.
But we also have a history where culture was used by the apartheid regime to prove its cultural superiority over black Africans. So one of the most enlightened things about this tour is that the orchestra is doing a concert in Soweto, the heartland of the resistance against apartheid. For them to go there is huge. It’s going to be very emotional.
What: Minnesota Orchestra pairs Bongani Ndodana-Breen's new work with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
Where: Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
Tickets: $29-$96, 612-371-5656 or minnesotaorchestra.org