The students are what he will miss the most about the university, says Stellenbosch’s Prof Corvin Matei.
The flute lecturer and former conductor of the university’s symphony orchestra announced he will be retiring at the end of the year, and recently had his final performance at Endler Hall.
He first discovered his love for music as an 11-year-old in Romania, where he attended a school for musically gifted children. Matei’s big dream was to play in an orchestra. It came true when he was chosen to play in the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra in Bucarest.
In 1983, he defected from Romania to France, where he continued to perform in and conduct orchestras. In 1985, he was invited to audition for principle flautist in the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, which at that stage consisted of about 65 musicians. Matei remained with the orchestra until it became the Cape Town Opera Orchestra in 1997.
He started out as a part-time lecturer in Stellenbosch University’s music department in 2002. Matei realised he would have to give something up, deciding it would have to be the orchestra, to become a full-time lecturer.
“I decided to change my dream,” he said. “I have been teaching music all my life. I had a pupil when I was in the equivalent of Grade 11. I’ve been teaching non-stop my entire life.”
In 2004, the university created a post for him as flute lecturer and conductor of the university’s symphony orchestra. He was also the musical director of the orchestra.
Matei’s favourite performance with the orchestra was his final performance with them, at Endler on 8 October.
“It was an extremely emotional experience,” he said. “Also because the piece we performed, Beethoven’s ninth, represented a milestone to me. I specifically wanted to do Beethoven’s ninth for my final performance, and was very happy the department supported me.”
The performance was a big project. Three choirs consisting of 100 people, with four soloists among them, and an orchestra with more than 60 members joined him in his final bow.
One of Matei’s fondest memories of Stellenbosch was going to the Neelsie to buy coffee shortly after his arrival in town. When he got there, he found students watching a rugby match on the big screen.
“The atmosphere I experienced there that day made me decide that I wanted to die here,” he declared.
To him Stellenbosch would not be the same without the students. Yes the old Dutch buildings and people make it special, but the students make it extraordinary for him.
“I will miss them every day,” said Matei. “I was very fortunate to be able to teach and perform with them.”
He considers himself a South African after spending most of his life in the country, and has never stopped believing in the concept of a Rainbow Nation.
“I performed at the Waterfront when Archbishop Desmond Tutu launched the idea of a Rainbow Nation,” Matei pointed out. “I remember him encouraging the crowd to say loudly that we are a Rainbow Nation. I still hope we are going to be united. We have come a long way, but we can do better.”
Despite his final bow, he won’t leave the university just yet. He will still be with the music department for the next three years. The orchestra, “my musicians”, will now have guest conductors on a rotating basis. Matei considers the music department one of the most beautiful he has ever known. In 2004, he performed with the Cape Town Concert Orchestra, a performance repeated at Endler.
“It was a good audience in Cape Town, but in Stellenbosch the hall was absolutely full,” Matei recalled. “At that moment, I realised I have a special bond with the Stellenbosch audience. We got a four-minute standing ovation. I really have to thank Stellenbosch for supporting me during my time here.”
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