The Stellenbosch University Symphony Orchestra was founded by Prof Eric Rycroft in 1981 as an extension of the Stellenbosch University String Ensemble. The aim of the orchestra is to provide music students with first-hand training for their profession, as well as offering talented players of orchestral instruments doing other courses, experience in symphonic orchestral playing. To date, the orchestra has studied and performed numerous full-scale works including symphonies by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, a number of works with singers including cantatas, massas, oratorio and 5 full-scale operas. The USSO is very popular with soloists. Numerous artists from all over the country regularly perform with the orchestra. International artists who have also performed with the orchestra include: Heidi Litschauer - cello (Austria) and William Bennet - flute (England).
To their credit, the orchestra has had various works dedicated to them and have performed premières of numerous works by South African composers such as Hubert du Plessis, Roelof Temmingh, Johan Cloete , Hans Roosenschoon and John Simon. The orchestra has made various recordings for the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) which have been broadcast. Performances of the orchestra have become highlights on the annual music calender of Stellenbosch. The US Symphony Orchestra has regularly been invited to perform at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre, the Little Karoo Arts Festival and the Stellenbosch Arts Festival. The orchestra has undertaken three highly successful European tours. Over the years the USSO has produced many musicians who now perform with professional orchestras all over the country, and also elsewhere in the world. Since the beginning of 2003 a guest conductor system have been implemented, giving students the opportunity to play under great conductors like Omri Hadari, Bernhard Gueller, Osvaldo Ferreira among others. The Symphony Orchestra is managed by Peter Martens, Artistic Officer for the Stellenbosch University Department of Music & Konservatorium.
The Stellenbosch Symphonic Winds was founded by Dr Paul Loeb van Zuilenburg in 1976. This ensemble started off with thirteen members, but grew fast into one of the best wind bands in South Africa. After Van Zuilenburg, the ensemble was conducted by Faan Malan (1986-1990), Mervyn Solomon (1991-1998) and Andries Smit (1999-2000). From 2000 to 2003 the Stellenbosch Symphonic Winds was directed by Albert Engel, lecturer in brass instruments at the Stellenbosch University Department of Music. In 1993 the ensemble had the unique opportunity to tour both internationally and nationally. Overseas tours include visits to England and Scotland (1993, 1995 and 1997). The ensemble is regularly invited to perform at the Elgin Grabouw Rose Festival and also appeared on the main festival programme at the Klein-Karoo National Arts Festival in Oudtshoorn in 2003. The Stellenbosch Symphonic Wind Band is currently directed by Pamela Kierman, lecturer in brass instruments at the Stellenbosch University Department of Music. The Stellenbosch Symphonic Wind Band is managed by Peter Martens, Artistic Officer for the Stellenbosch University Department of Music & Konservatorium.
The Stellenbosch University Choir is the oldest and most celebrated tertiary choir in South Africa. The choir was founded in 1936 under the baton of William Morris. After him various conductors established the ensemble as an influential South African choir: Gawie Cillié (1940-1954); Philip McLachlan (1955-1976); Johan de Villiers (1977-1984); Acáma Fick (1985-1992); Sonja van der Walt (1993-2002). André van der Merwe was appointed choirmaster at the beginning of 2003.
A definite highlight for the choir in 2004 was when the choir was announced winners of the category for Youth Choirs at the World Choir Games in Bremen, Germany. Another highlight for the choir in 2004 was their participation with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra in Sinfonia Africana by Capetonian composer Hendrik Hofmeyr. This groundbreaking symphony (with an Afrikaans text) is scored for soprano, choir and orchestra. In September 2006 the Stellenbosch University Choir celebrated 70 years of choral activities with a reunion – 400 former members attended the festive occasion. This reunion was living testimony to the positive impact that the choir has had on choral activities in South Africa since 1936. In September 2007 the Stellenbosch University Choir hosted a choral festival (KUESTA) where South African university choirs gathered in Stellenbosch for a weekend of choral music. At the World Choir Games in Graz, Austria (2008) the Matie choir won 1st prize in the open category for Musica Sacra and a 2nd prize in the category for Gospel & Spiritual. Since then, the US Choir has internationally been reckoned as the best choral performer of Musica Sacra and as the 4th best Youth Choir in the world! By the end of 2008 the choir released their new CD, titled Laudate. The CD includes a combination of old favourites as well as contemporary choral music, well-known spirituals and music from South Africa. In the South African context it becomes increasingly important for the choir to reach out to choirs in less fortunate communities. From the beginning of 2005 the choir hosts an orphan children's choir from Kayamandi – not only teaching music skills to the children, but also making the University Choir aware of the value of community service. Please visit the Stellenbosch University Choir website.
Stellenbosch University made history as the first institution in the country to found an academic chamber choir as part of its restructured academic programmes in Choral Conducting. This choir functions as a project choir for masterclasses and workshops by, amongst others, international specialists such as Kåre Hanken. Apart from the normal performance schedule with a focus on serious music, the choir is also utilised as instrument in examinations of advanced post graduate students in choral conducting.
The Artistic Director is Rudolf de Beer, who, after being conductor of the Drakensberg Boys' Choir for 7+years, was appointed lecturer in Choral Conducting at the University of Stellenbosch. De Beer received a masters degree in choral conducting from the University of Olso, Norway, and completed a doctorate, also in choral conducting, through a joint programme between the Norwegian State Academy of Music in Oslo and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. In the light of the fact that the Schola Cantorum Stellenbosch emphasizes the same musical values as the late Stellenbosch Camerata, the founder conductor of the Camerata, Acáma Fick, has been invited to act as advisor to this project. Like its European and American counter parts, the choir also welcomes guest conductors to the podium.
Continuous applications are accepted, and singers with an above average musicianship regarding singing and sight reading are invited for several different projects. Each project does host the same singers, depending on the nature of each project. The first projects welcomed Finish conductor, Rita Varonen, for a lecture/workshop on Contemporary Finish Choral Compositions. In 2007 works Homilius, Rheinberger, Nørgård and Nystedt were included into the examination programmes, where in 2008 the choir will perform, amongst others, works by Grieg, Janáćek and Britten. Some of these projects give audiences the opportunity to hear music that is not often heard in South Africa. Please visit the Schola Cantorum website.
The KEMUS Ensemble was founded in 1980 at the Department of Music of Stellenbosch University. The first chairman was Edward Aitchison, who held this position until his retirement in 2002. Theo Herbst's association with KEMUS dates to 1994. The improvement of the technological infrastructure at the University of Stellenbosch Music Department, combined with Herbst's own involvement in the Music Technology programme and KEMUS, have resulted in a lively contemporary music life at the Stellenbosch Conservatory. Please visit the KEMUS website.