Hilarious conductor Richard Kok epitomizes South African classical music. The 73-year-old maestro celebrates a quarter of a century of his hugely successful Starlight Classics this year. A musician who has dedicated his life to expanding the appreciation of classical music in his homeland, shares the fascinating journey that took him from childhood in Gkeberha to Bishops in Cape Town, to eight years in the UK, mainly studying church music, to his directorship at the now defunct Classic FM , a specialist SA radio station modeled after its British counterpart. Articulated, hopeful and reflective – Kok spoke to BizNews’ Alec Hogg.

Richard Cocke on how Starlight Classics came to be

I went to Laura Diepenaar at RMB and said, “This is an orchestra situation. It was in 1998.” And he said: I will not give you money for the orchestra, but I will give you the opportunity to perform. I will pay for it. And I tell you that I want a place like the Country Club, Johannesburg, because we are interested in these customers and we want to entertain our own customers. And we started with one night. it was called “Quilts, Baskets and Bow Ties” and it was just me and a couple of people from the orchestra putting it all together. RMB obviously made the baskets, we did the rest and that’s where it all started. And did you know that it was the first rain? It was a Sunday evening and it was raining. It was at the end of September. It was raining. And the bank told all their customers, and almost all of them came on Monday night, and that’s when they knew they were in for something special. And the next year it was called Starlight, from Starlight Desks, from 1999. That was 1998, 1999. It became Starlight Classics because they suddenly realized, oh my gosh, we’ve got to be on to something if people are willing to come Monday night after that , as it rained on Sunday. And it’s been a huge success ever since.

About why he sticks to his career

I think because I love it. I’m just crazy about music and want to share my love for it with other people. I’ve been into it ever since I went to high school and started singing in the choir. The prep school I went to near Port Elizabeth had no music at all. He became interested in music only when he went to high school, there was a choir and a chapel. It was the bishops in Cape Town. and there was a choir and a chapel. I started playing the organ. I sang in the choir and I was completely captivated by it. I can’t say why, but I think it had something to do with the music director, who was an inspirational person. And I just got into it as soon as I got there and I’ve just loved it ever since. From the age of 13 I was engaged in choir and music.

On whether there will be an increase in the consumption of classical music in SA

I think Classic FM has fulfilled this function. To be honest, I don’t see much growth. I think there is growth. It’s funny that the black community now has more black members coming to concerts and we’re consciously playing more black artists because there are quite a few black artists available now, especially strings. so we are trying to make the orchestra more South African. More representation.

When he feels there is room for hope again in South Africa

My mind was always set on hope. I like to think that I came to a town called Joy-Ganesburg and I have always been a very positive person. And I tried to reflect this in my concerts. And when I talk to the audience, I like to take them on that journey, and it’s a journey of hope. I think there is a future in what we do. It will be difficult. But I think there is a future in what we are doing. And I think music has this incredible ability to bring people together and give them a positive outlook on life. At Starlight Classics, in fact, more than anywhere else, we’ve managed to do that over the years. We emphasized that Starlight Classics is from Africa, we are part of South Africa and we can do anything together with these great artists that we have. And it’s a really positive message that we’re putting out through music. And I think music carries an incredibly positive message for people. I would like to think that I can continue for many more years with this positive message and bring people together in love for what we do.

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