Ben Schoeman talks with a quiet civility. He is upright and meticulously presented — mechanical even. But behind a piano, on concert night, his musical voice fills even the most cavernous of halls with moving recitals of the great classical compositions that pull audiences up from their seats and into rapturous applause.
Born into a musical family, Schoeman began his love affair with the art very young. He was just four when his mother took him to his first violin lesson and by six he had discovered a consuming passion for the piano.
“I enjoyed sport and games,” he recalls, “but I spent hours inside practising when my friends were playing outdoors.”
Schoeman studied music at the University of Pretoria, receiving his master’s cum laude before travelling to Europe to hone his craft in the historical centres of classical music: Rome, Paris and London.
For five years he studied in Italy, deepening his appreciation for what he calls the “beautiful colours” of Liszt and the “spiritual textures” of Bach. All the while he was growing in reputation, earning invitations to play hallowed venues from the Konzerthaus Berlin to Lisbon’s Grande Auditório and, one of his favourites, Cape Town City Hall.
Now in “the fantastic cultural mecca” of London, Schoeman is in the closing stages of a PhD that betrays his cosmopolitan musical roots. Long a fan of revered South African composer Stefans Grové, Schoeman is studying his unique approach of fusing Western and African elements in classical music.
Among his awards is the gold medal and first prize in the 2009 Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition in London and, closer to home, last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music.
Schoeman’s concert tour this year will mark the return to local shores of one of South Africa’s most celebrated young artists.
— Ian Macleod