Prof Theo van Wyk, Head of UP Arts at the University of Pretoria, has been invited to perform a solo organ recital at the prestigious Westminster Abbey in London in April 2018.
He is one of a select few South African organists who have been invited to perform in the abbey’s 950-year history, where famous composers such as Henry Purcell (1659–1695) and George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) worked and are buried. Prof Van Wyk will be playing exclusively South African organ compositions for this momentous occasion during the month of Africa Day, including Surendran Reddy’s Toccata for Madiba, a work dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela featuring various African music genres such as marabi, kwela, mbaqanga and township jazz.
He will also be playing works by Prof Henk Temmingh (former Head of the Department of Music at UP), called Three Organ Pieces, as well as a composition titled, Kahlolo (Judgement) which Prof Van Wyk commissioned from Prof Alexander Johnson (current Head of the Department of Music at UP).
'It will be the UK premiere of the latter work which I first performed in the USA in 2016,' he said, adding that he is obviously thrilled at the prospect of performing in such an internationally recognised and sought-after venue. For Prof Van Wyk it is a childhood dream coming true, as not many musicians have the privilege and opportunity to perform at Westminster Abbey, especially not an organist from South Africa.
Prof van Wyk started piano lessons at an early age. After completing his high-school education, he enrolled for the four-year bachelor of Music degree at the University of the Free State under the mentorship of Dr Ernst Conradie (piano and organ), Prof Deon Lamprecht (organ) and Prof John Wille (viola). During this time he received several awards and study bursaries and was a violinist in the Consortium Musicum string ensemble under Prof Derek Ochse. He obtained the Performer’s Licentiate in organ at Unisa in 1998. He completed his BMus(Hons) and MMus degrees under the supervision of Prof Wim Viljoen at the University of Pretoria in 1999 and 2001 respectively. All of these were conferred cum laude.
In addition Prof Van Wyk trained as a choir conductor under acclaimed musicians, including Prof Petru Gräbe (UP) and Prof Volker Hempfling (Germany). The degree DMus which was conferred upon him in September 2005.
Prof Van Wyk has attended various masterclasses, seminars and workshops, both locally and internationally, under distinguished musicians and conductors such as Marie-Claire Alain (France), Jacques van Oortmerssen (the Netherlands), Harold Vögel (Germany), Daniel Roth (France), Pieter van Dijk (the Netherlands), John Scott (United Kingdom) and Lüdger Lohmann (Germany).
He is frequently invited to serve as a judge for national music competitions such as the Unisa Overseas Music Scholarships Competition and the SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition.
The iconic organ of Westminster Abbey was built by the firm Harrison & Harrison and was installed for the coronation of King George VI in 1937. With five manuals and 84 speaking stops, it incorporates some of the pipework from the previous instrument built by William Hill in 1848. The organ plays a central role in the Abbey's daily liturgy, and accompanying the choral music with distinctive colour and sensitivity; it is also a powerful and versatile solo instrument. Organ recitals by the Abbey organists and prominent performers from across the world take place every Sunday.