Prof Eric Rycroft – A tribute from UP’s School of the Arts

Posted on September 04, 2020

It is with heartfelt sadness that we pay homage to our dear colleague Prof Eric Rycroft, musician par excellence, conductor of many orchestras throughout South Africa, including our very own UPSO (2003–2015). Many of us had the privilege of playing under his baton over the years and we carry with us special and beautiful memories.

At the beginning of UPSO public performances, for example, Eric would walk onto the stage, turn to the audience and say ‘Is hulle nie pragtig nie?’. This endearing opening statement had a manifold affect: bringing an infectious positive energy into the hall, warming the audience to the fact that Eric was proud of his orchestra, and putting a smile on the faces of the often-nervous orchestra members. We were comfortable working in any genre and orchestral configuration, often pushing the limits of our comfort zone with a challenging repertoire. No challenge was too great. Indeed, he has nurtured many of South Africa’s finest musicians.

I played my first violin concerto with an orchestra under his baton, Bach’s Double concerto (with my sister, Adèle Venter) and also had the pleasure of playing Beethoven’s Choral fantasy, Op 80 in the Aula Theatre and at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) under Eric's expert guidance. He had a way of making any soloist feel comfortable on stage, and he enabled all musicians to express themselves fully with the special ambience he created in the concert hall. (Ben Schoeman)

Eric was passionate about conducting and proud of every musical achievement. His knowledge of the score and conducting was formidable, and his ability to work with young people and convey musical intention remarkable. Eric was generous, sharing of his knowledge and experience openly, his influence reaching not only performers but fellow conductors.

I often helped Eric out, playing under his baton, and in turn, he stood in for me as conductor when I couldn’t rehearse with my orchestra. Our relationship was built on trust and raw passion for orchestral conducting and working with young people. Although we had very different styles and methods, we found each other in the passion for building an orchestral community. I remember his face lighting up whenever we would talk about it. (Gerben Grooten)

Michael Barret-Berg fondly recalls: ‘What struck me about Eric was his way of treating people as equals. It was never about ego, always about his unwavering passion for music. I grew up mesmerised by his devotion to music, especially for the orchestra. His ability to make any performance enjoyable for any listener was a unique talent. He was larger than life in so many ways.’

When passing Eric in the hallway on campus over the years, his standard answer to the platitude, ‘How are you?’ was always ‘Life is beautiful!’, and his eyes would twinkle with genuine zest for life. If one gathered all the players whose lives Eric touched over his illustrious career, one would conclude unequivocally that his contribution to the arts in South Africa is immeasurable. He will be sorely missed.

As a tribute, Ben Schoeman includes a link to their performance of the Beethoven Choral fantasy at the KKNK:


- Author Clorinda Panebianco

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