Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, Mansion House, City of London Festival

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The Independent Culture

Rounding off the celebrations for this year's City of London Festival was a remarkable performance by 21 young classical musicians from South Africa.

Rounding off the celebrations for this year's City of London Festival was a remarkable performance by 21 young classical musicians from South Africa. The Rt Hon The Lord Mayor Alderman Robert Finch welcomed this extraordinary group to his official residence in the company of the South African High Commissioner, and looked genuinely excited about the prospect of tonight's concert.

Aside from promoting his Music & The Arts For Everyone charity, he spoke of the joy of listening to music without boundaries - a sentiment certainly in keeping with the music on offer tonight. Joining The Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble were the leading period-instrument group the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, who opened the programme with Handel's Water Music Flute Suite, and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 5. Directed by the lead violinist Catherine Mackintosh, the authentic period instruments and 16th-century music perfectly suit the ambience and acoustics of the opulent Egyptian Hall. But tonight's performance was all about the young South African troupe as they helped round off the first half with a rousing version of Handel's Concerto Grosso Op 6 No 5.

The British viola player Rosemary Nalden founded the Soweto String Ensemble in the early 1990s as part of a project which saw hundreds of professional UK musicians taking part in simultaneous busks to help raise money for young musicians in South African townships. Nalden upped the anti by moving to South Africa in 1997 to form the Buskaid Soweto String Project, which moved to its own music school in 1999. It's clear from tonight's performance that all her hard work has paid off, as the playing is remarkably fluid and assured. It's also a testament to her dedication that they've played for presidents and royalty, worked with Sir John Eliot Gardener, and released three best-selling CDs.

Nalden makes an appearance in the second half by announcing Farina's "Capriccio Stravagante" and suggests a connection with 16th-century Italy and street life in Soweto. This sounds highly implausible until the group, led by the violinist Samson Diamond, start playing and an African drum is brought into the equation. The demeanour of these highly talented youngsters is infectious and it's warming to hear that some of the older members are attending music colleges in London. We are warned to expect anything on stage, and it's certainly a surprise to see the youngsters acting out drunken battle scenes for Biber's "Battalia" before finishing off the night with township Kwela songs.

One of the highlights is the performance of the singer Teboho, whose vocal clicks and deep jazzy range should mark her out as a star for the future. A colourful rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" sees the OAE join in the celebrations before the audience rise in rapturous applause and an encore can hardly be heard amidst the clapping. This was certainly not your average classical performance, and all the better for it.

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