News: Reviews

Review in Opera Magazine

A review of Cape Town Opera's "Four:30 - Operas Made in South Africa" by Barry Smith has been published in Opera magazine's May 2016 edition. He has this to say about my opera "The Application":

"Robert Fokkens...produced a delightful setting of Laurence Allan's libretto for The Application. It contained plenty of wry humour, highlighting as it did the kind of frustrations that we have all experienced when dealing with officialdom...The score is well-constructed, containing finely-wrought sections for the excellent chorus (trained by Thuthuka Sibisi), and the whole was imaginatively directed by Geoffrey Hyland" review

Writing on, Grant Chu Covell says of my debut chamber CD: "Looking back across the past few months, this disc was spun many more times than most. I have returned to this release to restore my faith in new music of this century on more than one occasion. It’s also excellently played and recorded, as we should expect from Metier"


MusicWeb International (Leon Bosch) - Read full review

His voice is in any event a mature and distinctive one, which deserves to be more widely heard ... The compositions presented here are structurally compact, technically assured, with firm intellectual underpinning and possess a compelling communicative power. Members of the Fidelio Piano Trio provide the backbone to this excellent disc, and are joined by the soprano Patricia Rozario and the bass flute of Carla Rees; all of whom contribute committed performances throughout.
I look forward to hearing recordings of larger scale compositions from Robert Fokkens.

Review: Mzantsi Nights at the Juilliard School, Paul Recital Hall

New Music South Africa Bulletin (Lukas Ligeti)

Opening the second half of the concert, Robert Fokkens’ Mzantsi Nights, also written for this concert, was perhaps the most intriguing piece on the programme. Inspired by a wide range of music across the spectrum from classical to popular and Western to African, Fokkens has evolved a personal vocabulary that includes a quarter-tone-based tuning derived from Xhosa bow music and strongly original approaches to ensemble writing. In Mzantsi Nights, the musicians are instructed not only to play, but also to shout brief syllables; while such theatricality might seem contrived, it blends very well here with the interlocking, hocketing instrumental parts. This is a highly individual work, perhaps a tad brief considering the wealth of ideas presented, but highly successful in the way it walks the tightrope between African and Western soundworlds.

FolkyThings review Tracing Lines concert

This concert and evening showcased the relationship between the Fidelio Trio and the composer Rob Fokkens. The programme featured original compositions which had been created for, and work-shopped in progress by the Fidelio Trio.

The compositions focused on the differing elements of Fokkens’ identity, taking influences from both his South African, and Western roots. Each movement or composition reflected these conflicting identities in a variety of ways. Fokkens imaginatively uses the elements of Western harmony and structure mixed with extended techniques (to evoke native South African instruments), alongside African “sound worlds” and some melodic influence of traditional South African songs, to create a unique blend of musical sounds and styles. While all the pieces on the program will well-crafted and highly engaging, one of the pieces that most inspired me was “On Disruption and Displacement”. As it states in the programme notes, this piece focuses on the ideas of collision, compromise, and the ways in which two different elements change as they try to find a pathway through and around the disagreement. Fokkens replicated this by using the two instruments (cello and piano), assigning them two very distinct roles. These musical roles were then juxtaposed as musical ideas against each other, the piano having the role of being more aggressive, bigger, bolder, and stronger than the cello line. The cello line was a quieter more melodic influence, but what was really impressive was the way in which the two ideas began to slowly take on elements of each other until they reached the point where they could no longer dance around each other, and no more compromise could be made. At this point there was an obvious musical collision and then one voice (the cello) rose out of the chaos victorious with the gentler motif now being support by the piano line, rather than being attacked by it. The way that this was handled both by the players and by the composer was enormously effective and made a really lasting impression on me.

The performers were not only technically stunning easily finding their way through fiendishly difficult music, but they were also totally and utterly engrossed and devoted to each note they played. It really showed that they had been involved in the development process for these pieces, because every element of the piece was understood by the performers, and they were able to use this to make their performances imaginative and inspiring. The evening as a whole was run with an informal atmosphere, but at no point was any part of the performance or presentation anything less than utterly professional. There was an interview with the Fidelio Trio and Robert Fokkens after the concert which was not only really interesting, but it allowed me to gain a better understanding of Roberts influences, and gave yet another dimension to the already very effective pieces.

I would recommend buying the CD Tracing Lines and especially listening to “Mammals of Southern Africa” and “On Disruption and Displacement”, both of which exhibit very different sounds and styles, and both of which are highly effective in their evoking the required atmospheres and images.

Review: Tracing Lines CD

Fanfare - Jan/Feb edition
Fanfare Magazine | Carson Cooman's Review

This extremely appealing disc is the first devoted to the music of South African composer Robert Fokkens. it is clear that his identity as an African composer is very important to him, and there is certainly overt influence from traditional South African (especially Xhosa) music on his style. The main adjective that comes to mind when hearing Fokkens’s music is lucid—the pieces are nearly all very transparent in texture and harmony, and yet there is great personality and individuality in the writing. Several of the pieces make truly beautiful use of microtonal elements, within an accessible and luminous sound world. Each of the seven pieces has something striking and compelling about it. Though it’s still very early in the year, this terrific album is almost certainly Want List material.

Review: Vale of Glamorgan Gala Opening Evening

Penarth Pier Pavilion
Sarah Dacey (soprano), Clare Hammond (piano)

Seen and Heard International (Corfield Godfrey)

... the hilarious Worry/Don’t worry by Robert Fokkens, dispatched with wry humour by Sarah Dacey and Clare Hammond.” - Seen and Heard International

Wales Arts Review (Steph Power)

There was much to enjoy – and to look forward to – with the addition of a real gem in the form of a world première from a composer closer to home: Cardiff-based Robert Fokkens’ charming and impeccably paced Worry/Don’t Worry, ‘a short meditation on concern’, which was performed with witty panache by the same duo.

WalesOnline (Peter Collins)

Sarah Dacey, a member of the critically-acclaimed vocal ensemble Juice, joined Hammond to sing ... a highly amusing and entertaining piece called Worry/Don’t Worry.

Review: Tracing Lines

Portrait chamber music CD released January 2014
Fidelio Trio – Darragh Morgan (violin), Robin Michael (cello), Mary Dullea (piano) – Carla Rees (bass flute) and Patricia Rozario (soprano)
Métier msv28535 (Christian Morris)

Many composers are inspired by their roots, some so much so it would be hard to imagine how their music would sound if they had been born elsewhere. South African Robert Fokkens is one such composer. His new disc of chamber music on Métier is everywhere infused with the spirit of his home country – its division and diversity, its language, its native music, even its wildlife. These aspects are manifested in a variety of ways: in elements of structure, melodic and tonal procedures and programmatic components. Fokkens is also, however, keenly aware of his antecedents in the Western classical tradition, and these play their part here too.

Tempo UK, July 2014 – Volume 68, Issue 269
Tempo Journal | Edward Venn's Review

Fokkens’s well-defined compositional voice combines native South African with broader international musical concerns. Fokkens has been well served over the last decade by a growing number of performers and ensembles committed to his work, not least those represented on this disc, who offer here compelling, sympathetic accounts of his development in the field of chamber music.

Review: Fidelio Trio – Tracing Lines launch concert

Cardiff University Concert Hall, Cardiff
Fidelio Trio – Darragh Morgan (violin), Robin Michael (cello), Mary Dullea (piano) (Peter Reynolds) 4.10.2013

Robert Fokkens portrait concert draws impressive performances from Fidelio Trio in Cardiff

Four stars

Whole concerts devoted to the music of one composer can be risky affairs: a cruel test of how mature and robust a composer is. In a concert devoted to the music of the South African composer Robert Fokkens, given by the Fidelio Trio and opening Cardiff University’s 2013/14 series, both composer and performers came through with flying colours…

Review: Fidelio Trio and Patricia Rozario, Cardiff University Concert Series

Cardiff University Concert Hall

The Guardian, 6.02.2013

Robert Fokkens’…Mob of Meerkats, came over best, with its playful, cool-cat, jazzy feel.