DR HELEEN DU PLESSIS
Dr. Heleen du Plessis is known as one of the leading cellists and teachers in South Africa and in her adopted home, New Zealand. In her role as senior lecturer at the University of Otago and as producer, manager, researcher, and soloist her projects such as ‘Cello for Africa’ and ‘Cellists Aotearoa’ have been generously supported by several national and international research and arts grants. Her projects are based on music’s ability to express or represent identity and a sense of place with the aim of connecting peoples and places.
The CD, Cello for Africa, nominated for the International Listener’s Choice Award, was described as, “embodying the highest standard of artistry and genuine attempt to build a meaningful cross-cultural dialogue” (Violoncello Foundation, USA). It led to ‘Cello for Africa’ and ‘Strings for Africa’ in New bringing together musicians from Africa and New Zealand that raised funds for the Tamariki Education Centre in the slums of Nairobi.
As soloist with orchestras and in duo and chamber music recitals with various top instrumentalists “earnest emotive string colour with every phrase, always traversing a glorious pathway direct from the heart to the fingers”, has been hailed as the “hallmark of du Plessis’ delivery” (Otago Daily Times).
She regularly commissions, performs, and records new works for cello. Highlights include ‘Tahu-nui-ã-Rangi’ by Garth Farr combined with images of the Aurora Australis, premiered at the Planetarium of the Otago Museum. In partnership with marimba virtuoso Yoshiko Tsuruta, Duo Col Legno’s national tour with Chamber Music New Zealand (2019) elicited praise for their “magical interplay that enthralled audiences with an unusual spectacle of cello and marimba” (Wanaka Sun). A recent concerto performance with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra received a standing ovation, and was described as “sublime, with intense richness and passion with every stroke” (Otago Daily Times).
The art and science of teaching is du Plessis’ greatest passion. Her unique approach integrates aspects of pedagogy of scale systems’ link to musical expression based on well-known cello pedagogues, knowledge of how we learn and teach, as part of her pedagogy of music teaching course, and muscular awareness and control of movement using Surface Electromyographic Analyses in skill development of performers in her research project: ‘Mind Muscles Movement Music’. As the only person in NZ to have a newly developed SEMG device she uses as part of her teaching, learning that could normally take years or even never, takes place instantaneously and enables finding the cause of, and prevent or improve, tension and pain in performers.
As skilled chamber musician and ensemble coach her cello ensemble Cellists of Otago has gained widespread recognition. She regularly coaches chamber music for CMNZ nationally and her local group has won the CMNZ contest for consecutive years. By making use of innovative methods to teach the mechanisms of magical music-making she aims at enhancing musicianship and performance skills amongst performers. Her teaching has been described as “inspirational”, “effective”, “fun”, “life changing”, and “a holistic approach allowing the students to evolve and grow in multiple areas of life” and of “creating a supportive learning environment where students are inspired by each other”.