Bongani Tembe is widely regarded as one of Africa’s leading artists and arts managers. He has performed in many parts of the world and has contributed positively to the arts and culture environment in South Africa and internationally. In 2016, Mr. Tembe was honoured by the French Government with the prestigious insignia of Officier des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of his remarkable contribution to the arts. Mr. Tembe has been a member of UNESCO’s Scientific Committee on Arts Education. He is the longest serving board member of South Africa’s National Arts Council and, since 2002, he has been a member of the International Society of the Performing Arts. In November 2011 Mr. Tembe was appointed by the South African National Department of Arts and Culture as Commissioner General for the France-South Africa Seasons in 2012 and 2013 and has subsequently been appointed as Commissioner General for the UK-South Africa Seasons 2014 and 2015. He is currently the Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra. Mr Tembe holds a Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the prestigious Juilliard School in New York and has undertaken further studies at Columbia University and at the London Business School.
Since 1996 Mr Tembe has championed the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic’s World Symphony Series (WSS). WWS has attracted many of the world’s leading classical musicians to South Africa including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Zubin Mehta, James Galway, Pinchas Zukerman, Shlomo Mintz, Barry Tuckwell, Peter Frankl, Tamas Vasary, John Lill, Joanna MacGregor, Lynn Harrell, Simon Estes, Katia Ricciarelli, Elizabeth Connell, Roberta Alexander, Bill Eddins, Joshua Bell and Charles Dutoit with the Orchestre National de France.
As part of the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy in 2004, Bongani Tembe produced a highly successful tour to Europe which featured the London Symphony Orchestra, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and award-winning South African choirs – Imilonji kaNtu (based in Soweto) and the Durban Serenade Choral Society (based in Umlazi Township).
In 2007 Mr. Tembe was the associate producer of Disney’s “The Lion King” which attracted record audiences of more than half a million South Africans to the Johannesburg production.
Bongani Tembe presented Renée Fleming, the internationally acclaimed opera star, in a lauded national South African tour in 2009. It featured, among other groups, the Gauteng Choristers, the Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town, African Chorus, the Durban Symphonic Choir and the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 2010, during the FIFA World Cup, he produced a series of concerts promoting South Africa’s heritage. Other concerts honoured fallen music legends Busi Mhlongo, Sipho Gumede and Bheki Mseleku as well as the cream of South African artists such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mbongeni Ngema, the Bala Brothers and Arnie Smith.
In 2013, the KZN Philharmonic’s 30th anniversary year, Mr Tembe hosted a tour of South Africa by the illustrious Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam as part of their 125th anniversary celebrations. Mr Tembe and the KZN Philharmonic were hosted in Paris and Marseilles in 2013 during the South Africa/France Season.
In December 2013 Mr Tembe was tasked with the co-ordination and facilitation of aspects relating to the Memorial Service (held in Johannesburg) and the official Funeral Service (held in Qunu) for the late Nelson Mandela. The KZN Philharmonic was invited to participate in the Funeral Service in Qunu, which was indeed a great honour.
Mr Tembe’s commitment to Education and Development (E&D) has propelled the Orchestra’s dynamic approach to these responsibilities. Their E&D programme is focused on three elements, namely artistic exposure, performance opportunities and the transfer of skills, all of which are evidenced through such programmes as the National Cadetship Programme which places cadets, particularly those from previously disadvantaged communities, in full time positions within the orchestra.
One of the highlights of the Orchestra’s E & D programme is their Rural Residency which involves the Orchestra going into rural areas of the province to stay in that particular community for a week at a time, conducting workshops in schools and presenting community concerts often featuring local artists.
Bongani Tembe has also excelled on concert and opera stages as a singer. He is South Africa’s first African professional opera singer and in 1987 he made history when he appeared as Steurmann in Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer, which became South Africa’s first nationally and internationally televised opera production. Since then, he has portrayed many leading roles including Faust in Gounod’s Faust and Tamino in Mozart’s Zauberflöte. In May 2002 he appeared as King Solomon in Khumalo’s Princess Magogo which was broadcast live on radio in Chicago and across Europe.
Bongani has appeared in many prestigious concert halls around the world including Alice Tully in New York, the Barbican in London, Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas Hall in Kuala Lumpur and the National Theatre in Brasilia. Mr Tembe has also performed for many dignitaries including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini, UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and all of South Africa’s Presidents since the new democratic dispensation in 1994.
Mr Tembe contributes to many non-profit arts organisations and associations and he believes in utilising the arts to further many socio-economic issues facing South Africa today. In this regard he has collaborated with the Health Ministry in KZN and the National Ministry of Education in promoting the use of the performing arts in highly successful HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.