South African cellist, Peter Martens recently gave a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations (original version) in London of which the critic Frances Wilson wrote, “[This performance] combined understated virtuosity (the work contains some fiendish technical challenges for the cellist and few opportunities for the soloist to rest) with a delightful interplay between soloist and ensemble. Peter Martens’ tone was rich and colourful, balancing wit with seriousness to create a performance of great variety, character and warmth.”
Peter Martens and Portuguese pianist, Luis Magalhães, won the 2011 Classical Music SAMA for their recording of the complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano by Beethoven. Joanne Talbot of the Strad Magazine wrote, “Martens delivers brilliantly incisive and spirited accounts of all these works.”
Of his CD of the Bach Cello Suites, Robin Stowell, of the Strad Magazine wrote, “Peter Martens’s interpretations are thoughtfully prepared and generally commendably executed, balancing modern performance practices with the simple clarity of period style. […] Martens brings aristocratic poise, poetry and rhythmic flexibility to the preludes. […] His courantes are generally fast and light and his sarabandes are profound and freely contemplative. […] Martens is playful in the gallantries, giving spring to the pairs of menuets in nos. 1 and 2, playing the bourées in mischievous vein […] and injecting the gavottes with a sense of fun.”
Peter studied with Dalena Roux at Stellenbosch University and Heidi Litschauer at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Cape Town (A Practical Guide to the performance of the Bach cello six suites on a modern instrument) and a PhD from Stellenbosch University (Contemporary performance of Beethoven’s cello sonatas with special reference to Carl Czerny).
In 1989, Peter was principal cellist of the World Youth Orchestra in Michigan USA. Whilst a student in Salzburg, he was principal cellist of the chamber orchestra Salzburger Musici and has since occasionally freelanced with the Mozarteum Orchestra, Salzburg. In 1993 Peter returned to South Africa and occupied principal positions in the New Arts Philharmonic and Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestras before moving to the University of Stellenbosch where he currently holds the position of Director of the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival. Additional orchestral work includes having intermittently occupied the position of guest principal cellist of the chamber orchestra, Camerata Tinta Barocca. Peter also won a trial with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, a job he eventually elected not to take in the interest of perusing more solo and chamber music, not to mention a life in music in South Africa.
He is a member of the Amici String Quartet and has enjoyed other chamber music partnerships with, Lamar Crowson, Nina Schumann and Francois du Toit (piano), Benjamin Schmid, Sergei Malov, Mirijam Contzen, Daniel Rowland, David Juritz, Alisa Margulis, Priya Mitchell, Ivry Gitlis and Suzanne Martens (violin), Wolfgang Schmidt and Alexander Buzlov (cello), Leon Bosch and Uxía Martínez Botana (double bass) and members of the Osiris Piano Trio, Amsterdam. Highlights in recent years have included the Schubert Quintet with the Brodsky String Quartet in London; several performances of the Gulda Cello Concerto; various chamber music performances with pianist, Leslie Howard; several performances of the six Bach Cello Suites; a performance of a C.P.E. Bach cello concerto with the Orfeo Chamber Orchestra in Antwerp and a performance of the Beethoven cello sonatas for the Salzburger Schloßkonzerte with pianist Ariane Haering. Concerto engagements have resulted in collaborations with a number of fine conductors including Victor Yampolsky, Bernhard Gueller, Douglas Boyd, Nicholas Cleobury, Wolfram Christ and Jonas Alber. He has participated in festivals in France, Russia, Holland, Salzburg, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Portugal as well has having performed in the UK, USA and Belgium. Many South African composers have written for him, the most notable composition being the Cello Concerto by Allan Stephenson, which he recorded for Meridian Records with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. He has subsequently given the world premiere of Peter Klatzow’s sonata for cello and piano both in South Africa and in Cambridge. A recent performance of Klatzow’s sonata at the Leeds International Concert Series was broadcast worldwide via live streaming. His CD of the Bach Cello Suites, available from TwoPianists Records was launched in March 2013 with a three-hour recital including all six suites, streamed live from the Endler Hall Stellenbosch. It was also this performance that earned him the coveted Woordfees award for “Beste Klassieke Musiekproduksie 2013”. In 2018, Peter was also awarded with an honorary award by the e’Bosch Heritage Project “in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the advancement and conservation of culture and heritage”.
In addition to his Bach, Beethoven and Stephenson CDs, Peter features on a CD released by Cello Classics, London called Dances for Six. This CD is a compilation of original South African works for six celli. Peter also performs alongside cellist Julian Arp on a CD of Korngold’s chamber music lead by Daniel Rowland and released by TwoPianists Records. Peter has just recorded a disc of French and Belgian repertoire including Saint-Saëns’ first cello concerto and Vieuxtemps’ first cello concerto with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Bernhard Gueller. This disc will be released in Cape Town with a live performance of the Vieuxtemps concerto with Bernhard Gueller and the CTPO on 18 April in the Cape Town City Hall.
Peter is now Artistic Director of the award-winning Stellenbosch University Camerata that teamed up with Joshua Bell in performances of Vivaldi’s (2012) and Piazzolla’s (2015) Four Seasons in Stellenbosch. In February 2016, together with the SU Camerata, he has performed and directed the Beethoven ‘Triple’ concerto together with Priya Mitchell (violin) and Dirk Mommertz (piano), having done so several years prior with Benjamin Schmid (violin) and Luis Magalhães (piano). With Suzanne Martens, he and the SU Camerata have given several performances of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante KV 364 for which his own transcription for cello of the solo viola part is available from Stellenbosch University Press. In August 2014 the US Camerata accompanied and played under the baton of Pinchas Zukerman to great critical acclaim. Under Peter’s baton, the SU Camerata has recorded a number of feature film scores for award winning movies such as Khumba and Die Wonderwerker. 2016 saw the release of the first US Camerata CD on Sony Classical featuring the Tim Kliphuis Jazz Trio as soloists. This trio’s second orchestral CD (Concertos), also released by Sony Classical (2018), features both Peter Martens and the SU Camerata as well as the CTPO.
Peter ordinarily plays on a Lockey Hill cello, but inspired by the Historically Informed Performance Practice movement, acquired a Baroque cello in 2013. Thus far, he has performed on Baroque cello with the University of Stellenbosch Baroque Ensemble under the direction of Pauline Nobes, Camerata Tinta Barocca under the direction of Erik Dippenaar and with L’Orfeo Baroque in celebrating Dr. Barry Smith’s 50 years of music making in Cape Town.
He is married with two children to violinist, Suzanne Martens.