Pianist Mareli Stolp’s journey began in Pretoria, but her career and her music have taken her around the world. From Amsterdam, where she got her undergraduate degree, to Stellenbosch University, where she completed her PhD in Music—hers has been a mobile life. Throughout this time, she has found herself drawn to music that challenges not just her skill but the role and potential of music as a medium for telling stories.
It was this ambition, the drive to push herself and her music, that has found her collaborating with Clare Loveday time and again. After hearing one of Loveday’s compositions in 2013, Stolp secured a collaboration with her in 2014. Voyeur Piano, performed as part of the Infecting the City public arts festival in Cape Town, explored the experience of urban space as both voyeur and walker. This interest in the city persists to this day and finds expression in You Will Find Your People Here.
Just before the pandemic, when the seeds of an idea took root, Stolp was teaching music at a boys’ school in Pretoria. Once again looking for a challenge and recalling her PhD performance of De Profundis by Frederic Rzewski, she reached out to Loveday about the possibility of composing a piece for a speaking pianist. But they needed the words to accompany it.
In Rzewski the words are those of Oscar Wilde, taken from a letter he wrote while in prison. piece is experimental and physical and deeply political. Stolp and Loveday met many times, discussing and ruminating on the idea until a collaboration with Caroline Wanjiku Kihato entered the frame. The stories she gathered in her book, Migrant Women of Johannesburg, would be the ideal lynchpin.
Stolp was excited too about the prospect of this project with, for, and about women. Moving away from the androcentrism of her field, of the music industry in general, producing what would go on to become You Will Find Your People Here, was a space of collaboration and negotiation unlike any she’d previously experienced. Bringing together their respective skills and strengths, Stolp treasures the warmth and generosity of spirit she found in working with these women.
That is not to say it was easy. The piece is, she says, one of the hardest she has ever worked with—both technically and intellectually. Like all music to a greater or lesser extent, it is an exercise in translation and so concerns questions of authenticity, legitimacy and intelligibility. As the performer, Stolp grappled with what it means to be a white South African woman performing a musical interpretation of Black women’s stories. And ultimately, this dynamic is reflected in the piece itself, which ebbs and flows as it takes us on journeys across rough terrain, through moments of levity and lightness, and onto dreams of unburdened futures.