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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Stockholm 2007 - Week 4

February 23, 2007

Hi all,

This report will be a bit shorter: only 4 days this week, since we leave on Friday for Kristiansand, Norway to visit Kathryn's youngest sister and her family, but also because we both managed to catch colds and need a little down time.

Monday we went to a rehearsal with Eric's Chamber Choir for the Brahms Requiem, which they will do with the Stockholm Philharmonic. For several years the Chamber Choir has been associated with the Philharmonic, giving some concerts of their own on Konserthusets (Concert House's) series, but also providing the chorus for major works. In this case, the choir (usually 32) was expanded to 60. Some of you may know that for a number of years the Radio Choir and Chamber Choir combined quite regularly, particularly for performances in Berlin with the Berlin Philharmonic, but also for performances with Muti in Italy, and various tours to Japan, as well as with the Radio Orchestra when they needed an expanded choir. When the Chamber Choir began their relationship with Konserthuset, this became more difficult, with separate schedules. So, for example, RK for the Schumann added members from the Royal Opera Chorus, some former RK members, and some freelancers. For the Chamber Choir, it is much the same, but drawing perhaps more on young singers from Stockholm, some who sing with one of the other chamber choirs in the city.

Arne Almroth, a former singer with the Chamber Choir who now free- lances as a conductor (often in Norway with the Oslo Philharmonic Choir and Trondheim Symphonic Choir), was preparing the choir, although we sat with Eric, who attended this rehearsal. Arne was also leading the rehearsal I mentioned last week. As I noted before, the Chamber Choir is having various guest conductors in addition to Eric, and others do all the prep for this kind of work. Tonight he had a short rehearsal with the choir to touch up a few spots before their piano rehearsal with the conductor of the performance, Marc Soustrot, a French conductor who's worked in Bonn (Generalmusikdirektor) and now in Holland. The piano rehearsal with Soustrot was fairly short, as he seemed very pleased with what the choir did, and didn't rehearse all sections of the piece, just setting the character he wanted in particular places. During the break we had a lovely conversation with Erika Tordéus, a young Swedish singer with the Chamber Choir who worked with Simon Carrington at NEC--Simon had alerted us to her presence (and her to ours).

Tuesday was the dress rehearsal (the only rehearsal) with the orchestra (Soustrot had one rehearsal with the orchestra the previous day), a long one, with an hour from 4:15-5:15 PM to rehearse sections of the piece, establish balances, etc., then a 45 minute break, then two more hours. Kath stayed home and Eric and I stayed through about half of the second rehearsal. The choir sounded excellent, although not yet as uniform as one might want--remembering that there were 28 extra singers absorbed into the Chamber Choir--yet still terrific. The orchestra was very fine, particularly the strings, with aterrific concertmaster. Interesting to watch Soustrot work after so recently having watched Harding--Harding was so much more demanding of detail, color, and phrase shape. Hard to know with Soustrot whether it was lack of time or if he was satisfied with what he heard. Henriette Bonde-Hansen, a Danish soprano, was fine, although not outstanding, but Peter Mattei, the Swedish baritone, was simply amazing. I've heard him before on recordings, but this was the first time live, and his resonance, beauty of tone, projection, diction, and artistry are top notch. At times his voice reminded me of Fischer-
Dieskau, but he certainly stands on his own as an artist.

Tuesday was also the coldest day since we'd been here, -13 C for our Canadian friends, down into the high single digits for all Fahrenheit folks. It had warmed up over the weekend and most of the snow had melted, but it began to get cold again and to snow again on Monday.

Wednesday I attended a bit of Fredrik Malmberg's dress rehearsal with RK, only about an hour and a half, since it began at 4 PM and we had to get to Konserthuset for the Brahms performance that evening. The rehearsal was a bit disorganized, since they were for the first time sorting out set up for the Berio, so about 20 minutes were spent getting the 32 singers into a single row, getting mics (not one for each singer) set (since it was being amplified), etc. The rest of that rehearsal had Fredrik rehearsing sections with the various smaller groups of the choir working and a few sections with the full choir. Much of the piece was sounding incomparably better. It's a fascinating work, but I remain convinced it's probably best with 8 solo voices on mic, as originally intended. However, tomorrow's concert may change my mind when I hear the whole thing. I didn't get to hear much more, as an early break was taken while setting up for the gamba and chittarone for Gesualdo and Monteverdi.

That evening was then the Brahms (the only work on the progam), which went very well, especially from the choir and from Mattei. Soustrot has a very busy, fussy conducting technique, which to my mind got in the way more than it helped. However, the choir sounded magnificent and unified, and got the best ovation of the night . . . except when the conductor had Eric rise from the audience. Just terrific.

Thursday was a down day for Kath, as she felt fairly miserable with the cold, however we both went to RK's concert at 6 PM that evening. The concert went quite well, opening with the Rossini, followed by the Petrassi. After this a trio of men, along with organ (Fredrik playing), theorbo and gamba, accompanied one of the altos of the choir in Monteverdi's Lamento della ninfa, sung truly gorgeously. After this, two madrigals of Gesualdo, then a piece by Diego Ortiz for solo gamba, baroque guitar, and organ. Spectacular gamba playing. Early music is really Fredrik's specialty, and these were all beautifully done. Then the Berio Cries of London, which also went very well. It worked quite well having some sections for solo voices or small ensembles and a few sections with the full choir, although I'll have to go back and listen to the Swingle version (which I haven't heard since the late 70's, I'm sure) to compare. I also seem to remember the Swingle singers doing with much stronger cockney accents and more variety of tone color (which Berio asks for in the score)--it could certainly have had more character, I think. They closed with Fuoco di gioia from Verdi's Otello. Afterwards there was a brief little party with wine and beer, since it is Fredrik's birthday, then I went upstairs with the altos, who had a session for the "Friends of the Radio," a group of about 50 people. The altos sang Italian solos and duets, answered questions (what is your background? how much do you rehearse? how do you get that sound?), and closed with a lovely version of 'Volare!' Great fun.

After a walk home and brief stop to check email, we discovered a phone message from Kathryn's sister: "Wear warm clothes!" Apparently it snowed over 3 feet in Kristiansand yesterday and will snow at least another foot tonight. So we should have quite a scenic trip.

It's now Saturday and we're sitting in Heidi and Trygve's living room, Christoffer playing a video game and looking at the snow continuing to fall. The train trip yesterday was long (left at 8:30 AM from Stockholm, arrived Oslo shortly after 3, changed trains and got into Kristiansand shortly before 8 PM, but a very pretty trip. Kind of a milk run with lots of stops! It'll be longer before the next report, since we're here for the week, so about 2 weeks from now.

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