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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Stockholm 2007 - Weeks 5 & 6

March 12, 2007

Hi all,

Well it's been a good two weeks since I last wrote, but impossible for us to imagine that we have just one week left.

Our week in Kristiansand, Norway with Kathryn's sister and her family was a wonderful break. Amazingly, there was over a meter and a half of snow (over four and a half feet), a meter that fell before we left Stockholm and the rest over the next few days. Incredible! Heidi has lived in Kristiansand for 20 years now and had never seen such snow.

Kathryn's cold got worse, but at least we weren't doing a lot--visiting, eating, and walking into and around town once each day.

One evening was a dinner with Rolf Gupta, the conductor of the orchestra in Kristiansand (Heidi works in the administration), his son Petter (who is Christoffer's age--they both play guitar, so they were busy upstairs playing blues or working on Jimi Hendrix riffs), his assistant Line and her son Gabriel, who's five or six. Rolf is extremely bright, a terrific musician (child prodigy pianist and a conducting student of Jorma Panula, see below) who conducted the Radio Orchestra in Oslo for three years and is just about to head out to Holland and Switzerland to guest conduct, so it was a fun evening.

Another evening we got a preview of Trygve's duo piano recital (which was this past week) with his new duo-partner Karina Lervik, who's a master's student of his from Russia and a very fine pianist. The program included Grieg, Piazzola, Poulenc and a virtuosic sonata by Rachmaninoff. Great to hear Trygve enjoy working with his new partner so much in a beautiful program.

By the last few days the temperatures were above freezing, a little bit of rain, and the snow beginning to melt.

We came back Friday--a long trip, leaving at 9 AM, a 2-hour layover in Oslo (when we saw our nephew Kaare Øystein--Trygve's oldest son from his first marriage--and separately, his wife Ane, both of whom were nice enough to take a little time off work to visit us at the train station), then got back to the station in Stockholm shortly after 10 PM. The weather was much milder and almost all the snow is gone.

Saturday was a "catch-up" day of shopping and laundry, then Sunday welcomed us back to our usual Stockholm schedule with a bang. First, we had a delicious brunch at the apartment of a good friend of Gunilla's (whom we've met before in both Stockholm and Tacoma), Christina Björk, and her partner Erling Sandström. Christina is the head of the educational division between Swedish Television and Radio, and Erling is a television producer for the Save the Children foundation, just back from Yemen. Extraordinarily bright people and a great time.

From there, we had twenty minutes to walk quickly across the bridge and Gamla Stan (Old Town) back to St. Jacobs for a Mass at 3 PM. Gary's choir was doing an interesting mass--Missa Lorca--by Corrado Margutti, a young (b. 1974) Italian composer, commissioned by the St. Jacob's Chamber Choir. It sets texts by Lorca in place of the usual Latin ordinary and uses themes from Monteverdi's Missa in illo tempore. The premiere was last November, along with the Monteverdi Mass on which it's based, which Gary did by dividing the choir into one-on-a-part ensembles, each doing a different movement. The mass Sunday, with all psalms, hymns, liturgy, sermon and communion, was about an hour and three quarters long, but really enjoyable.

The day was capped off by a dinner party at Birgit Hemberg's with 11 people, including Gary Graden and his wife Maria. Birgit was for many years the editor in chief of Allt om mat (All about food), the leading cooking magazine in Scandinavia and, although retired, just finished co-editing the latest edition of Bonnier's cookbook, which would be the Nordic equivalent of the revised Joy of Cooking, so you can imagine the dinner was spectacular. What a way to be welcomed back to Stockholm!

Monday was my first day at the Musikhögskolan (MH or Royal College of Music). The Finnish conducting pedagogue, Jorma Panula, is now Professor of orchestral conducting in Stockholm, and I wanted to see him work. For those who don't know him, Panula was a legend at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, where from 1973-94 he trained the most successful generation of conductors that any one teacher has probably had: Esa-Pekka Salonen (LA Philharmonic), Sakari Oramo (who succeeded Simon Rattle in Birmingham), Jukka-Pekka Sarastre (who conducts the Stockholm Philharmonic this week and recently became leader of the Oslo Philharmonic), and Osmo Vänskä (who's in Minnesota), among others.

Cecilia Rydinger-Alin met me at the school and introduced me to Panula--Celilia teaches orchestral conducting part-time at MH and also administers the program (more about her later in the week). They are lucky to have a great relationship with the Radio Orchestra and also the orchestra in Norrköping, so the conductors in the masters and diploma program get to conduct professionals fairly regularly. I don't know of another place where this happens in quite the same way. Because of Panula, the school draws an international group of outstanding and experienced conducting students. This week, two of the conductors are doing the Nielsen Flute and Clarinet concertos with a chamber orchestra from the Radio Orchestra (strings 4-4-3-3-2 + necessary winds, brass, and percussion), plus other conductors doing a few other works.

The class at MH in the morning was with the solo flutist, a pianist playing reduction, Jorma playing whatever he felt was necessary from a minature score at another piano, and two of the conducting students (both Finnish) playing violin. Unfortunately, the clarinetist had a flight delay, so they only worked on the flute concerto today, plus another piece by Sibelius, with two different students. The conductor of the Flute concerto is a Korean woman, who'd previously studied in Berlin for four years and just began this year with Panula. However, it's not at all sure she'll be able to continue, as she just won the Solti competition and was also appointed assistant conductor (for two years) to James Levine with the Boston Symphony!

Panula doesn't make many comments, but stops if he feels she's missed something or has a tempo wrong. After a shortened class, I chatted with Cecilia a bit about the program and then made my way to the Radio, where the rehearsal was held in the late afternoon. The conductor did an excellent job and the flutist (a young professional) was excellent. Here, Panula makes even fewer comments, occasionally saying a word or two, allowing the student for the most part to run the rehearsal. The rest of the time was spent with other conductors, including one of the Finnish conductors who was working on a new piece (rather difficult) by a student composer at MH.

Tuesday was my 2nd day at MH, this time to visit Anders Eby's class (the masters students). Once a week they work with a paid vocal ensemble of 16, which includes 6 members of the Radio Choir, some of Eric's Chamber Choir, and others. It makes for an excellent and very quick ensemble with which to learn, to say the least. There are only 4 in the class, this year all non-Swedes (Norway, Germany, Slovenia, and Russia)--that's not unusual for Anders' class, which often has foreigners outnumbering Swedes. Anders also does lots of masterclasses throughout Europe (and shortly, in Beijing), so that's part of the reason so many come to Stockholm. Currently, they're working towards a concert on Thursday, so this is the last rehearsal other than an hour's dress rehearsal before the concert.

The level of the class is good, although not spectacular, and they're working this time on all fairly recent music, most by Swedish composers, including Anders Hultqvist, Kjell Perder (who was there to listen to his pieces) and two student composers (who were also there). Certainly this ensemble can do this kind of music in a very short period of time, so these conductors get experience with a repertoire that few American or Canadian conducting students could get in the same amount of time.

After the class Anders and I had lunch together and a good chance to talk more. He's been Professor at MH since 1994 and has an excellent perspective on the situation in Sweden--and says he is more optimistic than he was 5 years ago. I'll say a bit more about that later when I say something about current conditions of choral music in Sweden. It was a great discussion, however, including questions about (and greetings to) Pro Coro, since Anders is a past Artistic Director and guest conducted PC a year and a half ago.

Kathryn took the day to go to Haga Park, where she visited a really lovely butterfly house and Japanese garden, King's pavilion, etc.

Together we went Tuesday evening to a rehearsal at Konserthuset with OD and the Stockholm Philharmonic of Sibelius's Kullervo. As he's done for about 20 years, Anders Andersson did vocal warmups for the choir. Anders does very interesting vocalises with an intensely musical approach. Someone should bring him to North America for sessions at an ACDA or ACCC conference, regional convention, or perhaps an individual workshop. When rehearsals are in Uppsala, he also gives some voice lessons to members of OD (paid for by the choir).

Folke Alin then began the rehearsal, working on several spots (particularly on the Finnish, since it's difficult and calls for quite a different choral sound than Swedish) before Jukka-Pekka Sarastre came in for a brief piano rehearsal. At one point Folke asked for "ett Finnskt forte" (I think you can translate yourself). Then they went into the hall to rehearse with orchestra and soloists. Jukka-Pekka is an extraordinary conductor and knows this work cold ( he recorded the complete works of Sibelius twice with the Radio Symphony in Helsinki), and of course as a Finn, the text is also natural for him. He was in the same conducting class of Jorma Panula as Esa-Pekka Solonen and Sakari Oramo--it would have been daunting to be (one of) the "other" student(s) in that class! The orchestra and soloists were great and OD sounded very good, although Folke was a bit upset, saying they were missing almost 20 members tonight and he was afraid Jukka-Pekka would be disappointed. We'll hear the concert on Thursday, so will say more then.

Wednesday I spent some time at the Radio working on music for next week's rehearsals with the Radio Choir, while Kathryn went to the Asian Art Museum, a small but very high quality museum.

That evening we went back to Uppsala again, this time to attend a rehearsal of Cecilia Rydinger-Alin with her long-time choir (since 1988), Allmänna Sången. This is one of the oldest choirs in Uppsala, originally one of the student male choirs (as was OD), eventually becoming a mixed choir. Robert Sund preceeded Cecilia as conductor. The choir is close to 50 members and quite young, from 18-35 with an average age of about 25 or so, and changing a quarter or so of its membership each year (much like a college/university choir in North America). It's a very good amateur choir and have won several big European competitions. Tonight one of Eric's Chamber Choir's baritones, Ove Petterson, was working with the choir on vocal technique, so he did a long warm-up (about 35 minutes) and then Cecilia had him occasionally make comments during the rehearsal. They were working on one of the Stenhammar's 3 Choral Ballads, Rautavaara's Die Erste Elegie (which is challenging for almost any choir), a fun folk song setting by the Japanese composer Matsushita, and Bach Singet dem Herrn. As Cecilia said, they're about half way through the rehearsal period, so have some things well in hand and on others are still struggling--all of us know exactly what that's like! After rehearsal, we went back on the train with Cecilia and Ove and had a great conversation. Ove was in the Conservatory Chamber Choir with Eric when they were at PLU's summer workshop in 1988 and I've seen him in Eric's chamber choir on most of my other visits, although we'd never really sat down and talked. Cecilia I first met when Eric's choir was at PLU in 1984 (at the end of my first year there), but I really noticed her in 1987 when the Conservatory Chamber Choir was at IFCM in Vienna and she did a warm-up and rehearsal with the choir. Her conducting and music-making was SO musical and intense, it was great fun to watch. After finishing her diploma (master's degree level--there is no doctorate, but performance-wise it meets or exceeds US/Canadian doctorates) in choral conducting with Eric, she was (I believe) the first woman accepted into the orchestral conducting program. Following that she began a good free-lance career conducting both orchestra and opera. Since taking the position at MH (considered a 60% position), however, she does less free-lance work. She and Folke also have 3 children, 16, 14, and 6, so their lives (besides his work with OD Folke is one of the conductors and repetiteurs for the Royal Opera house) are full, to say the least. At any rate, it was simply great fun to connect again and watch her work.

Thursday was errands and score study during the day, but that evening we went to the Philharmonic concert. All I can say is WOW! What a terrific program and great concert. The first half was Stenhammar's Excelsior! (an overture about 15 minutes long) and Sculpture by Magnus Lindberg (about 25 minutes long). Lindberg is one of several interesting and successful Finnish composers (b. 1958) and this piece was written for the opening of Disney Hall for the LA Phil and Esa-Pekka Solonen, and dedicated to Frank Gehry, the architect of the hall (and also the Experience Music Project, for Seattleites reading this). It's a fascinating piece, written for a smaller string section (often playing divisi), quadruple winds, 4 trpts, 4 trmb, two tubas, lots of percussion, two pianos and two harps. Lindberg has a great orchestral imagination and the piece really "works." The orchestra (and Jukka-Pekka) gave a great performance of both pieces. After intermission was Sibelius' Kullervo, about 80 minutes long. Well, the orchestra just plain played the hell out of it (it's not easy) and OD sounded magnificent (and quite Finnish--very different than their usual sound--I can only imagine that Jukka-Pekka was very happy with them). The soloists were both Finnish and sang from memory: Jorma Hynninen was the baritone and Lili Paasikivi the mezzo. Both were excellent, but Lili was amazing--I'd go to hear her sing anything, anytime. Jukka-Pekka's conducting is dramatic, big, but always clear and always towards musical ends. Great fun to watch him. At any rate, a great evening.

Friday showed your correspondent isn't always too bright. I had the Vokalensemble from MH's concert listed on Friday on my calendar and, oddly, couldn't find them at MH! Of course, the concert was on Thursday and somehow I wrote it down wrong. Oh well. Kath (being more intelligent) spent the afternoon at the Modern Art Museum, which she said was really good, both their permanent collection and the current show of Robert Rauschenberg's works.

Friday evening we went to hear the Radio Orchestra, primarily because Truls Mørk was playing, as he's certainly one of the world's great cellists. Conductor for the evening was Eivind Aadland, who conducts the orchestra in Trondheim, Norway (and another student of Panula--is there a Scandianvian orchestral conductor who DIDN'T study with him?! I suppose it's like trying to find a Swedish conductor from several earlier generations who didn't study with Eric!). The program opened with Grieg's Ballad, a piano piece orchestrated by Geir Tveitt. Can't say either of us were too impressed with the orchestration--not really inspired. Mørk then played the Kurt Atterberg Cello Concerto. Atterberg (1887-1974) is a name I know--I mention him very briefly in the intro to my book--but I didn't really know any of his music. The work was written between 1918 and 1922, primarily in the predominant national romantic style. Mørk can certainly play--gorgeous tone and spot-on intonation. The piece, however, didn't ultimately excite me. Too much the same. The second half of the program, however, was another matter, with Nielsen's Symphony #3 (Sinfonia espansiva). The orchestra played beautifully. A nice end to the week.

A non-music-related note: There must be a population explosion in Stockholm! There are incredible numbers of baby carriages/prams and toddlers everywhere. It's interesting to see how many babies and children there are everywhere.

Saturday was a relaxing day--the weather turned beautiful and sunny, so we took a long walk, including City Hall where the Nobel prizes are awarded, and ate at a favorite restaurant on Gamla Stan)--and prep time for the rehearsals with the Radio. I should say something about my upcoming work with the Radio Choir. RK normally has four rehearsals per week: Monday 9:30-12:30, Wednesday 3:30-6:30, Thursday same, then Friday 9:30-12:30 again. As they build their season, they plan for "full" productions, which are public concerts, either part of the Radio's series, or sometimes outside productions which they perform for a festival or other outside sponsor. They also have to build in prep time for concerts with the orchestra (such as the Schumann Paradies und die Peri from the beginning of our visit). They also build in tours (they were in Japan earlier this year and did several concerts with Peter Dijkstra in September outside of Sweden). When all of this is done, they have some weeks "left over," and these often become short productions, which don't have enough rehearsal time or repertoire for a full public concert, so are rehearsed and then recorded for later broadcast. I was hired to do one of these short productions, conducting Reger's Acht Geistliche Gesänge and Vater unser (the Vater unser is a 20-minute setting for three choirs). However, this fall the orchestra appointed über-conductor Valery Gergiev (who has to have the most intensive schedule of any conductor alive--Google him and look at what he does) as Conductor Laureate, and as part of that, he's coming to Stockholm to do Act III of Parsifal with the Radio Orchestra and choir (plus the chorus from the Royal Opera) on Good Friday. Unfortunately, this pushed RK's schedule back into the period when I was to do my short production and it couldn't happen. Consequently, they asked if I'd be willing to do some prep rehearsals for them during that week. Of course, I said yes, since to stand in front of this choir is always worthwhile. So my four rehearsals are with an extreme mix of repertoire for various conductors and performances as follows:

Monday: Parsifal (for Gergiev's production--the Opera Chorus no doubt already knows it, so the two choirs will rehearse together closer to the production, or perhaps just a piano rehearsal with Gergiev, if that) and Beethoven (Choral Fantasy & the Gloria and Sanctus from the Mass in C), which is for the Mostly Mozart Festival in NY in August. Why they're doing only the Gloria and Sanctus, I have no idea! It seems odd to pay for RK and have them do only that much on a program, but . . .

Wednesday: Brahms Requiem, for a performance with a Spanish conductor and the orchestra in Norrköping. The choir is expanded to about 48 for this. Quite a few of the extras are new singers from recent auditions who haven't sung with RK before, so we'll see how that goes.

I should say that I have no markings from any of the conductors, so am preparing the choir blind (I'm afraid to say, I've done this too often before--would that orchestral conductors thought about markings for the choir as much as they think about having bowings for the strings in advance!). So, I'll make my best guesses, make decisions as I would for my own performances, and try to vary some tempi and rubati so the choir is flexible.

Thursday's and Friday's rehearsals are both for a performance in Saarbrücken in April or May with Peter Dijkstra, repeating repertoire they did in September with him. They have no rehearsal time with him before this concert (they'll meet him there), so these two rehearsals are to bring the repertoire back up to performance level. For this I DO have a recording from September, so I know what Peter did in terms of tempi, etc. The repertoire is: movements 1, 2, 5 & 6 of Otto Olsson's 6 Latin Hymns; Sven-David Sandström's Hear my prayer (it quotes Purcell's setting in its entirety first) & Singet dem Herrn (one of his newer motets, part of a series that sets exactly the same texts as Bach's motets, also using Bach's divisions of text into movements--this one is particularly virtuosic); Thomas Jennefelt's O Domine; Hillborg's mouyuoum; and Jan Sandström's Gloria. That's a lot to cover in two rehearsals (not that the Brahms Requiem in one rehearsal is luxurious!), even if they know the repertoire. I suspect they will need most time on Sven-David's Singet and the Hillborg, but we'll see. I'll have to play it by ear. Sven-David will be at the rehearsals, so that should be interesting, too.

Ought to be fun!

Sunday dawned another beautiful sunny day (and stayed that way until mid-afternoon when it clouded over), so we had another nice walk in the city between rehearsal prep times, then headed to the Maria Church for a concert at 6 with the Bach Choir. The Bach Choir was founded in 1964 by Anders Öhrwall to specialize in baroque music. They developed a great reputation for their performances of Bach and the Nicholas Harnoncourt recording of the Bach motets with them lists him as the conductor, but he actually played cello and Öhrwall conducted--Öhrwall later told me that Harnoncourt only wanted one thing changed from the way they did the motets--with the exception of that one spot he kept the same tempi, same phrasing, everything! When I visited Sweden for the first time in 1989 the Bach Choir was my favorite choir to listen to in rehearsal--amazing energy in their phrasing and a fresh, vital sound. Maria Södersten, Gary Graden's wife, sang with the Bach Choir at that time and still doe s. Öhrwall developed an unique way of notating his phrasing and this was communicated to choir and instrumentalists alike. Öhrwall also followed Eric as Chief conductor of the Radio Choir (1983-85) and this was NOT a big success--he had a non-traditional conducting technique (although he communicated just fine with his repertoire) and the romantic and contemporary repertoire that were RK's specialties were not his, so it wasn't a good fit. The second time I watched Öhrwall work, he'd had a stroke, which affected both his playing (he led rehearsals from the keyboard) and his speech. The choir's energy and enthusiasm was still the same, however. The choir was also "resident" at Adolf Fredriks Church up until 1999, when their connection with that church was broken (they were always known inside Sweden as Adolf Fredriks Bachkör). One must remember that the choir got considerable financial support from the church and a home to rehearse and perform, so this loss was considerable. They had brief relationships with other churches, but are now a "free-standing" ensemble. Fredrik Malmberg led them briefly, and then Mats Nilsson took charge in 2003, when he returned to Sweden from Australia. Mats sang with the choir for several years in the 1990s and had also guest-conducted them on a number of occasions, so was well-known by the choir. The choir is, in a sense, in rebuilding mode, replacing some older members as they retire with younger ones, and exploring new modes of support.

The concert began with Poulenc's Lenten motets. The church has a very reverberant acoustic, so these were probably the most successful pieces on the program. They were followed by Arvo Pärt's Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen, then the Mendelssohn Organ Sonata in B-flat Major. Then the major work of the evening, Domenico Scarlatti's Stabat Mater for 12 voices, cello, bass, and organ. Mats used soloists part of the time and full chorus the rest of the time. The choir did a nice job with all the repertoire. Audience was small (ca. 100-125) but enthusiastic.

So ended our next-to-last week in Stockholm. Still hard to believe that our trip is almost over--it's gone incredibly quickly.

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