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Monday, January 7, 2008

Sweden, 5/6/7 January 2008

I met Gary Graden at St. Jacobs at 3 PM for a concert by the new Youth Choir there. Jacobs got some extra money for special projects from the Swedish Church, to include the formation of a youth choir. Mikael Wedar, an energetic young conductor who teaches at the high school on Kungsholmen (my neighborhood—or should I say, Gunilla’s!), leads the choir. These are post-high school students, ranging from age 18-20 or 21. They started with 13 singers in the fall and now have about 30. The program was essentially Christmas music—carols and traditional songs in a variety of arrangements, most in Swedish, but also one of Alfred Burt’s carols, two arrangements by Jonathan Rathbone and Gene Puerling’s arrangement of Silent Night. The “odd man out” was Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst—a good piece, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how it fit in the program! There was also some singing along with the audience. The choir’s OK, not spectacular, but it should continue to grow as everyone continues working together.

Besides chatting with Gary and Mikael afterwards at the reception, I talked with Anders Åstrand, one of the percussionists who played in the Whitacre--and if you look at one of last year’s Swedish blogs, part of the WÅG trio (Anders, Gary and an organist) who gave an improvisatory concert at Jacobs. Anders is a composer and has his own percussion group and does lots of interesting work. He’s also written a choral piece that he’ll send me.

Sunday morning brought a bit more snow, but much warmer temperatures, right around freezing—a fairly relaxed day, spending time catching up on email and doing some listening. Gary gave me a copy of his new CD, Folkjul (Folk Christmas), which comes from Christmas concerts at St. Jacobs that evolved over several years, arrangements worked out/improvised by organist Gunnar Idenstam, folk violinist Lisa Rydberg, and two folk singers, Sofia Karlsson and Emma Härdelin, along with the choir: just one more example of Gary’s creativity and love of collaboration. Idenstam is classically trained (winning the Grand Prix de Chartes in 1984, a major improvisation competition), but also works regularly in the genre of folk music, particularly with Lisa Rydberg. As composer/improviser he says he mixes art music, folk music and symphonically oriented rock music—I’d like to hear one of his recitals! Rydberg is the only violinist to graduate from the Royal College of Music with degrees in both classical and folk music (and regularly works as a baroque violinist as well).

As you can imagine, this isn’t a “choir” album (there I go betraying my age—excuse me, CD--"album" is a little dated). It’s a mix of organ improvisation, music for organ and violin, choir and violin, violin and soloist, and all the permutations in between. It ends with quite the arrangement of Veni, veni Emmanuel, with one of the solists doing some “kulning,” which is a singing style that evolved when the cows needed to be called home—notes in the stratosphere, but not sung in a “classical” way! It’s really wonderful, interesting music—although I don’t think you’ll find carols you can put on next year’s Christmas concert! If you have any interest in this from my description, though, buy the CD. It’s worth it. You’ll find it on the BIS label (from Archiv Music, cheaper than Amazon!).

At six PM I went to a performance of the 2nd half (parts 4, 5, and 6) of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, sung by the Motet Choir at Maria Magdalena Church, conducted by Ragnar Bohlin. It was very good performance with good soloists, particularly the soprano, choir, and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble—which was good, especially the valveless horns and trumpets.

Ragnar is primarily in the US now as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. I met him in San Francisco last June when I was doing a concert there and he had just begun his work in SF. From all accounts (and I didn’t hear this from Ragnar), things are going very well and Michael Tilson-Thomas entrusted him with conducting Messiah this year, which got excellent reviews. He’ll also do Poulenc’s Figure Humaine (one of the great and challenging a cappella pieces of the last century) with the 30-voice professional core, plus 50 or 60 more singers from the chorus this spring. He’s been at Maria Magdalena since 1995 and comes from a prominent singing/conducting family. His mother, Eva Bohlin, has led many fine and prizewinning choirs, and his grandfather, Set Svanholm, was a great singer and colleague of Swedish tenor Jussi Björling, and also led a family singing group, the Svanholm Singers (and was for many years choir director at St. Jacobs—just one more connection in the small Swedish choral world). Ragnar was home for an extended visit. His wife is a cellist in the Opera Orchestra and they have two young children, so for the time being the family is at a distance.

It would be interesting to know if the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble has crossover membership with the Stockholm Baroque Orchestra that played last year for Anders Eby’s B Minor Mass (I’ll see if I can find out). I don’t know how big a group of period instrument players there are in Stockholm, but certainly there are some very good ones. The Drottningholm group started some 30 years ago for productions at the opera house at the summer palace (Drottning means Queen). The 400-seat opera house was opened in 1766 and the stage machinery, designed by the Italian, Donato Stopani, is still intact and it includes a wave machine, thunder machine, and a flying chair which is often used for deus ex machina effects. After the assassination of King Gustavus III in 1792 (which is the basis of the Giuseppe Verdi opera, Un ballo in maschera), the theatre was forgotten (and therefore preserved). In 1920 it was restored with the addition of electric light, which today is designed to flicker like candles. It re-opened on 19th August 1922 and has been used since for productions in period style. In the summer of ’90 I was able to attend a performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio (with the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble in the pit), which was marvelous. Seating is a bit uncomfortable, however, since you sit on wooden bleacher-style bench seats with no back! If you want to see the theatre and some of the machinery (well, the copies of it they now use), rent the Ingmar Bergman film of Mozart’s Magic Flute—it’s a delightful, quirky production (what would you expect, with Bergman directing?), sung in Swedish, with a very young Håkan Hagegård singing Papageno. Oh . . . and the conductor just happens to be Eric Ericson.

Speaking of Eric, he and his wife Monica were also at the concert, along with several of Monica’s sons. In 1989, my first visit to Sweden, I sublet her son Nils’ apartment and in the summer of 1990, when I did the bulk of my dissertation research, I sublet one of her other sons, Erik’s apartment—so it was nice to see them again. I’ll have lunch at Eric and Monica’s on Tuesday, so will catch up much more with them then.

Also singing in the concert was Gunnar Andersson (brought in as an extra tenor), who was for many years producer for the Radio Choir. We’ll also find time to meet.

It's much warmer today and almost all the snow is gone.

I spent nearly two and a half hours at the “phone house” store trying to get a wireless modem for my computer—running down to the hotel and paying 60kr (almost $9.50 USD) for two hours of access isn’t either handy or cost effective! Most of the time was spent trying to get the system to work on my Mac, only THEN to discover that to get a contract I have to have a Swedish personalnummer (like a social security number) and evidence of regular pay in Sweden. Argh!

I then met Gary Graden for lunch and explained my frustrating morning. He very kindly offered to sign up for me, which we did, so now I’m in Gunilla’s apartment putting this post on the blog. Thank you, Gary!

Gary’s an American who’s lived in Sweden since ’84 or so. He first came to study with Eric Ericson, which he did, along with singing in Eric’s Chamber Choir for a good number of years. He married a Swede, his beautiful wife, Maria, and they have two boys—so he’s never looked back. When I first met him in ’89 or ’90 he had the choir at Adolf Fredriks Gymnasium (or high school) and had started a youth choir at St. Jacobs. When Per Borin left as music director at Jacobs, Gary took over and the youth choir morphed into the current St. Jacobs Chamber Choir. He’s just heading to Hamburg, where he’ll do a prep rehearsal for the Nord Deutsche Rundfunkchor for Mendelssohn’s Die Erste Walpurgisnacht. They’ve already performed the work, so he’s just doing one rehearsal, then hanging around for the orchestra rehearsals and three concerts, one in Hamburg, one in Lübeck, and I’m not sure where the other one is. Anyway, a long way to travel to do one rehearsal, but interesting, I’m sure!

The rest of the day will be spent catching up on email and some score study. More in a few days.

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