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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sweden - Jan. 15/16/17

I went to the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir (EEKK) rehearsal tonight, led by Lone Larsen, who’s preparing them for a program that will be conducted by Laurence Equilbey in February called, “Transcriptions.”

You may well know Laurence’s group, Accentus, which is an Ericson-inspired 32-voice chamber choir in France (she studied with Eric and has kept in close contact, and Eric’s recorded several CDs with them: North and Suomi/Finland). She’s done two CDs of transcriptions: the first, Transcriptions, includes Barber’s own transcription of his Adagio for Strings (Agnus Dei), several of Clytus Gottwald’s wonderful transcriptions originally written for his own 16-voice ensemble, Schola Cantorum Stuttgart (Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, and Wolf), and one especially arranged for Accentus by Gerard Pesson. She recently released a second CD, Transcriptions 2, which is just as interesting.

If you don’t know these transcriptions, particularly the ones by Gottwald which inspired many of the others, they’re quite amazing re-creations of these orchestral works, virtuosic and orchestral in sound. Gerard Pesson recently finished a new transcription of Wagner’s Sigfried Idyll, which was premiered by Accentus this fall. It’ll receive its second performance by EEKK on the upcoming program.

It’s truly extraordinary, even for these transcriptions, using a slightly larger choir (for this the EEKK is expanded to 39 voices), several soloists, and even whistling. The music is set to a text put together by Martin Kaltenecker from fragments of the libretto to Siegfried and the journals of Cosima Wagner. I think few choirs will be attempting this: it’s virtuosic, requires big voices capable of creating a huge sound (yet singing fantastically well in tune), and the low basses have to dwell at the bottom of the staff down to low Cs with enough volume to be the foundation of this orchestral sonority.

This was the choir’s first rehearsal on the program, and Lone read through quite a bit of the program, but spent most of the time on the Wagner. Her rehearsal technique is clear and well organized, spending time on those sections and those parts that have particular difficulties, then integrating them into the whole. I’m just sorry I’m not around for the performance.

Lone is Danish, but came to the Royal College of Music to study in the “diplom” program (their advanced degree) with Anders Eby and has stayed in Sweden—although she also spent two years in NY studying orchestral conducting at Juilliard and doing workshops around the US. Her own group, Voces Nordicae (Nordic Voices) is a 16-voice professional ensemble, which was just named the Swedish “Choir of the Year.” I hope to get to hear them rehearse or perform on my second visit this year, later in the spring.

The Radio Choir’s dress rehearsal was today with the Västerås Chamber Orchestra. Peter had two rehearsals with the orchestra on Monday and Tuesday in Västerås, so they were well prepared, and they’re quite a good orchestra. The choir was standing in a large semi-circle around the orchestra in a single row. As with all such rehearsals, there were adjustments to be made, since everyone hears each other differently (new hall, orchestra present): the choir sings too loudly at first, the choir needs more diction, phrase shapes get lost by both choir and orchestra, and the orchestra finds where they are too loud or need to adjust articulations. But everyone adjusted quickly and I think the performance will be a good one. This is the first collaboration between these two ensembles, but it’s hoped it will become a continuing relationship.

Kathryn and I met for a late lunch with Ragnar Bohlin at a beautiful 17th century palace near his church in Södermalm (where I recently heard his performance of the Bach Christmas Oratorio). He’s enjoying an extended break at home since the San Francisco Symphony Chorus has an unusual break—it’s extended from Christmas through February 12, when he returns to start work there. We had a lovely and wide-ranging conversation on the choral differences between the US & Sweden (and Europe), what kinds of things we’re both working on, and life in general. We also found out we’d see him later at the Radio Choir’s concert and that his wife (who’s a cellist with the Opera Orchestra) would be playing as an extra with the Västerås Chamber Orchestra for the concert.

We then went to hear the final rehearsal (just an hour—the Radio Choir typically has an hour’s rehearsal the day of the rehearsal, then an hour’s break) for the concert, then went to the concert. There was a great audience and the concert went really well—a lively, energetic performance, particularly of the Haydn. Orchestra, chorus and soloists all did well. We’ll also travel with the choir to Västerås on Saturday for the performance there.

We also saw Eric and Monica at the concert, as well as Bo Johansson (Bosse), there in part since his son, Lasse, who sings in the Radio Choir, was doing the bass solo in the Haydn. Good to see Bosse, who’s off to Frankfurt tomorrow with his Adolf Fredriks Girlchoir for a series of concerts.

All in all, a terrific day.

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