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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sweden – February 5/6/7, 2008

. . . was a relaxed day with nothing scheduled. A time for a bit of score study (upcoming Pro Coro concert), catching up with email, and since it was a fairly nice day, time for a walk, too. That evening we also saw a documentary on the violinist Maxim Vengerov on tv, called Living the Dream. It’s just terrific and well worth seeing if you get a chance (I see it’s available through netflix, if you’re a subscriber).

We went to Risto Joost’s rehearsal with RK on the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil. Risto is a talented young Estonian conductor (b. 1980) who has studied both choral and orchestral conducting in Tallin and Vienna. A counter-tenor, he has sung with a number of groups, including the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (which achieved prominence under Tõnu Kaljuste) under Paul Hillier in 2001-02. In 1999 he founded his own chamber choir, Voces Musicales, and has guest-conducted an impressive list of ensembles, including the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Tallinn Baroque Orchestra, Tallinn Youth Orchestra, as well as the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Estonian National Male Choir, Swedish Radio Choir, Ars Nova Copenhagen. Since 2005 he’s also been in Jorma Panula’s conducting class in Stockholm—I saw him briefly in the class on Wednesday.

Risto speaks perfect British English, also Russian and (since he studied in Vienna) I assume at least German (and probably some other languages as well). He led quite a good rehearsal of RK, first running through the work before break (RK has sung it many times), then working on the last three movements plus number 11 afterwards. Quite a few RK members were ill (either missing or sitting out), so the quality of what the choir was doing was a bit rougher than one would ordinarily expect (at the very end of the rehearsals there were 3 out of 8 altos singing). Risto dealt with it very well, concentrating on language, rhythm, and the sound he wanted. He also uses his voice to demonstrate well. I’m sorry I won’t be around to see what he eventually does with the concert.

After lunch, I met with Arne Lundmark to talk a bit more about what I’ll be doing in the Spring, finalize repertoire, schedule, concert dress, etc. As I’ve said, I think Arne is a very good person to have in this position with RK now. As a very fine singer himself (he still teaches voice one day a week at the Royal Conservatory, and works as a soloist), and former long-time member of EEKK, he understands both good singing and good ensemble singing. He also understands the choral world and what it means to have a world-class choir. To hear him sing, get Eric’s 3rd CD in his series of contemporary Swedish choral music, in Sven-David Sandström’s Etyd Nr. 4, som e-moll (a truly gorgeous piece, one of my favorites and one of Sven-David’s most Romantic works). Arne sings the baritone solo beautifully.

I’d been in touch with Cecilia Rydinger-Alin earlier about her schedule and today was the day I could visit the Royal College of Music. She’s been promoted to Professor of orchestral conducting now (a big honor) and runs the program there (Jorma Panula, who is also Professor is also there, but less frequently). Today there was a guest teacher, Are Sandbakken (Tues/Wed/Thurs) from Oslo, to teach the conductors about working with strings. Are is former principal violist for the Oslo Philharmonic, where he played under Mariss Jansons (see this recent laudatory article about Janssons in the Washington Post) and many others, and now teaches chamber music at the Royal Conservatory in Oslo. He’s done these master classes for several years in Stockholm and has a wonderful, warm, and extremely musical approach. I only saw part of his class with the students, but here he was working with them on repertoire (Stravinsky Concerto in D, Grieg Holborn Suite, Elgar Serenade for Strings) they would conduct later that day with orchestra—at this point the students conducting pianos with Are playing viola. He’s very good with gesture, always asking for (and demonstrating) musical gestures that communicate with (not against) string technique. When I first arrived, Risto was just finishing work. The next conductor worked on the Grieg Holberg Suite, and here Are was also concerned with good eye contact, as well as finding ways to work with a Romantic-era rubato (after the break he was going to play a recording of period piano playing, which I missed, since I went to lunch with Cecilia). More than anything else, he communicated the joy of music making—he’s clearly a talented and inspirational teacher.

While the class had a break (they were working just with Are from about 10 AM until 1:30 PM or so), I went to lunch with Cecilia. As I’d talked about last year, she began as a choral conductor (and remains one as conductor of Allmänna Sången, her chamber choir in Uppsala), but after completing the diplom program with Eric, began the orchestral conducting program. Her position at the Conservatory is about 60% and she still keeps some guest conducting as well. She and her husband, Folke Alin, have three children, so that keeps them busy, too! Folke is one of the two choirmasters at the opera, in addition to coaching (in fact, he did most of the choral preparation of the production of Orphée which we saw), and for many years has been accompanist and assistant conductor of Orphei Drängar, the great men’s chorus in Uppsala. We’ll get to a performance of the Cherubini Requiem with OD and the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra in Uppsala tomorrow evening that Folke has prepared. Cecilia and Folke are both candidates for the position of conductor of OD (along with Mats Nilsson—I wrote about his last year) and won’t find out until early May who has been appointed to the position. Cecilia’s also a talented and devoted teacher—at some point I hope to observe her teaching as well, perhaps later this spring.

After lunch I watched a bit more of the class with Are before they took a lunch break, then joined them again at 3 PM when the students worked with the orchestra (strings 3-3-1-1-1 with three professionals—two violins and cello—and the rest conservatory students). In this case, Are let the students work without interruption, just taking notes to give them later. When possible, I like to do this, too, to let the conductors develop their own rhythm in rehearsal (I’ll never forget a master class I participated in with a teacher who will remain nameless, who’d never seen me work before, and stopped me in the 2nd bar of the piece—nice way to find out how someone conducts!). The string ensemble was good, as were the conducting students. As I mentioned last year, the students here get to work with members of the Radio Orchestra and another professional orchestra, so they get a fair amount of practical experience with professionals (as do the choral conducting students, who work once a week with a 16-voice vocal ensemble made up of professionals, most from RK or EEKK). This is important, and something I wish could happen regularly in American universities.

I only was able to stay for about an hour and a half, not the full session, then headed back to meet Kathryn for dinner.

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