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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sweden – 23-25 April

This week was busy with three rehearsals with RK, Wednesday/Thursday/Friday, for the Vårkonsert (Spring Concert), which I’ll conduct May 9. RK has only one rehearsal next week (not with me), so there’s a gap before concert week, when I’ll have one rehearsal on Tuesday with choir alone, Wednesday with our collaborators, the jazz ensemble Chapter 2 (in Berwaldhallen, where the concert takes place), then Friday from 5:30-6:30 PM before the concert at 7:30. In between, on Thursday, I rehearse RK on Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem (quite a change of pace!), which they’ll do during their tour of the Netherlands with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev.

The Vårkonsert is typically a lighter program and the concept and much of the program was set before I was tapped to conduct it. This isn’t too unusual, since the Radio has to plan long in advance and the choir has a program committee that works together with Arne Lundmark. The concert is advertised as: A strong fragrance of spring and affection with English madrigals and “feel good.” I think, however, of the original program proposed, we only kept Morley’s “Now is the Month of Maying” and Stanford’s “The Blue Bird.” However, also planned later by Arne and the committee was a group of traditional Swedish spring songs, David Wikander’s “Förvårskväll” (which I didn’t know and is truly gorgeous) and “Kung Liljekonvalje” as opening and closing, and two men’s chorus favorites in between: “O hur härligt majsol ler” and final piece in August Söderman’s “Ett Bondbröllop” (A Peasant Wedding). These last two are certainly in the repertoire of any men’s chorus in Sweden.

I added Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Just as the tide was flowing” and two pieces by John Rutter from his Birthday Madrigals (a set written for jazz great George Shearing's 75th birthday): “Draw on, Sweet Night” (a beautiful setting of the text from the well-known Wilbye madrigal) and “It was a Lover and His Lass” (a jazzy setting of the Shakespeare text, originally written in 1976 for The Scholars, a group of ex-Cambridge singers founded around the time of the King’s Singers).

This program is also in collaboration with the jazz ensemble, Chapter 2, made up of Johan Norberg (guitar) and Nils Landgren (trombone). Both are well-known artists in and out of Sweden and it should be really exciting to work with them. Originally, we were primarily alternating our sets of pieces, but I was able to meet with Johan and Arne earlier in the week and discuss how we might work together more during the concert. Some of the details of this won’t happen until we meet (Nils is in Germany), but will take the following form:

Opening with the Morley (we’ll sort out how this works when we meet—Nils is also a skilled singer, so we may involve him as scat singer as well!). Then RK alone with the RVW.

After this, “The Blue Bird” with an intro by Chapter 2, then we sing and Nils will add some things, à la Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble on their album, Officium.

Then Chapter 2 does a set, followed by our set of traditional Swedish spring songs.

Then another set by Chapter 2, followed by Rutter’s “Draw on, Sweet Night” and then “It was a Lover and His Lass” with Chapter 2 joining us (when Rutter added it to his Birthday Madrigals, he added piano and bass—we’ll do our own version of rhythm section). Finally, we’ll close with Roberton’s setting of the Welsh song, “All Through the Night,” assuming the music gets here in time (Arne had heard it on a CD and thought it would end the concert nicely, which it will!).

So, rehearsals went well this week—it’s not too difficult a program for RK, of course—and the music is well in hand. For those who haven’t heard RK live (and particularly, up close), it’s always astounding to hear both the power of the voices, but their ability (when asked) to sing amazingly softly as well. The pieces in English took the most time of course, since even though the members of RK all speak English very well, it’s still a challenge to sing idiomatically in another language. And of course, interesting for me to do the Swedish pieces with RK! There are some of the same issues in pronunciation we all deal with, of course, with disagreements between members of the tenors and basses over the pronunciation of a particular word in the Söderman. I came down on one side of the argument, but will check with Robert Sund when I see him Monday, since he knows the male repertoire and traditions as well as anyone!

However, it’s a great privilege to be able to work with this choir on any repertoire, so I’m enjoying the opportunity.

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