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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sweden – Uppsala, Orphei Drängar and Robert Sund – Part 3

After the concert, we all got into busses to go up to the Castle. It’s an imposing structure which for some time has been not a royal building, but the residence for the county Governor and the large rooms are used for special occasions such as this one, degree granting, etc.

On the way to the castle we were taken by way of the river, where across from Robert and Margareta’s apartment, there hung a giant poster with Robert’s face—another surprise for Robert when he woke up that morning! Robert’s visage was everywhere, a great caricature on banners, same on the coaster under the beer, and on the beer bottle itself a picture of Robert—the beer was called Avslaget (which was explained to us means both “cut off”—as in a conductor’s cut off—and “out of date!”). And the caricature was even on the top of the dessert. All the pictures led to a running joke in the speeches, based on North Korea’s leader Kim-Jong-il, and his ubiquitous portraits: “Kim-il-Sund.”

There were over 700 of us in the hall, a striking high-ceilinged room, tapestries on the walls, with a very long head table, and all the other tables in long rows (each seating 49 or 50) at right angles to it. Candles, a beautifully set table, and everyone in their tails and gowns made for a gorgeous setting. There was also a beautifully prepared program booklet, with lots of pictures of Robert from early days with OD to the present, the complete list of guests, and a number of the songs that were sung (I knew a couple well enough to join in).

A glass of champagne waiting for us as we arrived, and eventually Robert led the group with a song into the hall. There was beer all ready at the table, and (for us guests) tickets for snaps (schnapps). The snaps and beer (and later the wine and sherry) came in handy, since at least 10 times Robert would be announced, stand with his tuning fork and give the pitch for the next song (which was always followed by a toast: skål!

This is a repertoire all members of OD know by heart, so hearing that many voices in a resonant room is amazing. A side note: OD has long had a rule that members have to leave at a certain age (I think 50 or 52) in order to keep the group with a balance of youthful and more mature voices. For this reason there are lots of “veterans” (who do sing on particular occasions and even do their own concerts) who are still amazingly good singers. Across from us at the table were Christer and Karin Solén—Christer sang with Eric for many years in the Chamber Choir as well as OD, where he was tenor soloist for 15 years, and he can still sing a powerful, ringing high C.

Next to Kathryn was Kettel Skarby, who I’d met twice in Uppsala, first in 2002 when I gave lectures on the book, and then again last year during a conference sponsored by the Choral Centre. It was great to talk to all of them (and have ready explanations for such things as the meaning of “avslaget”).

There were of course, speeches (including a nice one by Philip Brunelle on the “secret” group’s behalf), awards, some planned songs, and much else. Robert gave a great speech near the end, mentioning many people—Eric Ericson, of course, (who couldn’t be there because he was on tour with EEKK that weekend—he’ll be at the Stockholm concert), and the many officers who make OD work. Robert also mentioned Cecilia Rydinger-Alin, who will be the next conductor of OD and who was there, of course, with her husband Folke Alin, the long-time accompanist and assistant conductor of OD, as well as repetitör and co-choirmaster at the Royal Opera (he prepared the opera chorus for the great production of Orphée that we saw).

Cecilia and Folke (seated):

The waiters and waitresses (dressed beautifully) came out for each course (or to remove the last one) in a long line in front of the head table, paused, then moved down the long rows between the tables together.

Quite simply, everything was done with class.

And, of course, the reason we were here (Robert and Margareta):

Robert, Steen, and Margareta:

Robert and Margareta:

After dinner (around 11 PM), everyone repaired to an upstairs room for coffee and brandy, before coming back downstairs for dancing with a big band. We greeted a few people, but didn’t stay. Most of us called it a night after dinner and we walked back to the hotel with Dick and Diane Loomer. A fabulous time!

Sunday morning around 9 we bid goodbye to Gunilla and Jerry, who were headed to the airport, had breakfast with Ágnes, visited with several others including Lawrence and the Brunelles, then went for a lovely walk. We were to meet Ágnes again at 1 PM, so checked out after the walk and hung around the lobby, where we managed to see almost everyone one last time as they were on their way out. We then had a long lunch and visit with Ágnes before catching the train ourselves.

Gunilla and me:

Kathryn Sparks with Ágnes (all photos credit to Kathryn--except this one!)

Again, I can’t say how much of an honor it was to be a part of this. It was a special occasion in every way.

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