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Friday, May 30, 2008

Catching up

Sorry to have been silent for awhile . . . but life goes on!

I had less than a week home from Sweden before heading to Edmonton for auditions, a board meeting, and lots of planning meetings.

We just yesterday got back from Edmonton and are in the midst of the usual catch-up from travel--clothes to be washed, mail to take care of, errands to run, etc.

So, I'll gradually get some posts going.

Given auditions for Pro Coro Canada, I've been thinking about the whole auditioning process and will likely have a post or two about that. I also plan to write something about what it was like to work with the Swedish Radio Choir: what it's like and what I've taken away from that experience again this year.

The summer calendar is quickly filling up, even though I'm taking most of the summer "off" (no such thing exists!). Kathryn and I are off to Denver and the Chorus America conference June 10-15 (along with three other compatriots from Pro Coro). We'll likely get down to Eugene and the Oregon Bach Festival for a performance or two and visits with friends in late June/early July. My brother and his family will be out from Memphis for the month of July, so we'll have some time together. Our friend from Sweden, Eva Wedin, will come to visit for about 10 days at the end of July, and Catherine Kubash from Edmonton not too long after that for a few days as well. We'll head to Vancouver B.C. for some concerts at both Festival Vancouver and the Vancouver Early Music Festival.

My regular score study program also has to begin in earnest next Monday or I'll fall far behind! With Pro Coro I have Haydn's Harmoniemesse (parts should arrive next week and I need to begin marking parts--this will save an enormous amount of time--and I'll also mark the choral scores), Vaughan Williams' Mass in G Minor, a lot of new stuff for our "One World, Many Voices" program, and the Victoria Requiem. We also have two commissioned works, a substantial work by Allan Bevan for choir, soloist, narrator and chamber orchestra for Christmas, and a new work by Associate Conductor Trent Worthington for November. I probably won't see either score until the early fall, so all the more reason to make sure everything else is well-prepared already!

I also conduct Monteverdi's Orfeo in Edmonton in November as part of the Festival of Ideas, celebrating the University of Alberta's centenary, so continued score prep there, too. This should be a terrific production with a great cast (Colin Balzer, Suzie LeBlanc, Catherine Webster, Mireille Lebel, Bill Hite, Paul Grindlay and others) and wonderful period-instrument orchestra from all over. A number of the cast members and orchestra members will be in Vancouver for a production of Rameau's Pygmalion, along with Ellen Hargis, who will be stage director, so it's also a chance to meet and work on a few details of planning.

At any rate, even though it's technically a summer off, it'll be full!

More when I can.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sweden – 14-15 May 2008

So, the last full day finally arrives. We met with Gary Graden for lunch—he’d just gotten back from Berlin, where he’d prepared the Radio Choir (Simon Halsey is their regular conductor) for a performance with Michael Gielen and the Berlin Philharmonic. He’d had a great time and said the choir is singing very well. It was good to see him one more time before leaving. A great friend.

At 3:30 I had my last rehearsal with RK, who were leaving the next day (same day as us) for the Netherlands and their concerts with Peter and the Nederlands Kamerkoor. This was to refresh the Pizzetti Requiem and Verdi Quattro Pezzi Sacri for them before they began rehearsals with NK (they are only doing the Verdi jointly—the Pizzetti they will do on their own, although with NK in the audience!). I think they’re well prepared, but of course, Peter has done the preparation of NK, so I hope the Verdi melds easily for them. All such great music!

We bid goodbye to singers, to Arne, Marita from the RKs administration (who was always so helpful), and to Mikael. A little sad to leave after working with the choir so much since January, but I have much to do and great projects to look forward to next year. Eva Wedin will visit us this summer in Tacoma, and it’ll be great fun to show her some of the Pacific Northwest.

Arne, me, and Mikael:

Me and Eva:

The evening was spent packing and the next morning washing linens and cleaning before the taxi arrived to take us to Arlanda airport.

And that ends this year’s Swedish adventure.

We can’t thank enough all of our friends here who make us feel so welcome, the great singers of RK, and most of all, Gunilla. What a spectacular time!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sweden – 12-13 May 2008

Monday it stayed sunny, but the temperatures dropped considerably, down to around 60 F/15 C. It was then a good day to go out to the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) in a really impressive building with both permanent collections and temporary exhibits about Swedish history and life. Exhibits range from housing to clothes (lots of shoes, which didn’t interest my dad and me too much) to folk crafts. One temporary exhibit was on the Sami people (those formerly known as Lapplanders) and their lives—a very beautiful exhibit that shows that the Swedes weren’t much better than we were at dealing with native ethnic populations.

Tuesday we met Eva Wedin for lunch at Sturehof, a favorite restaurant that specializes in fish. Since Eva had been ill and wasn’t at the rehearsals for the Vårkonsert she hadn’t been able to meet my parents. We had a lovely time.

Eva and me:

Eva and Kathryn:

That evening we took the tunnelbana (subway) and a bus out to Birgit Hemberg’s new apartment, which is in the same building as her good friends, the Dimanders (Margareta and Bertil). Again, we had a lovely time and, as always at Birgit’s, wonderful food. Birgit was for many years the editor of Allt om mat (Everything about Food), Scandinavia’s leading food magazine. She also edited Bonniers Cookbook, which would be the equivalent of Joy of Cooking and a recent food lexicon—while she’s technically “retired,” it’s clear she’s not really!

Birgit, me, Dad, Margareta, Mom, & Bertil:

Birgit and the Dimanders have also established a foundation to keep Eskil Hemberg’s work in front of the public, and hold the Eskil Hemberg Days festival in Värmland, on their family farm, during the summer. They do an art exhibit during the festival and it may be that Kathryn will exhibit in 2009.

At any rate, we had a lovely time, not getting back home until nearly midnight. For my folks that meant a very short night, since they had a 6:45 AM flight. However, they got to the airport successfully and I think had a really wonderful two weeks in Sweden. It was great for us to have them there.

Sweden – 10-11 May 2008

The weekend following the concert had gorgeous weather with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s F/23 C. One of the things we most wanted to do with my folks was take a ferry trip out in the archipelago. The archipelago surrounding Stockholm is extraordinary, with small islands and big ones, most with summer homes built on them, even the smallest ones.

Saturday we decided to take the ferry to Vaxholm, the “capitol” of the archipelago, and not too long a trip—about an hour or so by one of the older steamboats. We made probably 6 or so stops along the way and they are efficient—most stops to drop off passengers and pick up a few more took just a couple minutes.


Vaxholm itself is a lovely, small town with a fortress on the island just next door, established in 1558. We first had a relaxed lunch, sitting outside but under cover from the sun (which was quite warm), then wandered around the town a bit before heading back via a much faster boat with fewer stops.

The fortress seen from Vaxholm:

Sunday we took the bus out on Djurgården to Waldermarsudde, which was the home of Prince Eugen (1865-1947). The prince was a very talented artist and the house reflected his interests and considerable taste. Built in 1903-04, it has gorgeous views, three floors (the top floor being his studio, designed to bring in maximum light year-round. His own paintings, paintings of friends in his circle, and furniture from all periods fill the house. He donated it and most of his collection to the Swedish state and it has been maintained as a museum (he also added a gallery building next to his home in 1913 to contain his growing collection), the first two floors of the house mostly as he left them, the other two floors and the gallery with whatever exhibit is current.

Again, the weather was beautiful, the tulips (of which there were many) around the house in full bloom, and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day. This was my first time to the museum, but Kathryn had been here twice before, the first time with Gunilla in November 2002 (it’s one of Gunilla’s favorite places and one of her relatives was an artist in Prince Eugen’s circle—and there are several of his paintings there) and again last winter. She says it’s just as beautiful a setting then, so don’t miss it if you have the chance to visit.


Sculpture outside (notice the “arrow” from the archer’s bow!):

We had lunch there in the delightful café, which offers mostly traditional Swedish food. We also ran into Birgit Hemberg and her two sons (whom we hadn’t met) and their wives while there, a lucky coincidence since we were to go to dinner at her apartment the next evening, and hadn’t yet connected on directions!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sweden – 9 May 2008

Friday and the Vårkonsert finally arrived.

We met my folks for lunch at a favorite restaurant in Gamla Stan, then I headed back to the apartment for a bit more preparation and rest. Kath wandered for a bit with my folks before returning as well, since she wanted to go to the rehearsal to take some pictures.

We got to Berwaldhallen around a quarter to five to see the setup and confirm last minute things with Mikael, Johan, and Nils. Rehearsal was at 5:30—this is a typical schedule for RK, a one hour final rehearsal on the day, then one hour break (sandwiches and fruit provided), then the concert.

The concert was almost sold out, so there was a great crowd. The concert went by quickly for me, but was certainly great fun and went well. Wonderful people there as well: Maria Södersten sat with Kathryn and my parents, Birgit Hemberg and the Dimanders were sitting in the front row (they also gave a beautiful bouquet that was presented at the end of the concert), Christina Björk and her partner Erling (Christina is one of Gunilla’s best friends—we had brunch at their place last year), Ingrid Johansson (Bosse had a rehearsal), and of course, Eric Ericson and Monica.

At any rate, great fun and you can listen yourselves (at least for awhile—I don’t know how long these are kept online) here.

With Johan and Mikael:

Nils and Johan at rehearsal:

A couple shots with RK at rehearsal:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sweden – 6, 7, 8 May 2008

Tuesday morning the 6th was a resumption of rehearsals for the Vårkonsert with RK. It was a good rehearsal on this repertoire, although unfortunately our friend Eva Wedin had caught a cold and lost her voice. Meanwhile, Kathryn and my parents went to Uppsala and saw the town, Cathedral, some of the university, and the house and garden of the famous Swedish botanist, Linneus. After they returned, we had dinner together.

A picture from the Linné garden:

Wednesday afternoon was the rehearsal with RK and Chapter Two. Earlier in the day, Kath and my parents wandered around downtown, then came to Berwaldhallen for the rehearsal. I met with Johan Norberg, Nils Landgren (Chapter Two—see my earlier post here) and Mikael Engström before rehearsal around 3 PM to go over how the collaborative pieces would work. Mikael, who is the frequent accompanist for RK (and a marvel at it) was acting as producer for the concert (in charge of what was happening on stage and in the booth).

Me with Mikael:

Boel Adler was also there, as she’ll be the announcer for the concert (which will be broadcast live). Boel used to sing regularly with RK, now works on air, but still sings as an extra now and then (I’d met her before and she also sang with the choir for the Brahms Requiem I’ll tell you about shortly).

Johan and Nils are truly amazing musicians. I’ve always had enormous respect for jazz players and their ability to improvise, but these two are incredible in every way. Johan is one of the most active studio musicians in Stockholm and Nils lives and teaches in Germany, but is on the road up to 250 days a year, playing and recording. He’s appeared on more than 500 recordings and can play amazingly high, soft, fast, or whatever (and is also a very good jazz singer).

The rehearsal went well as we adjusted to the acoustics (well, that was just me—I don’t have experience in Berwaldhallen as the others do—not the easiest acoustic to work in), figured out levels for amplification of the guitar and trombone, placed the choir members, the recording engineers sorted out levels for the broadcast, and we rehearsed all repertoire, but worked particularly on the pieces we were doing with Chapter Two (Morley, Stanford, Rutter, and "All Through the Night"—we never got the arrangement Arne wanted, so used another). This was the last full rehearsal on this repertoire (we’ll have an hour in the hall on Friday between 5:30 and 6:30 PM). Nice for my folks to be able to be there and see me work with this choir (they were impressed and said, “We know why you like working with this choir!”).

Thursday we all went to Stadshuset (City Hall) and took the tour. Even though we see the tower from Gunilla’s apartment and had walked around the courtyard, Kath and I’d never taken the tour, which was excellent. The Nobel Prize banquet takes place there and the various public rooms (the city government does work here, too) are gorgeous.

Sitting outside Stadshuset:

Afterwards we went for lunch on Gamla Stan, and then took the bus out to Skansen, which is a park on Djurgården with buildings from different historical periods. I didn’t go, since I had a rehearsal at 3:30, so took a short walk, and then went to the Radio. Kath and my folks had a great time there, the weather beginning to warm up.

My rehearsal today was for the Brahms Requiem, which RK will do (along with extra singers, 48 in total) later this month with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev. This is the only chorus rehearsal before meeting with the orchestra, not too unusual for such a standard work. There were probably 8 or 9 singers working for the first time with RK and there was a fair amount of over-singing in the first half of the rehearsal. The second half I primarily worked to get them to sing softer (we did a lot of a cappella work), although one never knows what the eventual conductor will do—it’s a large orchestra, not a lot of singers, so they could have to sing out the whole time. Hopefully they won’t—the Brahms doesn’t need it and can be quite subtly sung—as I told the choir, it’s not hard just to sing loud all the time! They’ll do a beautiful job. I also chatted at break with one of the extra tenors, who sings in a barbershop quartet and loves it—his quartet just won the Swedish championship and will go to the finals of the international competition in Nashville.

After the rehearsal I took a cab back to the apartment, picked up Kath and my folks, and we went out to Arne and Birgit Lundmark’s apartment. We went to a local restaurant and had a drink while waiting for Birgit—she was at a meeting with the Swedish equivalent of their condo board. We then had a nice dinner together, followed by dessert and coffee back at their apartment. As I’ve noted before on the blog, Arne and Birgit are just great people, and everyone had a wonderful time talking, eating, and talking. We got back around 11:30 PM after a great day.

Arne & Birgit:

Another "broadcast" (Pro Coro Good Friday)

This recording was bootlegged during Pro Coro's Good Friday concert (as you'll quickly see) and posted on YouTube. You're welcome to watch and listen here. Quality is as one would expect from a digital movie camera from the audience, but it gives a sense of what we were doing.

It's not authorized, but I won't argue with the free publicity.

Sweden - quick link to Radio Choir performance

Much more to report and haven't had time. However, the Spring concert can be found on-line on this page:

I don't know how long these are kept in the archive and how easy it will be to play, although I got it to play right away on my Mac.

Much more soon!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sweden – 3 and 4 May 2008

Saturday we were invited to Eric Ericson’s and Monica’s for coffee. My parents met Eric briefly after he conducted the first concert with Choral Arts in 1993, but that’s the only time and, of course, Monica had never met them.

Eric and Monica are both so gracious and we had a great time for a little more than two hours chatting about a variety of things. I think, for Eric, it was also fun to see father and son together. Eric was in great form and both he and Monica have a wonderful, dry sense of humor. A lot of his former singers and students have talked about Eric’s tremendous sense of humor (something, perhaps, that you might not realize entirely if you’ve only heard him rehearse in English in North America). Someone should collect the “wit and humor” of Eric for his 90th birthday in October—not a project for me, but it should be done!

I also talked separately with Eric about some of the video projects he’s involved in and will help if I can.

Sunday was a day to take a steamboat out to Drottningholm, the “Queen’s palace,” which I’d seen before, but neither Kathryn nor my folks had. It’s now the regular residence of the King and Queen, but the building and grounds, formal gardens, Chinese Pavilion, including the surviving baroque theatre, are open to the public.

The 400-seat theatre is amazing. After the assassination of King Gustav III in 1792 (which by the way, is the basis of the Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera), the theatre was forgotten until the 1920s, so the original stage machinery and scenery survived. The theatre was restored and scenery and stage machinery copied, so baroque and classical opera productions there can be done in a truly authentic style (well, they do have electric lights now!). I saw a production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail there in 1990 (thanks to tickets from Eric and Monica) and if you can, do see the Ingmar Bergman production of Magic Flute (conducted by Eric, by the way). It’s available on DVD and at netflix. Some of it was filmed at Drottningholm (although some of the theatre was recreated in studio), complete with stage machinery. A young Håkan Hagegård plays Papageno. Great fun (it’s sung in Swedish, by the way) and some truly Bergmanesque touches.

We were lucky to have beautiful weather, mostly sunny and warm (mid- to upper-60s for Fahrenheit people, 18-19 for Celsius ones). It’s also a scenic boat trip for an hour or so through Lake Mälaren to the island that is Drottningholm. Gorgeous day.

Sweden – 2 May 2008

Friday evening we’d planned a get-together with Gary Graden and his wife Maria Södersten at their house in Nacka, partly to introduce my folks to some of our friends, partly just to have a good time! Included were Maria’s mother, Barbro; Margareta and Bertil Dimander, good friends of Birgit Hemberg, whom we’d met before (originally Birgit was going to come, but had to cancel); Birgit’s daughter Anna and her daughter Nena (Anna sings in Gary’s choir and we’ve met her on many occasions); and Linus and Stina and their two charming daughters (their youngest is just starting to walk—both sing in Gary’s choir and Linus is the choir president—we had a little bit of business to talk about, too). Of course, Gary and Maria’s two boys, Johan and Filip, were there as well.

Kathryn and Maria had planned the menu and Kathryn spent time beforehand prepping salad fixings, fruit and a great dessert (an English trifle). We also brought a lot of wine, so Kath had loaded three suitcases with wine and food for the taxi! Maria made appetizers, some gorgeous roasted potatoes and vegetables and Gary barbecued again—just fantastic. They also made a delicious punch with elderflower juice, mint and rum.

It was a terrific evening of conversation, eating, drinking, more eating, and a bit of music, too. We left around 11:30, the taxi dropping us off at the train station for a short walk home, before taking mom and dad to their home. I can’t imagine a nicer time—we owe thanks to Gary and Maria.

Most of the dinner party:

Maria and her mother, Barbro:

Gary jamming with his son, Johan:

Me and Gary:

Sweden – 30 April, 1-2 May 2008

Tuesday was errand day, partly to get ready for the arrival of my parents (Richard and Joyce) on Wednesday. Wednesday they arrived at 2:30 in the afternoon and we took them to the apartment we’d arranged for them, near St. Eriksplan, got them settled, they took a short nap, then we found them an ATM, got a bite to eat, bought transit passes for the week and showed them Gunilla's apartment. Neither had been to Sweden before, so the next two weeks should be fun, but busy, with showing them as much as we can, plus four rehearsals and a concert next week for me (and another rehearsal the day before I leave).

Thursday we met them in the late morning and then went to Gamla Stan (the old town) to wander around, look at Storkyrkan (literally, “The Big Church,” or the Cathedral), have dinner, etc.

This was the first of May, a major holiday. When we were about to leave we saw the police gathering around the palace. They were there to make sure all was well for the demonstration march by the various labor/leftist groups—some were the former communist party, plus many other groups, almost all young. It was interesting to watch, each organization having its own signs, slogans, and chants or songs. We particularly liked the “Organization of Pessimists!”

Since mom and dad (both 81 years young) were still a bit jet-lagged, we didn’t make it too long a day.

Friday we went to the Vasa Museum. This is an amazing museum, built around the warship Vasa, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 (it took only 25 minutes to sink—the King, as you might imagine, wasn’t pleased!). I won’t tell you all about it (you can read more here and here), but if you visit Stockholm, don’t miss the museum. The ship was found again in the late ‘50s, raised and restored (95% of the ship is the original, including hundreds of carved statues), moved into the present museum in 1990. The exhibits have changed over the years (I saw it first in 1989) and new to me this time was amazing research about the people whose bodies (skeletons) were recovered in the wreckage (many skeletons on display) with DNA research, facial reconstruction, etc. to tell more about who they might have been. The entire museum is a fascinating look into life during this period in Sweden.

More about Friday in the next post.

Sweden – 28-29 April 2008

After last week’s rehearsals with RK, this week is light on work and big on being social. Monday evening we had Robert and Margareta Sund for dinner here in Gunilla’s apartment. Since we’ve been hosted many times at Robert and Margareta’s apartment in Uppsala, it was nice to be able to return the favor. Robert looked very relaxed after his last series of concerts with OD and I think is looking forward to the next phase without a permanent choir. He will keep very busy, though—he has plenty of guest conducting, master-classes, and workshops. He and Margareta both love to travel so will keep an active schedule. A wonderful evening.

Margareta, Robert and me: