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A WONDERFUL TIME IN WASHINGTON D.C! JBS-USA 20th Anniversary Mini-Conference, November 17-18, 2017

by Janel E. Lundgren

This celebratory, international conference opened with an optional event on Friday evening, November 17th, with members attending a dress rehearsal of Bellini's opera La straniera, performed by the Washington Concert Opera in Lissner Auditorium.  The company's rehearsal/performance was impressive, and a welcome opportunity to hear this infrequently performed opera from the bel canto repertoire.

On Saturday the 18th, the conference formally convened in the Event Center of the gorgeous House of Sweden, overlooking the Potomac River, with attendees receiving their badges, printed programs, and their pre-paid personal copies of our historic new CD.  Members and guests came from across the United States, and as far away as Sweden and Chile.

Washington Concert Opera, Bellini's La straniera

Britt-Marie Forslund, Cultural Officer of the Swedish Embassy, offered a greeting on behalf of Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter, touching on the many programs and services of the Embassy.  The conference was then officially opened by JBS-USA president Janel Lundgren, who welcomed all present, and thanked the Ambassador and Embassy staff for their gracious hospitality.  She then introduced the first speaker of the day, Peter Russell, the General Director of Vocal Arts DC.

Peter's topic was "A Brief History of Opera in Washington."  With his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things musical in the capital city, his fascinating presentation encompassed both the famous and the lesser known musical organizations, venues and events in Washington's rich cultural history.

Peter Russell enjoying the conference in the House of Sweden Events Center.

Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette gave the second presentation of the morning on the subject of "Jussi Björling in Context",  tracing the changes in the technical and interpretive capabilities and styles of tenors through the 20th century. She used marvelous recorded examples of tenors both before and after the Björling era from her extensive audio library, and particularly noted Jussi's unique ability to combine tenderness and strength in his singing.

A brief hour for lunch-on-your-own allowed everyone to take advantage of the several charming cafés located nearby on the Potomac.  During this break, members were also treated to a tour of the House of Sweden, with its many exhibits, beautiful rooms, and panoramic roof deck.

After lunch, Society member and new Treasurer Stephen Fischman explored "Jussi Björling's Diaphragmatic Technique and Three Dimensional Singing."  Steve's skillful and lively presentation was complete with PowerPoint examples, his own vocal demonstrations, and a hands-on assist from Sue Flaster!

Swedish economist and long-time President of the Swedish "Friends of the Royal Opera" in Stockholm,  Nils-Göran Olve next spoke about "Gedda - the other Swedish tenor."   His speech was accompanied by superb, rare recordings of Gedda, spanning the course of his long career.  This address is printed on Page 7 of the JBS 2018 Journal, and an audio recording is also available online through this website.

Anne Midgette cues up another great tenor during her presentation.

Everyone's favorite Björling scholar, Harald Henrysson, then presented his new research on "Jussi Björling's Concert Repertoire:  A New List with Commentaries."  Not yet available in printed format, Harald's debut of this material is also accessible through the presentation audio, available through this website.  Once again, Harald has provided us all with a significant new resource.

A special welcome was given to Stefan Olmårs, Secretary of the Jussi Björling Society in Scandinavia, who alerted us to initial plans for a mutual celebration of the two societies in Sweden for early September, 2018,  -  beginning with a JB Festival in Strömsbruk September 1st and 2nd.  

The conference ended with the official presentation by conference director Sue Flaster of our historic new CD, "Jussi Björling - Rarities from Opera, Concert and Radio."  She closed the day on an emotional and uplifting note with the playing of the final track of the CD, Jussi's breathtakingly beautiful "Hostias" from the Verdi Requiem.

Members of the Society then adjourned to the lovely Georgetown home of Maija Budow, where we joined with the presenters in wonderful discussions, good friendship, and the enjoyment of a sumptuous buffet dinner.  Maija and her daughter were gracious and charming hostesses as always, and we could not have felt more at home.  As the evening came to a close, everyone took a reluctant departure, but not before singing an enthusiastic rendition of "Land du välsignade," - signalling the end of another heartfelt JBS-USA gathering.

Seen from the House of Sweden roof deck, the Kennedy Center just across the Potomac