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RECAP: JBS-USA 20th Anniversary Trip to Sweden! August 30 - September 5, 2018

JBS Arrives in Stockholm, Part 1                                                                                                        
by Janel Lundgren

The Jussi Björling Society - USA began its 20th anniversary year last November with a successful conference in Washington, D.C. at the beautiful Swedish Embassy.  To conclude this banner year, from August 30 to September 5, 2018, twenty-three members of the Society took our celebrations to Sweden itself for six days of music, travel, and friendship.

We started in Stockholm on Thurdsay, August 30th with a concert at Berwaldhallen, the Swedish Radio Concert Hall, with tickets arranged for us by Nils-Göran Olve.  A part of the Baltic Sea Festival, the concert featured the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Giedrė Šlekytė. The program began with a thrilling performance of  the Esa-Pekka Salonen's Piano Concerto, with Andrius Žlabys, pianist. The performers of this powerful work received thunderous applause.

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Following intermission, came a grand rendition of Raminta Šerkšnytė's Songs of Sunset and Dawn, with four guest soloists and the Swedish Radio Choir joining in.   The composer herself was in attendance, and joined the performers for multiple bows to a standing ovation.  

Next day, members enjoyed a free Friday morning in Stockholm.  Many opted for a walking tour of the immediate area and Gamla Stan, led by Nils-Göran Olve, who provided a rich narrative about the city and its history.  We then boarded the afternoon train to Hudiksvall, in time for a boisterous dinner at the Quality Hotell Statt.

JBS Adventures in Hälsingland, Part 2
by Sue Flaster

As the 20th anniversary celebrations of JBS continued, Harald and I joined up with the group at the hotel in Hudiksvall on Friday evening, August 31.  Our arrival coincided with the town’s “water festival,” and there was abundant and well-fueled joy on the streets until the wee hours. Stefan Olmårs had arranged for a visit to the provincial museum early Saturday, but many of us had a less structured morning.  At 1:00, we were bused up to Strömsbruk where hostel owner Johan Adlercreutz gave us a very pleasant and informed tour of the old---and not so old---industrial area where David Björling was born, and where his father worked.

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An annual treat at the Strömsbruk event is a concert by the local brass orchestra, Ströms Brukorkester, and this year they did not disappoint, but provided an hour of Swedish marches and folk tunes in the style of  “spa” entertainments of long ago.

2018 was Stefan Olmårs 13th Jussifest at Strömsbruk, and each year he has managed to present a valuable and musically fulfilling concert.  Canadian baritone--and member of the Metropolitan Opera company--Tyler Duncan concentrated on lieder. His smooth and agile voice has the flexibility and warmth to make art songs really worth hearing. Soprano Malin Hartelius also leaned more on song repertoire rather than opera excerpts.  A Swede, she has been based in Switzerland and Austria for most of her career, with regular visits to Cleveland.

The more “expected” repertoire was presented by stentorian tenor Yinjia Gong.  He had only just arrived from China, but had clearly recovered his powers. Erika Switzer, (Mrs. Tyler Duncan,) not only accompanied Tyler but made us the gift of a sensitive and emotionally uplifting Schubert Impromptu.  Lennart Eng accompanied the other singers ably, as he has done both here and at Voxna in the past.

After a tasty buffet dinner, we reassembled in the concert hall where Harald hosted a Jussi-request session.  Ann-Charlotte Björling joined Harald and Stefan O. on stage and contributed memories and her own request: "L’alba separa..."  Harald had asked for requests beforehand, and as always, there were more requests than there could possibly be time for. Stefan’s (usual) call for “Säg mig god natt" (Say good night to me) came too soon.

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Despite dire weather predictions, Sunday was as lovely as Saturday, and it was difficult to get off the bus and back into the concert hall in the early morning.  Our good behavior was rewarded by an outstanding interview session with questioner Nils-Göran Olve and our four musical performers. A very moving moment ocurred when Malin Hartelius recalled seeing a singer in the very small town of her youth and vowing to be like that person.  That person turned out to be Ann-Charlotte Björling, who was deeply touched by that tribute.

Another amazing moment was the statement by Yinjia Gong that his musical education had taken place in Sweden because of hearing Jussi Björling when he was a small boy in China.  He is now singing mostly in Germany, and has acquired English, Swedish and German, as well as the Western musical tradition in the course of the last few short years. Tyler and Erika told us about their long time in Germany and how their two careers mesh.  In spite of her superb solo performance, Erika prefers working together with other artists, especially singers. Lucky break for Tyler. Nils-Göran managed the remarkable feat of both putting the performers at their ease and extracting actual information.

Next on the agenda was former Chief Dramaturg of the Royal Opera, Stefan Johansson, who gave us a very personal and well-illustrated talk on Birgit Nilsson on the occasion this year of her centenary.  Stefan concentrated on putting Nilsson into a context that many of us Americans were not familiar with, although the Sällskap members attending were surely more informed on the earlier Swedish soprano traditions.

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After Stefan’s presentation, we took the bus back to the hotel, where lunch was served. Harald and I drove back to Säter, and then rejoined the group for an enjoyable and chaotic Italian dinner in Borlänge Sunday evenng.

It’s hardly possible to overpraise the care that Stefan Olmårs took of us:  hotel arrangements, special meals when restaurants were closed, buses to and fro every event, and all with his characteristic good humor and patience.  This simply couldn’t have happened without all of his work.

On Monday, we were were welcomed to the JB Museum by curator Jan-Olof Damberg, where we enjoyed several recordings and videos not accessible elsewhere.  Then---shepherded by Göran Forsling---we took ourselves out to Stora Tuna church, and the graves of the Björling family members. These graveside visits are always emotional, as we reflect on what these people have given us, often at great cost to themselves.

Göran’s heroic efforts at organizing us allowed for a closing dinner in time to catch the late train to Stockholm, ending the Borlänge chapter of the trip.

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Finale in Stockholm, Part 3                                                                                                                       
by Janel Lundgren

As the late train to Stockholm turned out to be very late indeed, it was a rather weary group of travelers who turned out for breakfast next morning.  Nils-Göran Olve had arranged a lovely final day for us, however, and spirits soon rose again.

The day began with a personalized tour of the Royal Opera House.  We enjoyed the beauty of the grand staircase, the magnificent Gold Room, and a rare close up view of the great chandelier, which was lowered all the way down for its annual cleaning.  We also had access to the royal private entrance and reception hall, and the stage itself, under last-minute construction in preparation for Opening Night the following week.

Another tour followed lunch, this time of the Stockholm Konserthuset, scene of so many of Jussi's concerts and recordings, and of course of the Nobel Prize Ceremonies.  The Hall is also the main venue for orchestral music in Stockholm. With a design by Ivar Tengbom chosen in competition, inaugurated in 1926, this glorious Concert Hall is home to the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Our Farewell Dinner that evening was arranged by Nils-Göran in the Elite Hotel Marina Tower.  Several members opted to take an hour's cruise on a Stockholm ferry, which ultimately landed them at the dock by the hotel.  After a sumptuous dinner, our group was invited to the beautiful apartment residence nearby of our friend Nils-Göran, which featured a magnificent view of the Stockholm skyline, along with his equally magnificent collection of recordings!  At the end of this wonderful day, our time together and another JBS very special event came to an end.

As has already been said about Stefan Olmårs, our visit to Sweden, (encompassing trains, buses, boats, and 4 hotels in 6 days), would have been disaster waiting to happen were it not for the planning, work, time and attention given us by Nils-Göran Olve, Göran Forsling, and Per Bäckström.  We thank them all, and are so grateful for their friendship!