July 4-7 in Dalarna province,
mostly Borlänge and Mora
The 2007 Summer JBS Swedish
safari opened on July 4th
in Borlänge at the Jussi Björling Museum there, a
place that some of us regard as the “center of the universe.” This year’s Museum
program was unusual in the emphasis on singers other than JB, and on aspects of Jussi
in areas other than singing. Really. Harald welcomed all with good cheer (and a new
haircut), and we got a running start on a couple of very full
Music journalist Göran Forsling
gave us a splendid overview of Swedish singers of the past on Wednesday morning,
followed in the afternoon by Museum summer staffer Roger Alderstrand, who discussed –
with illustrations – Jussi in caricature. Roger’s favorites, and ours, were the
drawings more clearly done out of a spirit of affection.
We learned about more
Scandinavian singers on Thursday, with a presentation by Ragnhild Nyhus, Director of
Norway’s Flagstad Museum, followed by local music critic (and official transfer
engineer for Bluebell Records) Christer Eklund who spoke about the Kerstin Thorborg
archive in nearby Falun. A subset of our group went off to the resort town of
Siljansnäs to hear young mezzo-soprano Ann-Kristin Jones [“You-nes”] with the Dala
Sinfonietta in a program of Nordic songs by Grieg and Alfvén. The scenery along
Lake Siljan was gorgeous on this lovely Swedish evening, and the concert fit that
mood with fresh vibrant singing from local favorite Ms. Jones: watch for a big
career for this mezzo-soprano from
Friday afternoon was devoted to
Jussi and an assortment of connections to sports, however tenuous. Jan-Olof Damberg
spoke on Jussi as participant, observer, and performer at opening ceremonies live and
televised. Harald wrapped up Friday with a carefully researched overview of
everything we know about David Björling’s early years and the beginnings of the
Björling Male Quartet.
Saturday morning, we loaded on
our enormous bus for the first time, and set off first for a quiet visit to Stora
Tuna’s church and its graveyard with Jussi and many family members. Then we headed
north to Mora and the Anders Zorn Museum. The bus had a huge sign on the side, which
announced that we were the “ Jussi Björling Society-USA,” and folks stopped and
stared, in amazement, I think.
Kerstin Meyer joined us in Mora,
and stayed with the group for the remainder of the Swedish part of the tour. She was
unfailingly kind to all, generous with her time and energy and willing to listen
patiently to any and all.
Raymond Björling gave a lovely
concert at the “Music on Lake Siljan” Festival,
with a mixture of folk tunes,
arias and other concert pieces. The selections were not always familiar and included
some songs from contemporary musicals, but Raymond’s warmth and ease in
material was truly delightful.
I’ve heard him sing quite a few times now, and felt that these charming songs might
have been written for him.
July 8-9 in
Dan, Harald, and Hans Thunström
working together had procured for us the huge bus mentioned earlier, together with
our young, patient, and good-humored driver. We set off first for Bolnäs where we
were joined by Stefan Olmårs and a contingent from the Scandinavian JB Society. First
stop was coffee and cake: the Swedes always have their priorities in
Stefan Johansson, Chief
Dramaturg of the Royal Opera, joined the group in Bolnäs, and was – as always – a
highly informed, articulate and amusing companion during the rest of the program in
Stefan O. had us tightly
scheduled, and we continued our day with a visit to the only linen mill remaining in
Scandinavia (where we saw linen being made the really OLD way), then on to Strömsbruk
for some of David Björling’s early history, a short bus tour of historical houses in
Hälsingland, more coffee and cake – this time at Stefan’s home, courtesy of Christina
Olmårs, and finally dinner at Järvsöbaden and at last to bed.
Stefan O. was the usual
masterful if perhaps overly ambitious organizer, and we spent several hours traveling
between historical places. The passing impressions of Hälsingland’s painted houses
made us all want to see more, and Stefan also arranged that.
Monday we got to sleep in a bit,
and then gathered to listen to Bertil Bengtsson speak on the history of the Swedish
singing tradition. There were plenty of good questions and comments, followed by yet
another typical smögåsbord lunch.
Afternoon travel included a
local folk museum in Edsbyn, which was truly extraordinarily fine, both in the
quality of exhibits – mostly local folk art – and the quality of the presentations
themselves. Our two traveling curators were deeply impressed.
A highpoint on Monday was the
annual “Jussi in Our Hearts” concert at Voxna Church. Posters identified the event as
a “Jussifest,” and it truly was. Our singers were Scandinavian Society President
baritone Bengt Krantz, up and coming young tenor Mats Carlsson, and local talent
(tenor and weight lifter) Hans Qvarfell.
Krantz and Carlsson, the
professionals, gave us a full program of stirring Swedish songs and arias and duets
from opera. But the surprise of the event was elderly and masterful bass-baritone
Torsten Föllinger, who sang “Ol’ man river.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the
We concluded, as always, with
the whole audience singing “Land, du välsignade,” and then we were off to Voxna
Herrgård for a lovely smörgåsbord dinner.
Two further major musical events
of the day still awaited us after dinner: Stefan Olmårs described an interview he had
managed with Renee Fleming, and then our magnificent Kerstin Meyer spoke eloquently
about her career and especially on her early encounters with our
Highlights from her Bluebell
aria CD were played, as well as the ‘Ai nostri monti’ duet from
with Jussi (1960).
On Monday morning, we had a
brief stop for an interview, and then had a look in at Stefan’s own painted house,
where his son Olle and Olle’s new bride will be living.
Most of the Swedes left us at
Bolnäs to return to their homes via train, and the rest of us rode on to Stockholm’s
ferry terminal for our overnight float to Helsinki.
July 10-20 in Lahti,
Savonlinna, and Helsinki (to be
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