All Good Things

This Maundy Thursday evening I’m thinking back to last weekend and working at this year’s Sundsvall Guitar Festival. I presented the festival’s three evening concerts – three very different programmes ranging from Irish folk to Renaissance music.

The first evening was all about Baroque and Renaissance music, as the concert coincided with the European Early Music Day on March 21. The second evening was a double bill: first, an acoustic guitar and cello duo playing art music from the late 19th century until today; then, after intermission, an electric guitar and keytar (sic!) duo playing symphonic rock music inspired by Swedish joik chants. The last evening featured Irish folk music, played with verve by a renowned Swedish folk music quartet together with a veritable living legend of the genre.

In action during the last concert. Photo © Sebastian Evensson.

All three concerts were excellent, and the combination of different artists performing wildly different styles of music presented such a wonderful stylistic buffet, really showing the breadth of the contemporary guitar as well as its ancestors. And there were more concerts besides these, including a riotous blues trio and a family concert featuring a host from a beloved Swedish children’s TV programme.

The local newspaper covered all of the evening concerts, and judging by the reviews, my enjoyment must not have been entirely due to bias. I was happy to get several shoutouts as well in the reviews, particularly on being described as the “highly interesting presenter”, regarding the early music concert.

I contacted each artist well in advance to discuss whether they had any suggestions or particular needs for my presentations, and to coordinate when and how often they wanted me to interject. I had a particularly thorough discussion with the leader of the early music concert, the fantastic Swedish lute player Dohyo Sol (whom you may know from Höör Baroque). The quartet he had put together played music from the 16th to the 18th century, so I could easily have talked for an hour about, well, everything. But the audience wasn’t there for a lecture, so I had to cut it down to six minutes times two.

It’s much easier to go on for a longer time than if you have to really be succinct. It took several rewrites and plenty of darling-murdering before I arrived at a fitting script that was both cohesive, interesting, as well as describing the music well enough to warrant my being there at all. Fortunately it seems like I struck just the right balance. Besides the review in the paper, the performers also seemed to really enjoy my presentation.

This year’s festival ended up being the last one, wrapping up on lucky number thirteen. Yamandú Pontvik who started the festival, and has been managing it ever since, has done an awe-inspiring job together with a tight-knit crew of mostly two assistants, with myself as a late addition in recent years. But the festival has run on Yamandú’s passion and enthusiasm, his seemingly inexhaustible energy which ended up not inexhaustible after all. Something as dull as the constant struggle to secure financing ended up being the nail in the coffin. I know it’s been a labour of love and a source of pride, but on the other hand it is also healthy and sound to know when to say, enough.

At the end of the day, It is disheartening to see and hear from and about colleagues all around Sweden struggling to maintain, let alone grow, these kinds of festivals. And I’m not even talking about primarily the really niche ones that do little to attract a wider audience, but about events like this, like the Sundsvall Guitar Festival, which – very unfairly, in my opinion (although as I said, I am of course terribly biased) – fizzles out in spite of genuinely offering something unique to concertgoers.

Seeing as I myself have dreams of arranging concerts at my own little venue in spe, these things cause me to question whether I should really push ahead with these dreams, these plans, or not.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) I am a little too stupid (or stubborn, or both) to give up. At least, without trying.

Categorised as Blog posts

Composer, arranger and songwriter for performance, recording, broadcast and interactive media.