The Big Payoff

Last weekend was one of the most intense ones I’ve had so far this year. Two days; two different concerts; two different roles – one incredibly tired, but also very happy, me.

Throughout the 2022–2023 season, I have been working on a project for Föreningen Nymus – a local, Härnösand-based music association – arranging performances and/or workshops at pre-schools and grade schools around Ångermanland. This also involved booking artists with previous experience working with kids, contacting and planning with the schools, as well as otherwise making all the necessary arrangements and preparations.

The grand finale of this year-long project was a concert last Saturday at Härnösand Theatre where students from the public music schools (”kulturskola”) in Härnösand, Örnsköldsvik and Kramfors performed together with an ensemble from the Piteå College of Music as a full 38-piece orchestra!

The programme featured music from the standard orchestral repertoire one work by Ralph Ford, an American composer previously unknown to me, as well as several first performances: Compositions by students at the Kapellsberg School of Music in Härnösand mentored by my friend and colleague Jörgen Häll, as well as a brand-new piece co-written by myself and Jörgen specifically for this event.

I have been working hard for more than six months, behind the scenes, trying to make this concert happen. It has been a slog, getting everybody’s schedules lined up, finding suitable repertoire, planning transportation to get everybody to Härnösand (and back!), all the way to making sure everyone was taken care of properly on the day of the concert. I even had to help erect podiums and set up chairs and music stands, coordinating with the stage manager and the conductor, also a (recently graduated) Piteå student.

After the concert was over, the enthusiastic audience milled back out into the foyer and the tired but happy young musicians chatted excitedly with each other as they left the stage, or packed their instruments together.

Myself, I felt an immense relief that we had made it, but also a slightly anxious hope that the young performers would leave the event inspired and energised. I wanted to stimulate the kulturskola students especially, and inspire them to keep at playing their instruments, even if they end up pursuing other academic or manual careers. Making music together – music as an act, rather than a commodity – is something I very much want to support.

So far, so much done already. And that was only the first part of my weekend! After a night’s rest (albeit not a long enough one) I had to reset myself from a practical mindset to an artistic one.

I have been engaged as the temporary leader of the Härnösand Cathedral Choir since late November last year. Apart from rehearsals, I have led the choir at Sunday service and a few other performances, including the concert last Sunday. I have also been responsible for choosing the repertoire, together with my friend Per, the excellent organist who works at the cathedral.

At the time of writing, we still have one more service to perform at, next Sunday, but last week’s concert was kind of the culmination of my time with the choir. Originally, this concert was supposed to be centred around Lars-Erik Larsson’s lovely cantata God in Disguise, but due to various practical reasons that had to be postponed.

Instead, I put together a mixed programme with a combination of works dear to my heart as well as a few that the choir was already familiar with. Per also played organ pieces by Fredrik Sixten and Oskar Lindberg, and the violinists Ronnie and Ellinor Weber played violin duet works by Bo Linde and Wilhelm Peterson-Berger and – on my request – some lovely music by Swedish 19th century composer Amanda Maier-Röntgen together with Per.

I was actually rather nervous, going into last Sunday, but the concert ended up a smashing success, raising applause and cheers from the seventy-odd listeners in attendance after the last three pieces, performed back-to-back. I had programmed the concert to make the pieces fit together neatly both thematically, stylistically and logistically, allowing the instrumentalists to adjust while the choir performed a cappella pieces, and even some pieces slotting into each other when in the same keys.

For example: Bror Samuelson’s setting of Hugsvala mitt hjärta for organ and choir ends on an A major chord, which helps the choir go into Benny Andersson’s Vilar glad. I din famn which is written in the key of A major (beginning on an A major chord). And finally, I transposed Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Sverige from the original A-flat major up to A major so we could simply move on through to that final piece without interruption.

In fact, in order to avoid interrupting the mood with extended applause, I had practiced with the choir to flip over to the score to Sverige while holding out the last chord of the piece before so that we could have only time for a new breath between the two last pieces. I believe that, for the audience as well, that delayed gratification made the act of applauding us even more pleasant for them as well.

I was also happy to include almost exclusively music from the 20th and 21st century, with the exceptions being Amanda Maier-Röntgen and, on the choir’s part, Heinrich Isaac’s beautiful Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen, which is one of my very favourite songs.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I had to cut out a couple of pieces originally included in the programme, which was disappointing and frustrating of course. But I hope I will still get a new opportunity in the future to study those pieces (and even more, hopefully) with the choir.

At next week’s Sunday service, we will perform a selection of the previous repertoire of this spring, giving us a nice opportunity to revisit and further refine interpretations of what we have worked on recently. Coming back to those pieces at our rehearsal two days ago was quite fun as it proved how not only those particular pieces had matured further since we last studied and performed them, but also how the choir itself has developed in these past months.

Ginger sponge cake topped with coconut flakes and chopped walnuts. I rarely take the time to bake, but I always enjoy it when I do.

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

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