Monday, 26 March 2018

Muntra Musikanter’s 140 year Anniversary Concert

The whole story begins two years ago when Christer Lindberg asked me if I would be interested in composing a new piece for the male choir Muntra Musikanter’s 140 year anniversary concert in 2018, which I of course was! My grandfather Göran Damström sang for a large part of his life in this very same choir, so it was an honour to be asked to compose for them. I asked the musical board if it would be possible to commission a new text for the piece, which they thought was a good idea, and I commissioned the Swedish speaking Finnish poet Oscar Rossi to write something for this purpose.

Just as with composition commissions, it is a lottery when you commission a new text and it was very existing to see what Oscar would come up with. And indeed: Oscar wrote something very different from anything I had read of him previously. But it worked out really well!
During the composition process I had regular contact with the conductor Henrik Wikström and checked with him in how many voices I could write and many similar questions. Henrik gave me very free hands which was nice.

In August 2017 I delivered the ready piece to the choir and in January 2018 I heard the first time a rehearsal of the piece. Two days before the premiere I heard a second rehearsal and what a big difference it was! But the best version of the piece (so far) was luckily the premiere itself, with which I was very happy!  Small things like the indication “weight on the front part of the foot, hit the ground with one heel at a time (quietly), according to the given rhythm”, which hadn’t sounded so great in rehearsals (when the choir was wearing sneakers or winder shoes) got just the sound I was looking for with the formal black shoes on stage. Many sang even by heart!

Muntra Musikanter 140th anniversary. Photo © Cata Portin

The choir Muntra Musikanter kept their 140 year anniversary in the Finlandia Hall for an audience of over 1000 people. Due to the anniversary, they also had an organised formal dinner party after the concert, which around 400 people attended. Most of the audience was dressed in evening gowns and suits, which made both the concert and dinner party very festive.

Me in my new evening gown at Muntra Musikanter's 140th anniversary concert.

The program was:
Ór Ymis hold (Finnish premiere) by Sunleif Rasmussen to a text from the Edda

Pauli Ord (world premiere) by me to a text by Oscar Rossi

Vem är du? by Andreas Lönnqvist to a text of Zacharias Topelius

Under rönn och syrén by Herman Palm to a text of Zacharias Topelius

Sandels by Jean Sibelius to a text of Johan Ludvig Runeberg


Sure On This Shining Night by Morten Lauridsen to a text of James Agee

MLK by U2 arranged by Hanna Kronqvist

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen arranged by Hanna Kronqvist

Hand i hand (world premiere) by Vytautas Miskinis to a text of Henry Parland

Dig är en törnkrans by Lille Bror Sönderlundh to a text of Gunnar Björling

Iltapilviä by Toivo Kuula to a text of V. A. Koskenniemi

Kejsarhymnen by Alexej Feodorovtij Lvoff to a text of Vasilij Zhukovskij

Gammalt porslin by Erik Bergman to a text by Carl Snoilsky

Sjöfararen vid milan by Selim Palmgren to a text of Gustaf Fröding

Muntra Musikanter 140th anniversary © Cecilia Damström

The choir was accompanied in a few songs by the eminent pianist Folke Gräsbeck. Gräsbeck has recorded all of Sibelius piano music, a total of 24 records, and he wrote his PhD dissertation about the music of Sibelius, so he was by far the most qualified choice for accompanying the choir when it came to Sibelius. The solos in the concert were sung by Adam Newman (in Pauli ord and MLK), Dennis Holmlund (MLK) and Janne Sandström (MLK and Hallelujah)

Muntra Musikanter 140th anniversary. Photo © Cata Portin
The concert was accompanied by a visual show made by the designer and visual artist Stefan Lindfors and his assistant. Lindfors used something as simple and fascinating as the “old school” over head projector, water and different elements that he combined with water. I also liked his overhead strategy of how he had planned the visual elements.

Stefan Lindfors at Muntra Musikanter 140th anniversary. Photo © Cata Portin
As the choir is a Swedish speaking choir, and the Swedish speaking minority (to which also my family belongs) of Finland is quite small, there were very many familiar faces in the audience, which was nice. I was very happy that my sister, both of my parents, my both grand mothers, and two of my aunts could attend. When I was young I thought that you would “grow out of it”, but it seems that I’m still like a 5-year old who is very happy when my family will come to my concerts. And my grandmother said she was sure that my grandfather Göran would have been very proud that I had composed a piece for “his” choir. I was also very happy that my friend Lucy McKnight and her friend could make it to the concert.
Me and my family after the concert

After the concert I was invited by the choir to join their anniversary dinner party. I want you to imagine: over 400 guests of which most sing or have sung in choirs their whole life, singing familiar drinking songs together in four voices! Yes, it DID sound amazing!

I had the honour of having the dinner company of the pianist Folke Gräsbeck and the conductor Henrik Wikström. Folke has been my piano teacher at music camps around 2001-2006, so I have know’n him for over half of my life. At the dinner I also got to meet the composer Sunleif Rasmussen from the Faero Islands and the actress Christina Indrenius-Zalewski, widow of Muntra Musikanter’s former conductor (1951-1978) and eminent composer Erik Bergman.

Photo together with actress Christina Indrenius-Zalewski

Photo together with composer Sunleif Rasmussen

After the dinner, a band was playing dance music and I had the opportunity to talk to a few more choir members, and I had a wonderful evening. And could there be a better way to round up the evening than by having an awesome review of the concert and my piece in today’s edition of the newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet?
Thank you! (The flower I received from the choir)

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