Monday 12 April 2010


No pictures taken at the time of the event, I am afraid. But I would like to share immediately with you an exciting experience I had today. The finish of my hiking tale will have to wait until tomorrow.
Last week, Eva, daughter of an old university colleague from way back in Stockholm, contacted me and suggested we meet today, with a visit to Stanford in the morning and a choir concert in San Francisco in the afternoon. Not having seen her since 1997, I was delighted to accept her invitation. She is a visiting professor at Stanford and I was looking forward to an inside guided tour of the campus. As an aside, we have to thank Richard, another old friend, for all of this. He was among the first to leave a comment on this blog and had suggested that Eva and I meet.

This morning it was quickly established that ”Människan spår - men Gud rår”. Rain was gushing down outside my window and we quickly agreed to postpone the campus tour. However, Eva was so kind as to buy me a ticket to the concert that would be waiting for me at the counter. So, after a morning filled with photo processing I was on my way – well, not immediately, first I had to drive the car the 100 meters to the nearest pharmacy to buy an umbrella; sorely needed in the pouring rain. No singing for me, however, only rushing back to the car and on I went across the Bay to San Francisco.

This turned out to be a haphazard voyage. There was full storm on the Bay and warnings along the freeway to take it very easy on the bridge. This advice was not difficult to follow, with vision being severely limited, storm gusts shaking the car and the latter often caning on huge water pusses. All this on six lanes of bridge pass full with cars!

But I made it across and found eventually the site for the concert, called San Francisco Symphony. This is a somewhat unconventional edifice, a bit at odds with the more classically inspired neighbours, such as, the Opera and the Town Hall, but well suited to its function as concert hall. Eva had provided me with a splendid seat well up front, but I was surprised not to find her seated by my side. Instead, I got a courteous mature gentleman as company, easy to converse with. Still, I was starting to wonder where Eva might be seated.

But I shouldn’t have worried. As the choir entered the stage, whom did I see among the nicely dressed ladies and gentlemen if not Eva in formal attire. It all became clear to me, Eva was one of the lead sopranos in the choir. I punched myself for not having understood the obvious. An intelligent and industrious academic like Eve would of course be eager to live life to the full also in her spare time! I waved at her and she smiled back and thus was contact established.

Now the director assumed the stage. It turned out to be a humble Swede with a stature not unlike the “Federführer”. Those of you who are unfamiliar with this piece of “art”, there is still a chance to become acquainted: all you have to do is go to Switzerland where wood cut copies can still be bought. For those of you not willing to take the trip, suffice it to know that his was a slim and gangly body, well suited to all kinds of intriguing movements.

Ragnar Bohlin, that was his name, took quickly charge of the show that included, besides the singers, also a percussionist. Once the music started, all else faded into background. The most wondrous sounds came mellowing down from above. It was as if the wind and the sea themselves were singing through the velvet throats on stage.

This was the most wondrous choir music I had ever heard. Once the music stopped, there was thunderous applause! It became yet more thunderous when the composer himself, Fredrik Sixten, rose in his loge and joined in. It appeared that I had witnessed the very first performance of “LET THERE BE (LIGHT)”, an opus even the maker himself would have been proud to have created.

It would take too long to tell you about all the wonderful music I heard this afternoon. After all, I am not an art critic, just a humble blogger. Still, two more highlights of the show just have to be recalled. The first half of the performance was about Swedish songs. All were lovely to hear, but the last of them, in addition, benefitted from especially vivid movements by the director, who visibly could not restrain himself from having fun. The explanation came when I glanced at the title and lyrics of the song, “Femton finnar” (Fifteen Finns). The Swedes love to make gentle fun of the Finns and this shone through perfectly well in lanky Ragnar’s performance.

In the second half I fell in love with the final piece, the “Chichester Psalms” by none else than Leonard Bernstein. Leonard had concocted this music on the fly on the basis of leftovers from the “Westside Story” score, as well as bits and pieces of an abandoned musical, “The Skin of our Teeth”. But none of this showed in the piece. This time the choir was joined by: an organist; a beautiful harpist; the percussionist; and, last but not least, a boy soprano! The organ introduced the piece, with what seemed a slight allusion to “The Phantom of the Opera”, but when the choir started, we were again emerged in the marvellous sounds of a great composer transposed by a superior choir. The advanced harmonies of a modern age merged with the syncopated rhythm of the new continent to result in a wonderful piece of church music. Soon the boy started singing, with an angel’s voice only to be heard shortly before its breaking at puberty. I kept my fingers crossed to keep the voice intact throughout his singing, so close to perfection was his performance.

During the intermission I could have a quick conversation with Eva, complementing her on her and the choir’s performance. We agreed to postpone the campus tour until a later date in spring, when the weather would become more predictable. It is well known that early spring is thunderstorm season in the Bay area, but that more stable conditions usually prevail throughout the year. So the campus tour will have to be the topic for a later blog.

When I exited the Symphony, the rain had stopped. Late afternoon sunrays sprinkled gold on the cupola of the town hall in front of me, as if in reverence to a performance long to be remembered. What a marvelous afternoon!


Eva Meyersson Milgrom said...

Emil, it was wonderful to have you in the audience, more fun to sing when you know someone out there.
The story about the Ragnar is fun. How did he find his way to the Bay?
Well he had been visiting the US chorus life before, and had met the SF chorus director Vance George on one of those trips. When I had to leave for the Bay area, I asked Ragnar what I should do. I had been singing all my life, in one form or the other, where could I continue this wonderful hobby of mine? Ragnar suggested getting in touch with Vance, whom I would like Ragnar claimed. And I did, and Vance did. So in 1999 I joined the SF Chorus. Vance retired three years ago, and we had to sit through one awful audition after the other for a new leader. I called Ragnar for some reason or the other, and while we were talking I heard my self say, Ragnar why do you now apply to this position? He did and MTT, Michael Tilson Thomas loved him. And hired him! So there is a story for you about taking advantage of circumstances.
thanks for coming and talk to you soon

Emil Ems said...

Thanks a lot, Eva, for sharing with us the interesting stories of yours and Ragnar's arrival at the San Francisco Choir. Isn't it often so in life that great talent speaks for itself, but that nonetheless a little help from your friends can put some icing on the cake?

kari_lantto said...

Så det var dit hon försvann, Eva, jag undrade ibland. Kul du hittade henne.