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October 24, 2008

Orphei Drängar spans every walk of life

Georgia Straight (Canada):

There is more reason to be grateful for Swedes than their knack for churning out cheap, yet livable, home furnishings; music lovers can be thankful that our Scandinavian friends also provided the inspiration for one of Vancouver’s most beloved choral ensembles.

If it hadn’t been for a visit almost 20 years ago by the more than 80 gentlemen who make up the Swedish men’s choir Orphei Drängar, our own men’s choir, Chor Leoni, might never have been established. At least, that’s how Diane Loomer, Chor Leoni’s founder and conductor, tells it.

"I heard them in 1989, when they were here in Vancouver on tour," Loomer recalls in a phone conversation. "I thought, ‘If I ever create a men’s choir, that’s what I want to model it after.’ Not only did they sing fantastically, but they had an amazing…presence on-stage."

This Saturday evening (October 25), audiences will be able to see and hear for themselves what so impressed Loomer two decades ago, when Chor Leoni presents Orphei Drängar, affectionately known simply as OD, at the Chan Centre. The wide-ranging concert, featuring challenging works as varied as Bob Chilcott’s Five Ways to Kill a Man, Claude Debussy’s Invocation, and Jaroslav Kricka’s Kdo má pocernú galánku, will mark the final leg of the choir’s one-week North American tour with Stockholm-based Ukrainian soprano Maria Fontosh. It will also be the last performance OD gives under the direction of conductor Robert Sund, who is retiring after a long association with the ensemble.

"I’ve been with the choir now for 43 years, and I think that’s enough," the amiable and down-to-earth Sund, 66, explains in accented English by phone from Stockholm. "I’ve been conducting them for 23 years and I was singing with them before, and was an associate conductor."

Sund had big shoes to fill when he took over as full-time conductor from the legendary Eric Ericson in 1991. A champion of choral music in Sweden, Ericson propelled the amateur group into the international spotlight, where it was hailed as the world’s best male choir. Under Sund’s direction, the ensemble expanded its repertoire, commissioning more work, creating arrangements, and maintaining its reputation as the epitome of the male vocal ensemble.

Asked to enumerate what makes OD so special, Sund speaks plainly. "They are very good singers.…And it’s not only a choir, it’s like a society or brotherhood. There are a lot of connections between older former members and new members of the choir." Being in the university town of Uppsala, he adds, makes it easy to find good voices. "Every year there’s about 8,000 to 10,000 new [students] coming [to Uppsala]. Some of them are good singers."

The men in the ensemble, he says, come from every walk of life. "You have everything from farmers…and doctors and lawyers and teachers and so on. There’s no limitation. People can do whatever they want, as long as they are good singers and good persons."

Described in that manner, creating a world-class choir sounds positively easy. But, as with IKEA, it’s one thing to have all the pieces; it’s quite another to mesh them together flawlessly.

Posted by acapnews at October 24, 2008 12:01 AM

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