Thursday, November 27, 2008

Magic Songs in the Borg Cube

Jennifer The Uppsala Kammarkör had another concert last Sunday, and I now know two of its tenors, my officemate S. and Swiss postdoc G. The title of the concert was "Magic Songs" after excerpts from a piece with the same name by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, and the theme was magic-inspired music from around the world. Included in program were a tune by 16th century composer Tielman Susato rearranged by Jan Garbarek, and a short piece by Estonian Arvo Pärt. The concert opened with Raua Needmine, a challenging piece by V Tormis (challenging in this case to the singers; two of the baritones looked like they were going to pass out at one point, but we enjoyed the piece hugely). The eponymous Magic Songs were intended "to make magic work in the real world," and included chants for calling wolves, keeping bees warm, making bears dance, making stones sing (there were some lovely vocals for that one, with one note sustained while others fell in turn, making me think of meteorites), and finally, an all-purpose chant to make magic work. The concert ended with a yoik, the Lapp song that captures the essence of a human or other living being. In this case the living being was joyful, and as the choir sang they bent their bodies about, almost as if they were singing a traditional American gospel.

The concert was held in the Uppsala Konsert och Kongress, the opening of which, in September of 2007, was surrounded by controversy. The building was expensive to begin with, and then of course costs ran well over what had been projected. The style is a modern cube: some like it, some hate it, but everyone agrees it stands out architecturally (whether that's good or bad depends on you). The acoustics in our small hall were fantastic. The view of the city, from the solid bank of windows that runs around the building at about two-thirds the way up, is fabulous, and anybody can come into the building during the day just to see the view. The interior feels rather uncomfortably like an airport. There is a water feature outside so unobtrusive that pedestrians routinely fall into it, and even a taxi drove into it once.

Worst of all, in the minds of some: it was designed by Danes.

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