Together with the Embassy of Sweden, the Jussi Björling Society-USA is hosting a mini-conference in Washington, DC to celebrate the career and recording legacy of the Swedish singer many regard as the greatest of the 20th century. The conference, which also celebrates the Jussi Björling Society-USA’s 20th year, is at the Swedish Embassy’s stunning modern headquarters overlooking the Potomac River in the historic Georgetown neighborhood.
The Jussi Björling Society-USA was organized in 1997 by a number of American Björling devotees, with the encouragement of Harald Henrysson, noted Björling scholar, former record librarian at Swedish Radio and the first director of the Jussi Björling Museum in Borlänge, Sweden (Björling's hometown). It was Henrysson’s extensive correspondence with Björling fans from around the world that ultimately led to the society’s founding. Since then, it has become an important presence in the national and international music scene, sponsoring numerous conferences in the U.S. and Sweden alike. These events have provided a marvelous forum for Björling fans from around the world to meet, hear from Björling experts and former colleagues, present recitals, and share a love for this most exemplary of tenors.

20th century greatness
Jussi Björling, born in 1911 in Borlänge, Sweden, had arguably the greatest operatic voice of the 20th century. He had every desirable quality in a voice: exquisite tone and intonation, amazing breath control, artistic sensibility, musical intelligence, elegant phrasing, rhythmic accuracy and shimmering top notes no one could match. He also had an incredible memory for roles sung many years earlier.
Björling had such phenomenal vocal technique that he could sing a trailing pianissimo in his modal voice register without lapsing into falsetto, even on his high notes. But there was also a special quality to the Björling sound that set him apart. It was a haunting sense of melancholia that cut to the soul. One reviewer described this as “a voice full of unshed tears."
Björling was always an artist first, a servant to the music and the composer's intentions. His emotional range was extraordinary, ranging from the tender "Berceuse" from Goddard's Jocelyn to the fiery passion of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana. It wasn't a voice as big as that of Corelli or Del Monaco, but it had a power that reached the upper levels of the largest opera houses. It was also described by those who sang with him as far more beautiful in live performance than on his recordings, if that can be possible.
Björling's voice remained magnificent until his untimely death in 1960; he was 49. His last recorded concert appearance, in Gothenburg just a month before he died, is a fitting reminder of his undiminished vocal powers, of which his "In fernem land" from Wagner’s Lohengrin and "Lensky's Aria" from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin merit special mention. His "Ingemisco" from a complete recording of Verdi's Requiem, recorded in Vienna in 1960, is also one for the ages.
The Björling legacy is preserved by the Jussi Björling Society-USA, the Scandinavian Jussi Björling Society, and the UK's Jussi Björling Appreciation Society. In 1999, 38 years after his death, Björling was voted the greatest singer of the 20th century by a panel of 25 British music critics commissioned by Classic CD magazine. By comparison, among tenors, Placido Domingo was ranked #6, Enrico Caruso #7, Beniamino Gigli #9, and Luciano Pavarotti #19.

Jussi Björling Society
The highlight of Jussi Björling Society-USA’s 20-year history was undoubtedly the 2011 Stockholm Conference, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Björling’s birth. A gala concert at the Royal Opera, with King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia in attendance, featured a lineup of Sweden’s leading opera singers, including world-class tenor, Jonas Kaufmann. Later that year, Swedish Royal Opera tenor Mats Carlsson, under the sponsorship of the Jussi Björling Society-USA and the Rhode Island Swedish Heritage Association, presented a centennial tribute to Jussi Björling in a series of seven coast-to-coast recitals.
The 2017 Jussi Björling mini-conference starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 17, at a rehearsal of Washington Concert Opera’s presentation of Bellini’s La Straniera at George Washington University’s Lissner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW.
An exemplary lineup of speakers is scheduled for November 18, and in honor of this important anniversary and in association with the Scandinavian Jussi Bjorling Society, the society has released “Jussi Björling: Rarities from Opera, Concert, and Radio,” a CD of unreleased and recently discovered Björling treasures — available to all those who join the society at this event. Other Björling CDs will also be available, including the 2016 release of the recently discovered 1959 Copenhagen recital, with bonus tracks from Björling’s March 10, 1952 Voice of Firestone radio and television appearance. These CDs are just two of the projects for which the JBS-USA has been jointly responsible over its 20-year history.
Saturday’s events at the Swedish Embassy, 2900 K St. NW, will open at 10 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m. Members can then proceed to the Georgetown townhouse of member Maija Budow for a buffet, drinks and stimulating conversation at 6:30 p.m. For further information, and to purchase tickets, please visit www.bjorlingsocietyusa.org

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By Kendall Svengalis, vice-president of the Jussi Björling Society–USA and president of the RI Swedish Heritage Association