Swedish Arts - a Gift to San Francisco
Thursday, June 16th was a splendid day in San Francisco for Swedish Art. On that day, as an extension of Sweden’s Flag Day, the Swedish Consulate presented the highly anticipated concert by two young Swedish musicians free to the public at noon in Yerba Buena Gardens, a grand oasis bathed in warm sunlight among towering skyscrapers as a backdrop. This annual concert features the year’s winner of the Jenny Lind Scholarship and the winner of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music Scholarship. The stunning soprano this year was Rebecca Rasmussen; her equally gifted colleague, Daniel Hormazábal Cortés.

The program was quite challenging. The duo began with pieces by Swedish and Scandinavian composers (Stenhammar, Sibelius, and Alfvén). The second half featured European classical composers (Catalani, Mendelssohn, and Gounod). In between Hormazábal played a very difficult yet melodically dramatic Liszt transcription of a piece by Schubert. At the conclusion of their concert they received a standing ovation and were requested to perform two encores as Hon. Consul General of Sweden Barbara Osher presented each of them with a bouquet of yellow and blue flowers as they stood on the raised amphitheaters between columns with Swedish Flags flanking the Yerba Buena Concert Series banner. The program was partially sponsored by Folkets Hus och Parker and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Stockholm.

A tour with a legacy
When impressario P.T.Barnum invited Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish Nightingale, to tour the United States in 1850-1851, she was greeted by 30,000 people on the quay as her ship docked in New York City. The two scholarships similarly include a tour of North America, beginning in Canada for three and half weeks touring more than half a dozen cities from the West Coast to the East Coast and in between. In awarding Rasmussen, the jury found “her warm soprano voice and profound ability to embody her role … [captivating] the audience with her mature artistry.” She grew up near Stockholm in Tyresö, deciding by 12 to be a singer. She studied at Ingesunds Music School, the Stockholm Opera studio, and the University College of Opera in Stockholm. During her studies she performed leading opera roles in Stockholm.

Like Rasmussen, Hormazábal at 12 dedicated himself to the piano repertoire. This year he completed his undergraduate studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. His interest in chamber music for several years has resulted in many concerts both in Sweden and abroad. He is particularly accomplished as an accompanist. In 2010 he won a joint interpretation scholarship together with the Swedish soprano Magdalena Risberg. And to honor his heritage, he fulfills his passion for the music of the Americas by playing in several Latin American ensembles. Be sure to hear these superb artists whenever they visit your city or even nearby: the musical experience is so enjoyable that you’ll want to watch these young musicians as they grow in their careers. And you heard it here in Nordstjernan first.

Artful terminal
That night the Honorary Consul General hosted an evening reception for Swedish Arts at San Francisco International Airport’s Aviation Library and Museum. SFO is quite amazing in its own right as a venue for fine museums. In 1999, SFO Museum became the first exhibitions program in an airport to receive accreditation from the American Association of Museums. Today this widely imitated museum features more than twenty galleries throughout the airport terminals with a rotating schedule of art, history, science, and cultural exhibitions. The Enduring Designs of Josef Frank was produced for the galleries of the San Francisco International Terminal Main Lobby from April to September 2011.

Frank (1885-1967) was an Austrian-born designer and architect, who became a leading pioneer of Swedish Modern design. His designs emphasized comfort and informality. A number of his textiles were floral, all boldly colorful, some exuberant, one even based upon Linnaeus’ illustrated masterpiece. Inspired by nature’s palette, many of Frank’s designs were fanciful, with repeating patterns as artful as an arabesque. Born into a middle class Jewish family in Vienna, his architectural practice grew into a home furnishings business with a range of furniture, textiles, and carpets. The growing Nazism and depression in their homeland led Frank and his Swedish wife to accept the offer of Estrid Ericson (1894-1981), founder of the Swedish interior design company Svenskt Tenn in 1924 when she was but 30, to move to Stockholm in 1933 to design for her store. The move was fortuitous for both: he became principal designer for the company and his many designs and items are still in demand to this day, as witness all of the items in the exhibit. Before WWII, some of his and the company’s innovative designs were part of the Swedish Pavilion at San Francisco’s third World’s Fair on Treasure Island in 1939.

Ericson and Frank complemented one another for the rest of their lives: he producing the textiles and furnishings; she arranging interiors while managing the firm. Their dynamic collaboration resulted in the movement known as Swedish Modern in the late 1930s. As the Germans overran Denmark and then Norway, the Franks moved for safety to New York City, where during his two year refuge (1943-1944) his innovative textile designs flourished. At the end of this period he sent them to Ericson as a fiftieth birthday present. They form the core of Svenskt Tenn’s textiles today. After the war he returned to Stockholm and turned his mind to new furniture designs and other decorative objects. Frank and Ericson’s collaboration culminated during this period. These pieces are absolutely classic and thoroughly Swedish, as beautiful and functional today as when they were first designed. After 56 year as managing director of Svenskt Tenn, when she was 81, Ericson sold the company to the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation, promoting the esthetic traditions of interior design while funding scientific research and education in Sweden.

A stellar evening
The stellar evening began with a welcome by Abe Garfield, Chief Curator of the SFO Museum. Shortly thereafter the Consul General introduced Thommy Bindefeld, Marketing Director of Svenskt Tenn, who had just flown in from Sweden. He explained the significance of the pieces in the exhibit as well as the life of Josef Frank and the fortunate and fruitful dynamic collaboration with Estrid Ericson. It was startling to see how contemporary everything was. Indeed all items can be bought from the company’s website: http://www.svenskttenn.se/. The Consul General called our attention to a one-story-long hanging of one Frank’s textiles suspended from the grand staircase.

Later many of us listened again to several duets by Rasmussen and Hormazábal-Cortes, which were as thrilling as earlier in the day. Following this Ms. Osher was proud to introduce everyone to her boss, His Excellency, Jonas Hafström, Ambassador of Sweden to the U.S. The Ambassador was happy to meet so many of his countrymen, Swedish-Americans, and others. In his brief remarks he thanked all, particularly the artists whose work so distinguished this evening. He indicated that Sweden today remains both classic and contemporary in all of the arts, from those of the older Frank and Ericson to those of Rasmussen and Hormazábal today. In congratulating the young artists beginning their careers, he hoped that their fame would some day rival that of Frank and that all of us who heard them today would follow their career by confidently recalling to others how we had heard them at the start of their illustrious careers. With that the party continued as drinks flowed and McCall, the best caterer in San Francisco, served artfully presented and delicious new creations from his kitchens. A day filled with such art was to be savored. Consul General Barbro Osher and the Consulate are to be thanked profusely for presenting such a gift to the city.

By Ted Olsson
San Francisco