From May through October, San Francisco hosts a free festival of Thursday lunchtime concerts at Yerba Buena Gardens, “a verdant oasis in the heart of the city.” This is an artificial dell created in the heart of the downtown, beside the convention center complex and surrounded by theaters, museums and tall skyscrapers.
But spread out on the huge, central-lawn amphitheater near the cascade of the MLK waterfall, one loses sight and sound of the bustling city. Even the far off wail of a siren barely interrupts the amplified concert, which frequently stops passersby in their tracks and attracts many office workers from downtown cubicles. If there ever was a time to be grateful to city fathers for their foresight in setting aside this oasis during massive construction in the 60s, this is such an occasion.
For more than a dozen years, Consul General Barbro Osher has sponsored the annual Jenny Lind concert here as a prelude to a Swedish Midsummer. The event draws many Swedes and shares our culture with many other citizens. This year’s concert featured mezzo-soprano Karin Osbeck, the Jenny Lind Scholarship recipient from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, sponsored also by the People’s Parks and Community Centers in Stockholm. Osbeck is studying at the University College of Opera in Stockholm and believes opera can uniquely move audiences.
On this tour, Osbeck was accompanied by the equally gifted pianist Matilda Lindholm, now in her second year at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. She began playing the piano as a young child with her grandmother, then studied at Vadstena Music School, where her interest in chamber music became a passion. At the Royal College, she specializes in solo repertoire as well as accompanying singers and ensembles.
This modern concert-tour circuit of cities in the United States commemorates a similar tour in 1850-52 by the highly regarded Swedish soprano, Jenny Lind (“the Swedish Nightingale”), who sang under the auspices and promotion of empressario P. T. Barnum; he applied his skills from billing his circus to other fields. While the tour was financially very rewarding for both partners, the Swede donated her monies to founding schools in Sweden. But she tired of Barnum’s ceaseless commercial celebrity promotion and the two parted amicably in 1851 as she continued her tour for another year, during which time she met and later married Otto Goldschmidt, her pianist and conductor.

2016 Jenny Lind concert
Today’s two musicians were equally accomplished and closely bonded. Osbeck’s program of songs ranged from the classics of Schubert, Schuman, Mozart, Berlioz, Mendelssohn and Rossini, but also included pieces by A.F. Lindblad, William Stenhammar and Gösta Nystroem, of her native heritage. Lindholm played a spritely but dramatic song, “Jeux d’eau” by Ravel. They were roundly applauded after each piece and responded with a beloved Swedish summer song as an encore.
It was good that they included “Vid fönstret” by Stenhammar, for sitting in the front row was the accomplished opera soprano Sonja Stenhammar, granddaughter of the composer. Still singing but after a career encircling the globe, in 2006 Ms. Stenhammar founded the biennial Wilhelm Stenhammar International Music Competition (, which draws young singers from many countries. After arduous trials from a specified repertoire of works by classic and current Swedish composers (including Stenhammar), the finalists give a triumphant concert accompanied by the Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra, when the winning Stenhammar laureate is introduced.
The Jenny Lind concert lasted just an hour but set the mood for art to enliven the day. So, while many others had to return to their offices in the towers of commerce, we were able to walk across the street to the newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (


After three years of construction, during which the closed museum loaned exhibits to other museums in the Bay Area and California, the new 10-story expansion with 45,000 square feet of free public space, designed by international architect Snøhetta, nearly triples its gallery space.
As SFMOMA’s Schwab director Neal Benezra stated, “With our goal of providing more art to more people, now and for generations to come,” the new museum becomes the largest collection of modern and contemporary American art in the country. Anchoring the collection are 1,100 works of contemporary paintings and sculptures from Gap founders Donald and Doris Fisher’s personal collection. And this is complemented by 15,000 square feet permanently devoted to photography, the most of any museum in the United States.
Surrounding cultural institutions such as the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Children’s Creativity Museum and many more throughout the Yerba Buena Cultural District joined SFMOMA in offering free admission and programing on its inauguration day.
The whole experience was astounding, captivating me for more than six hours. And right there, as you would expect, were almost half a dozen Osher galleries, by Barbro and Barney, great local and national philanthropists for art and education — a gift to the city and visitors by The Bernard Osher Foundation.
The Osher galleries all featured contemporary art, but what intrigued me was an open and welcoming gallery on the fifth floor, across from a cozy coffee bar. This Osher gallery featured preliminary designs and fabrics and concepts for this museum by the architects. The shape of the new addition was itself a challenge, replacing an old firehouse abutting the recently built museum. The classic façade of the SFMOMA facing Yerba Buena Gardens was now complemented by a rippling white façade rising behind and above it. On the second floor terrace, outside the gallery of Calder mobiles is a simply stunning vertical garden. The two-story living wall (29 feet high by 150 feet wide) consists of almost 15,000 plants (21 of the 37 species native to California), continually watered with recycled water.
And exemplifying the range of design in this museum were a series of galleries devoted to a new exhibit on “Typefaces and Interfaces.” Yes, the museum itself has its own new pair of fonts: SFMOMA Text Book and SFMOMA Display Book, which is fully explained at the entrance to the exhibit. The hereditary “printers ink” in my veins quickened to see these various fonts, logos and illustrations on printed pages and posters as well as those implemented by technology (e.g., the old Remington and Underwood manual typewriters I grew up on, the IBM Selectric typewriter I used at work, and onto the type and graphics of the Mac, the Palm Pilot with Graffiti continuous swipe letters, and the iPhone, all used by me at other high tech employers.
The day began with art amidst nature and continued with a vast array of contemporary art and architecture. It made one enjoy just being alive and sensitive. A day of art and nature: creativity in abundance. Thank you, Barbro.