Live Music in Stockholm
Writer Ron Pavellas takes us on his personal journey of finding memorable live music in Stockholm.
I was introduced to some of Stockholm’s music during my first visit to the city in the Fall of 1997, at the beginning of the period when Eva and I were särbo. I was then living in San Jose, California.
Five years later, we married and I moved to Stockholm.
In that first visit, two of Eva’s friends took us to Stampen in Stockholm’s Old Town, Gamla stan. It has three floors and two corners for live music. We were standing room only at the upper venue with crowd pressure increasing as one inched closer to the bar. All I knew was that I was there to hear “jazz” which I like- from its earliest beginnings all the way up to 1940s Bebop jazz.
Around 15 musicians, some seemingly as old as I was, started filing into the crowded corner where the music equipment stands and chairs were set up for them. As they entered, the noise from the crowd diminished to a low roar. I saw light blue-suited musicians with white shirts and blue ties file in and wondered what kind of jazz could possibly come from such an unimposing group.
Then they started and I was blown away.
I closed my eyes and could imagine being in New Orleans. It was all pleasure and amazement from that first instance. During a break, our group of four went down one level below to dance to the other band, sort of a swing-boogie beat. What a blast that night was.
And I’ve been to Stampen regularly ever since.
Upon moving to Stockholm a few years later, Eva and I took advantage of the wedding present her colleagues had given us: Tickets to a performance of the opera “Tamerlano” (Tamerlane) by George Frederick Handel, in the summer of 2002.
The venue was Drottningholm Palace Theatre, “one of the few 18th century theatres in Europe that is still used with its original stage machinery.” It was a trip back in time and, although the opera was long and the original seats very hard, it was a uniquely satisfying experience. The stage is still highly regarded, and you can find a mock-up of it at the Music and Theatre Library in Stockholm.
Since my initial visit, I have attended the theatre two more times, most recently to enjoy the singing of Anne Sofie von Otter and Elin Rombo.
After this experience, I looked for and found other music halls where I could hear “classical” music. I was familiar with a few works by the Swedish composer Franz Berwald and was delighted to learn there is a great concert hall with his name attached: Berwaldhallen.
It is an elegant hall with wonderful acoustics, especially important for my poor (but reasonably well-corrected) hearing. I have been there many times, often with my music buddy Vasil.
Vasil and I, sometimes with his daughter and Eva, also attend churches in Stockholm for special performances, such as the Requiems of Mozart and Faure. An often-visited place is Sofia Kyrka on the island of Södermalm. The church is well-lit and decorated in simple art deco which was popular at the time of the church’s construction.
Eva and I once attended to hear two combined choral groups singing Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil, with Irene Baker, the aunt of Eva’s oldest son, participating (more on Irene below).
One finds notices put up at neighborhood bus stops informing us of organ, choral, and chamber works at any number of churches, large and small.
If you are lucky enough to know someone with insider contacts, you may be able to attend a performance of the Mazer String Quartet Society, which plays privately to colleagues and friends, the performers being a mix of professional and skilled amateur musicians.
I am friends with the spouse of a member, and was able to attend a stimulating chamber concert at this venue in downtown Stockholm.
Another friend learned I appreciate jazz.
She took me downtown to the Glenn Miller Café located at Brunnsgatan 21. The music was much more contemporary than I expected but the small group was extraordinarily versatile and talented.
There are other jazz venues in town—Eva and I have passed one of them many times—Fasching, next to the state-run casino Cosmopol on Kungsgatan. We keep promising each other that we will visit someday.
She and a musical colleague had made a pilgrimage to the deep south of the USA to experience the roots of music we know as blues, and other indigenous musical forms.
Inspired by her experiences, she wrote original music and lyrics to commemorate and honor the music and musicians of the present and past in this region.
On the walls of the small bar are large photographs of blues legends, including (the largest photo) B.B. King.
Each item on the menu at Bluesbaren is attached to the name of popular American or Swedish blues artists.
In 2012, Eva and I took a summer holiday to the island of Sydkostar, south of the Norwegian border in the Skagerrak and north of Denmark’s Jutland.
Upon arrival, we espied an advertisement for a concert by members of the Dahlqvist Quartet on the following day. We garnered seats exactly in front of the Dahlkvist twin sisters, barely a meter or two from their violin and cello.
The venue was so intimate we had a chance to have a pleasant chat with the musicians during the break. One lesson from this serendipitous encounter is that when concert halls are closed for the summer, one can find big city musicians out in the countryside, even on small islands.
Another concert hall I have visited, but not directly for the music, is Nalen. I was there to be part of the large audience to see the world famous Kronos Quartet receive the annual Polar Music Prize.
Later that evening I was able to meet the Dahlqvist sisters again at a fête in Uppsala for the visiting Kronos Quartet at the home of a friend – contacts through which I was able to attend a concert at the exclusive Konstnärsklubben in Stockholm.
In the last few years, Vasil and I have attended many symphonic and chamber music offerings at the Concert Hall (Konserthuset) in central Stockholm.
I recently experienced the music of O/Modernt, (“Not/Modern”), a youthful avant-garde group led by a young man I can only describe as a genius, violinist Hugo Ticciati. I attended a performance by this group at yet another concert hall, Musikaliska, a musical palace built in 1878.
Lastly, I must mention a newly discovered venue: Folkoperan.
I had seen their advertisements for a number of years and vowed to attend someday. That day came when I saw posters advertising an opera by a favorite composer Philip Glass—Satyagraha. I rarely use superlatives, but this opera production was fabulous in every sense of the word.
These are most of the highlights of my musical experience in Stockholm. I can’t remember a moment when I have been disappointed, or disturbed by a false note or instrument out-of-sync with the conductor and others in the orchestra.