Mälaren, two hours by train from Stockholm and Gothenberg, lies Örebro.
This is gently rolling, open country, criss-crossed with miles of cycle tracks
and scattered with shimmering lakes for spring whooper swans and summer
swimming. Where the rushing Svartån River splits around a ‘gravel bridge’
(the ‘öre bro’) King Magnus Eriksson built a hefty Medieval fortress to keep
out the Danes, brought to full Renaissance splendour by King Karl IX and still
an impressive focal point today. Castle aside, it’s a middling sort of town
whose main claim to fame is being home to the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
I arrived on a raw, dark day in December for the launch of Bach Reborn, a
project to create new Brandenburg Concerti in the SCO’s freshly renovated
concert hall. Music has played a key role in Örebro’s recent cultural
renaissance. At the end of the 20th century, when local shoe and biscuit
manufacturing industries were in decline, crisis hit, and the town could no
longer fund a wind band, string and light-music orchestra. So, in 1987 the
three were merged into an all-weather ensemble.
Enter dynamic Dane, Thomas Dausgaard, who took up the baton in 1989,
closely followed by sparky oboist and artistic administrator Gregor Zubicky,
fresh from Norway’s Stavanger Chamber Music Festival. From the core of city
band players, they created a 39-strong ensemble and, in 1995, made the
audacious decision to re-launch it as the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. ‘Well,
why not?’, laughs Zubicky, ‘there was no rule that said a ‘national’ ensemble
had to be based in Stockholm!’.
Dausgaard began as he meant to go on with an ambitious project to record all
Beethoven’s symphonies. ‘We worked with Andrew Manze on all sorts of
stylistic details, and developed a relationship with him that continues to
flourish. The series on Simax was a big success, and I think it made the good
people of Stockholm stop and take another look at us.’ Shortly afterwards,
BIS approached them to record works by Sally Beamish. Others – by HK
Gruber, Schumann, Schubert – followed. Dausgaard relishes the story, ‘We
promised ourselves that we’d get to the BBC Proms within ten years. Well,
we did it in nine!’ In 2004, the SCO made its US and US debuts, with Håkan
Hardenberger, and now make regular international tours.
Hardenberger was back in town for the quirky new trumpet concerto by Steve
Mackey, composed to follow Bach’s second Brandenberg. As Dausgaard
prepared for the evening concert, Zubicky gave me a tour, taking in the
dramatic fortress, welcoming St Nicholas Church, backdrop to Örebro’s
famous Christmas concert, broadcast on national TV, two theatres, a grid of
pretty shopping streets and, further downstream, the charming grass-roofed
17th- and 18th century wooden houses of Wadköping, a partly lived-in open-
air museum, with an irresistibly cosy café.
Following the river as it sweeps back into town, you arrive at the elegant
concert hall. ‘Someone in Örebro had cultural ambitions back in 1930,’
explains Zubicky, ‘This hall was built with a practice room for every one of our
musicians.’ No wonder they attract players from across Europe.
The renovation has quite literally ‘raised the roof’ of the original hall,
expanding its volume, and introducing an innovative matt-surfaced back wall
onto which projects can be cast. ‘We wanted to transform the way we could
present music,’ explains Dausgaard, ‘to give the audience a more immersive
experience. Projection lends the flexibility to create different atmospheres
without extra equipment or staging.’
Acoustician Larry Kirkegaard is still fine-tuning acoustics, but this promises to
be a unique hall, whose alluring programme is a model of sleek contemporary
curation, including creative projects like Bach Reborn, a classy mix of
international and home-grown talent (like Martin Fröst, whose violinist brother
plays in the SCO), core classics and children’s events.
Alongside fine music, Örebro offers wild swimming, boating, cycling and
fishing in southern Sweden’s warm, settled summers: when the lively concert
season closes, there’s an opera festival out in the country. Think Wild
Strawberries. Think crayfish and aquavit. You’re there.
LOCAL HERO: Dag Wirén 1905-1986
Swedish composer Dag Wirén was born in Nora, near Örebro, and attended
Örebro’s Karolinska School, during which time he played bass drum and
celesta in the town orchestra. After studying at the Stockholm conservatory,
he travelled to Paris, where he encountered the music of Stravinsky,
Prokofiev and Les Six. He returned to Sweden to compose and became a
music critic on the Svenska Morgonbladet, performing as a pianist on
Swedish Radio during the 1930s. He wrote five symphonies (some recorded
by the old Örebro Chamber Orchestra), concertos and chamber works (on the
BIS label) and his most popular piece remains the Serenade for Strings
The newly-renovated concert hall , run by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra,
offers a full programme of music throughout the year, and has appealing
open dining areas and river views. Aside from the SCO’s adventurous series,
there are visiting ensembles, high-profile soloists and jazz concerts.
Opera på Skäret
Just outside Örebro lies Kopparberg (Copper Mountain), sylvan setting of this
summer opera festival staged in a huge barn by a lake. The Swedish
Chamber Orchestra is in-house band for Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman this
summer. Vintage trains to the festival can be caught from Stockholm, and
there are ‘wild and foraged ’ food menus of elk, deer and locally-caught trout.
(30 July-28 August 2016) operapasakret.se
Norrköping Concert Hall
Just 55km south of Örebro lies the attractive town of Norrköping. Its concert
hall, a clevely converted paper mill, is home to the Norrköping Symphony
Orchestra, training ground for many a great conductor, including Herbert
Blomstedt, Franz Welser-Möst and Daniel Harding. The band is currently
directed by ex-LSO player Michael Francis.
Folk At Heart Folk musicians from all over Scandinavia descend on Örebro
every January, the place to hear the distinctive art of the Swedish folk fiddle.