Yesterday afternoon, at a prestigious ceremony in Konzerthaus Berlin, Benny Andersson was presented with an Opus Klassik award in recognition of his solo album Piano.
The prize is a new one and this year represents the first opportunity The Association for the Promotion of Classical Music has had to honour outstanding classical artists and sound recordings.
“Classical music in Germany has to be honoured with its own prize,” said Burkhard Glashoff, CEO of the Association for the Advancement of Classical Music. “In this respect we developed a concept for a new music prize that recognises exceptional achievement and reflects the industry in all its diversity,” he explained.
The winners were selected by a jury of music industry experts.
Benny was presented with the award for ‘Classics Without Boundaries’, by the German singer and leader of the Palast Orchestra, Max Raabe.
In his acceptance speech, Benny spoke of how he had been extremely surprised and incredibly humbled to have been nominated for such a prestigious prize.
He said that he had originally only made the album so that his grandchildren would have a recording of him playing but was now beginning to think it had been a rather good idea! He also said that it felt particularly special as it was the first award he had received just for him, rather than as part of a group such as ABBA or BAO.
During the prize-giving concert, which was recorded and broadcast by the German television channel ZDF, Benny performed music from CHESS as well as ThankYouForTheMusic, together with the concert house’s orchestra and the other celebrated artists, for the concert’s finale.
Other live performances included opera stars Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez, Regula Mühlemann, Lucas & Arthur Jussen, 4 Times Baroque and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who played at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last May.
A special edition of the album Piano (including two bonus tracks just released to digital media outlets Money, Money,Money and Jaghör) will be released in November.
Benny has confirmed that his band, Benny Anderssons Orkester (BAO) will be back in the studio over the winter to record some new tunes.
“I don’t anticipate it being a full album, but at least two or three tracks,” Benny told us. “It has been a long time since we last did that and I think we will all enjoy it – it’s good to keep the system oiled,” he said.
Benny also divulged that the band are hoping to tour next year.
“If we have some new songs to play then it would be really nice to go on the road again,” Benny said. “We have discussed it and all agree that eight venues over two weekends, as in previous years, feels about right.
“Nothing is as yet set in stone because it is so difficult to find dates when everyone is available, but, if we are all still alive then it’s a definite maybe-perhaps!” he teased.
Benny and his band last toured in 2016, following the release of their latest studio album Mitt hjärta klappar för dig (My heart beats for you).
BAO released their first album in 2001 and have in total released eight albums in Swedish and one in English.
The newly refreshed Mono Music website has details of every BAO release, and also all the other productions that Benny’s record company has released. It also has information about sheet music that is available to purchase.
In an exclusive conversation with icethesite, Benny spoke about his idea to record an album of accordion music with his long-term friend and collaborator, Lars Rudolfsson.
How did the idea come about?
“Whenever Lars comes over to my house he brings his accordion and we play together a little and it sounds pretty okay,” Benny told us. “So we decided that maybe we should go into the studio, just the two of us and see if what we produce does indeed have any validity.”
Do you have any particular tracks in mind?
“It will most likely be a mixture of old Swedish music along with a few of my own compositions, but, whatever we record we know that it will be a definite non-seller!” Benny laughed. “That’s kind of nice though, as it means there is no pressure or expectation to play the well-known tunes. We can just choose the tracks which we enjoy – those that feel good to play,” he explained.
When might the album be released?
“It’s probably the stupidest idea ever, but Lars and I really enjoy being together, so I know that the process is going to be a lot of fun,” Benny grinned. “And if we do happen to like what we record, then we will release an album next Spring.”
This weekend, Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern (the Swedish National Theatre) unveiled a new production of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice musical Chess på Svenska.
Adapted for the Finnish stage by Lars Rudolfsson and directed by Maria Sid, the show closely follows the original Swedish format. A couple of notable differences being the inclusion of another song, Sanninges minut (The Moment Of Truth), created through the addition of lyrics, written by Björn, to a section of End Game and a comical send-up of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in place of the circus style acts just before The Deal. It also incorporates the Press Conference scene first introduced in Gothenburg.
The cast, led by Maria Yilpää as Florence, Glenn Edell in the role of the American Freddie Trumper, Johanna Ström as Svetlana and Alexander Lycke as the Russian Anatolij Serievskij, together with Kristofer Möller as Molokov and Silva Lillrank playing the first ever female Arbiter, all give outstanding performances.
In comparison with the English National Opera’s recent lavish production of CHESS, the staging at Svenska Teatern is quite minimalistic. The plot is easily followed though in this pared down production which allows the magnificent score to shine.
Speaking to icethesite after the show, Benny said that he is delighted with how his music sounds.
“Anders Eljas has done a really great job with the orchestral arrangements, and the acoustics in Svenska Teatern are just wonderful,” he said. “It has been a pure joy to work with so many talented artists in a setting such as this. I don’t think I have ever heard Nobody’s Side sound as good!”
With the reviews so far being some of the best in the history of the musical and many critics awarding the production the coveted maximum five stars, the press are hailing Chess på Svenska a huge success.
Saturday’s premiere audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation accompanied by plenty of foot stomping and whoops of delight as the cast took their curtain calls.
So, does Benny think the Svenska Teatern’s production may be getting close to the much talked about ‘definitive version’ of the musical?
“No! But as the song almost goes… each show of Chess means there’s one less variation left to be played!” he laughed.
Chess på Svenska runs in Helsinki until Spring 2019. Tickets are available now through the theatre’s official website svenskateatern.fi
On Monday 16 July 2018 at London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again received its world premiere. Released to the wider world on 20 July, the movie has already smashed box office records around the globe.
At the after premiere party in London, Björn told icethesite about the reception the premiere crowd had given the movie:
“It was absolutely fantastic. The event was really quite special with all the actors gathered on the stage before the showing. The reaction was something else!”
And how was it that ‘Mamma Mia! 2’ finally came into being?
“Well the story has to serve the songs and the other way around of course. And we waited until we had a script that everyone agreed we could work with. Ol Parker did a brilliant job of weaving the story together and then we could see that there was a second movie in there after all!”
What was it like revisiting decades old songs in order to rewrite lyrics for the movie?
“Movie songs have to serve the story and where it was felt that the originals didn’t quite hit a particular moment on the head, I was more than happy to make a few changes here and there. Where in the ABBA recordings the stories were self contained, with the movie I had to ensure that they fitted the wider story.
“The new lyrics came to me pretty quickly and they felt very organic.
“For My Love, My Life to be set in a church meant that revisiting it in its new setting had religious overtones for me.”
Even though you are an atheist?
“Even though and maybe because of. Religion is a fascinating subject to me.”
Have Agnetha and Frida seen the movie yet?
“Not yet but I am pretty sure they will be very happy, as we are, when they do. It’s a good flick.”
What is certain to be a huge Summer blockbuster of a movie is almost out of the starting gate. Benny Andersson has been at work with the team in Los Angeles putting the finishing touches to the sound mix of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again that will be heard in cinemas all around the globe soon.
Benny told icethesite about the movie mix sessions: “It is such a joy to work together with people who are so skilled at what they are doing. Every single one of them. Totally concentrated on their separate working stations but always with a sharp eye on the whole. An amazing experience again, just like it was on the first film 10 years ago.”
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is both sequel and prequel to the original Mamma Mia! movie and stars Lily James (Young Donna), Amanda Seyfried (Sophie), Dominic Cooper (Sky), Andy Garcia (Señor Cienfuegos), Meryl Streep (Donna), Pierce Brosnan (Sam), Colin Firth (Harry), Christine Baranski (Tanya), Stellan Skarsgård (Bill), Julie Walters (Rosie), Cher (Ruby Sheridan), Jeremy Irvine (Young Sam), Celia Imrie, (Vice Chancellor), Hugh Skinner (Young Harry) and Josh Dylan (Young Bill). The director is Ol Parker.
Those close to the production have revealed that ABBA songs featured in the new movie include One Of Us, When I Kissed The Teacher, Angeleyes, Waterloo, Fernando, I’ve Been Waiting For You, Why Did It Have To Be Me?, Kisses Of Fire, and My Love, My Life among others.
The film which is distributed by Universal Pictures picks up the story ten years after the original film ends when Sophie learns all about how her mother Donna met her three ‘dads’.
The world premiere of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again will be in London on 16 July. The film will officially open in most territories on 20 July.
On Monday 7 May, five years to the day since it first opened on the Stockholm island of Djurgården, ABBA The Museum unveiled its new, much anticipated, ‘After ABBA’ exhibition.
Celebrating the musical careers of the four ABBA members since their ‘break’ in 1982, the exhibition, which occupies the space that previously housed The Swedish Music Hall of Fame, features individual areas dedicated to Agnetha and Frida’s after ABBA careers, plus sections for the Benny and Björn musicals Mamma Mia!, CHESS, Kristina från Duvemåla and Hjälp sökes. Also featured of course is Benny’s latest band, Benny Anderssons Orkester (BAO).
As in the original section of the museum, the post-ABBA journey begins with a short video montage. Once inside, visitors are surrounded by beautifully lit costumes, scenery and props from the musicals, gold discs, rare photographs and memorabilia plus never-before-seen videos.
There are also a variety of interactive activities including the chance to conduct a virtual orchestra playing music from the CHESS score, dancing to BAO on a wooden dance floor alongside strings of coloured lights (just like the real BAO shows), singing along with Benny collaborator and BAO member Kalle Moraeus, repainting Donna’s villa on the set of Mamma Mia! and trivia quizzes.
Museum Director Caroline Fagerlind said: “We want to tell the full story of the band. We want to show visitors that ABBA have kept their creativity alive, that they are still around us today and that their story continues to grow.”
As you leave the exhibition, which is a permanent addition to the museum, the words ‘To be continued…’ are inscribed along the wall.
Last Monday’s official opening ceremony, attended by Björn Ulvaeus, was followed by an evening party for 200 invited guests including Benny Andersson, Görel Hanser, Helen Sjöholm, Peter Jöback, Tommy Körberg, Ingmarie Halling, ABBA’s costume designer Owe Sandström, sound engineer Michael B Tretow, guitar player Janne Schaffer, photographer Anders Hanser, Benny’s son Peter with wife Nanne and a handful of lucky fans.
During the celebrations, to the delight of the party-goers, Benny took to his accordion and together with a few of his BAO bandmates played two instrumental tracks, BAO’s ever-popular Cirkus finemang and The Soviet Machine from the musical CHESS.
Afterwards, Benny told icethesite how he has been actively engaged with the project from the outset: “I’ve read through all the analogue and digital texts on display and watched the videos,” he said.
“They also asked me to choose the music for the virtual conductor and I thought that the instrumental introduction to Bangkok would be tricky enough,” he laughed.
However, despite this involvement Benny said he has yet to see the finished exhibition: “I’ve seen some pictures though and I think it looks really nice,” he told us.
A new compilation CD ‘after ABBA’ released to tie in with the launch of the exhibition and which features the brand new Arturo Sandoval/Frida cover of ABBA’s Andante, Andante is available exclusively at the museum shop.
Check out the ABBA The Museum website for tickets to see the new exhibition for yourself.
CHESS is officially up and running again in London’s West End. The Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus musical has finished its previews at the home of the English National Opera and last night launched to the press. We had a chance to chat with some of the cast and creatives about their involvement in this epic revival.
Benny told us: “This is how Björn and I have always envisioned CHESS. A large and wonderful orchestra, a powerful choir and a great rock band form the backbone of the score. Then add in some great voices and performances from the principals, like we have here, and well, I will definitely be coming back to see it again.”
Sir Tim said that he was delighted by the ENO’s treatment of the show that was last in the West End over thirty years ago. “I think this production is magnificent. Truly spectacular and so well crafted and staged. It sounds glorious.”
Florence, the role first played by Elaine Paige, who was among the audience last night, is played by Cassidy Janson (who played Carole King in the West End version of Beautiful). She brings her character’s journey of passion and pain alive to great tear-jerking effect.
She told icethesite that she was loving every moment of performing in CHESS and that to be at The London Coliseum was a dream come true. “I already don’t want it to end,” she said.
Michael Ball has long sung the show stopping Anthem in his concert tours and has always wanted to perform the role of Anatoly. He said he is relishing this opportunity to sing with the 60 piece orchestra of the ENO…”and who wouldn’t?!” he said.
Cedric Neal is The Arbiter, keeping a masterful eye on proceedings at the World Chess Championships, and bringing a rich vocal twist to his numbers, squeezing in a few intricate runs here and there.
The role of Anatoly’s wife, Svetlana Sergievsky’s has been expanded from the London production of the 1980s and is performed superbly at The Coliseum by Alexandra Burke.
The part now includes a song new to London, imported from Chess på Svenska (the hit Swedish CHESS production). He Is A Man, He Is A Child helps establish Svetlana’s character and the emotional journey she finds herself on as Act Two begins.
Alexandra told us: “I’ll be honest, I didn’t know CHESS, the score or the show before the part came along. I agreed to the role when I learned of the credentials of the team behind this production, the fact it is the ENO, that it is here at The Coliseum and that Tim Rice, and Benny and Björn from ABBA had written the music.
Then when I knew who my fellow cast members were going to be and we started rehearsing this amazing music with the incredible orchestra, I absolutely knew I had made the right decision.”
Tim Howar plays Frederick Trumper, the troubled American chess player who vies for the world title with Anatoly in Act One. He is particularly sensational during Pity The Child, often dubbed ‘Pity The Singer’ due to its emotional complexity and wide musical range.
However, Tim said he was originally tried out for the role of The Arbiter. “When Benny and Björn saw the videos of my Arbiter performance, they suggested instead that the production had found its Freddie Trumper. “We need a rock guy,” they said.
“I am a huge CHESS fan and have been for years, even performing the show in an amateur dramatics society years ago back in Canada. At first I just wanted to be a part, any part of this London show if I could, but when I landed the role of the American, I knew that I could bring memories of certain episodes from my own past family history to the role and at the same time have a blast every night.”
Tim hit the headlines when he had to leave at the end of the first act of the first preview of CHESS last Thursday.
On hearing that his wife Jodie Oliver-Howar had gone into labour, he rushed to be by her side. Their son Hamish might have stolen his dad away from CHESS at the first preview but incredibly at just four days old, he was there to add his support on press night!
The entire creative team, from set and lighting designers, the phenomenal orchestra under the baton of John Rigby, the chorus and all the principals (special mention too for Philip Browne’s menacing Molokov) have breathed new life into CHESS.
In this guise, the story appears much clearer without obvious signposting and each number is given a fresh, thoughtful musical and theatrical treatment.
Benny, Tim and Björn each loved it and that really is high praise!