2018 proving popular for major CHESS productions

This year sees a host of new professional productions of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice musical CHESS on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ramin Karimloo and Ensemble in Chess. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Washington D.C.

In February, the Tony Award winning producer, Michael Meyer, presented a new semi-staged concert version of CHESS at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C., to open the theatre’s ‘Broadway Center Stage’ season of short-run shows.

The five night only production which featured a revised book by Emmy Award winning writer, Danny Strong and a re-ordering of the musical’s songs, was staged with the full support of Benny, Björn and Tim Rice.

“We have all been behind this production from the outset,” Benny told us. “Björn, Tim and my son Ludvig went over to meet with the producers last year and I met the musical director in London,” he said.

The all-star cast including, Ramin Karimloo (Anatoly), Raul Esparza (Freddie), Ruthie Ann Miles (Svetlana) and Karen Olivo (Florence), were backed by a stellar team of decorated choreographers, lighting, sound, costume and set designers.

Simply staged, the cast sat on chairs for a large part of the performance, while the 19 strong Opera House Orchestra played behind them, elevated on platforms of scaffolding adorned with oversized Chess pieces. The set consisted mainly of two giant projection screens showing period news clips from the Carter/Reagan Cold War era.

However, despite unanimous praise for CHESS’ musical score along with the cast’s vocal performances and Danny Strong’s new book being described as sharp and funny, the reviews from the press have been somewhat mixed. With a running time of 2 hours 50 minutes the show was generally considered to be too long and the story has been criticised as contrived and convoluted. On the other hand, “Come for the sublime Broadway performances. Stay for the fresh book and the rock ’n roll.” said another.

According to Benny, their initial aim had been to take the show back to Broadway, however the final decision as to whether it will go further has yet to be made.

“It is still very much on the cards,” he said. “But we shall see…”

The Danish touring production has been very well received by fans and critics alike
The Danish touring production has been very well received by fans and critics alike

Danish tour

Running from mid-January until the end of March, this first professional Danish language version of CHESS is scheduled to play at 5 venues across Denmark:

19 January – 17 February : Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen
20 February – 3 March : Musikhuset, Aarhus
6 March – 10 March : Odeon
13 March – 17 March : Musikteater, Vejle
21 March – 24 March : Musikteatret, Holstebro

The touring company, directed by Mark Clements, stars Stig Rossen as the Russian, Anatoly Sergievski, Bjarne Langhoff as the American, Freddie Trumper, Pernille Peterson in the role of Svetlana and Xenia Lach-Nielsen as Florence, while Jakob Zethner plays Molokov and Kristian Vetter, The Arbiter.

The cast are backed by an orchestra consisting of just seventeen musicians with music specifically re-arranged for their small number by Anders Eljas.

The tour has received a host of five star reviews from the Danish press and although neither Benny nor Björn have had any involvement with or yet seen the production, their personal representative, Görel Hanser, did travel to Copenhagen to watch a performance and has given the show her approval.

A collection of images and video footage from the production along with all the performance details and ticket information can be found on the tour’s official website.

Limited to five weeks, CHESS will be staged in London by the English National Opera

London

On 26 April the English National Opera (ENO) will present the first West End production of CHESS for over thirty years at The London Coliseum.

The ENO’s award winning orchestra and chorus will be joined by Michael Ball as Anatoly, Alexandra Burke as Svetlana, Tim Howar as Freddie and Cassidy Janson as Florence.

Murray Head, who played Freddie Trumper in the original London production and scored an international hit in 1984 with the single, One Night In Bangkok, from the CHESS concept album, returns to the musical in the role of The Arbiter.

Benny has told us that although the precise format of the ENO production has not yet been agreed, it will be predominantly based on the Swedish concert version with a little from the 1986 London production added in.

“Maybe there will be costumes and some sets,” he said, “I’m not entirely sure, but probably not a full staging,” he concluded.

All the musical arrangements and orchestration, which Benny hopes will include the song He’s A Man, He’s A Child, written for Chess på Svenska in 2002 and therefore not previously performed in the West End, is being undertaken by Anders Eljas.

Tickets for the production, which will run for a limited five week period until 2 June 2018, are available now on the ENO’s official website.

Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern is staging CHESS this Autumn.

Helsinki

Following the enormous success of their previously staged Benny and Björn musicals, Kristina från Duvemåla and Mamma Mia!, Svenska Teatern are, this Autumn, launching a production of Chess på Svenska.

The show will feature both a newly edited script from Lars Rudolfsson and fresh orchestrations by Anders Eljas.

Although the full cast has not yet been announced, we do know that it will be produced by Maria Sid and star Maria Ylipää as Florence with Alexander Lycke in the role of Anatoly.

Benny has confirmed that he will be actively involved with the production which premieres in Helsinki on 8 September. Tickets for performances up to 31 January 2019 are currently available via Svenska Teatern’s official website.

Future productions?

With all the current interest in CHESS, we asked Benny if there was more to come?
“The corpse is moving!” he joked.

There’s more…

Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän celebrate 30 year collaboration

On Sunday 18 June 2017, Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän marked the 30th anniversary of their musical partnership with an appearance as guest artists on the long-running Swedish television programme Moraeus med mera.

Benny Andersson with Orsa Spelmän duringthe recording of TV show 'Moraeus med mera'
Benny Andersson with Orsa Spelmän during the recording of the TV show ‘Moraeus med mera’

As in previous years, the filming took place in front of a live audience, under a big top tent on a lakeside campsite in Orsa.

Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän rehearsing
Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän rehearsing.

With Benny joining them on accordion throughout, Orsa Spelmän  played three tracks; Monas vals, Underbart (which reached the semi-finals of Melodifestivalen in 2010)  and the traditional piece Rättvikarnas Gånglåt, on which they were joined by a 50 strong group of local folk musicians.

Afterwards, Benny explained to icethesite why he had chosen that particular tune:

“When I was just 19 or 20 years old and had my first flat in Stockholm, I used to play Rättvikarnas Gånglåt on a small plastic gramophone first thing every morning, day in-day out,” he said. “It’s wonderfully uplifting music…but not very rock’n’roll!”

Moraeus med mera is hosted by Orsa Spelmän founding member, Kalle Moraeus and Benny can still recall the occasion when he and Kalle first met in 1986:

Benny Andersson
Benny Andersson on Orsa Spelmän: “It was as if they had given my music life.”

“We were celebrating photographer Anders Hanser’s 40th birthday here in Dalarna,” he said. “Anders and Kalle were old friends and Kalle had brought his fiddle along to the party.

“We played a few tunes together and I asked him if he had any pals that would like to be on my next record.”

When the pair met up again the following year, they were joined by Kalle’s brothers, Per-Erik (Perra) and Olle Moraeus along with Nils-Erik (Nicke) Göthe and Leif Göras.

“When they took out their fiddles and played the first few bars of some tunes I had sent them, it was such an incredible feeling. A magical moment I shall never forget,” Benny said. “It was as if they had given my music life.”

After involvement in Benny’s Klinga mina klockor and November 1989 solo albums, Orsa Spelmän went from strength to strength, recording several albums of their own and performing at many prestigious events around Sweden.

And of course, perhaps most significantly, it was the Benny Andersson/Orsa Spelmän union which in 2001 formed the basis of a new Swedish dance band, Benny Anderssons Orkester.

In 2010 the group joined Benny on the specially commissioned Benny Andersson/Kristina Lugn song Vilar glad. I din famn, during the royal wedding of Crown Princess Victoria.

The inauguration of the magnificent Piteå organ in 2012 and the Trondheim Orgelfest last October saw ‘Benny and his fiddlers’, as they are now often affectionately referred, join forces for very occasional concerts.

Benny told us that he has so many happy memories from working with Orsa Spelmän over the past 30 years, however, there is one occasion that truly stands out for him:

“Bringing them to the UK to play old Swedish folk tunes in front of 50,000 people at the Thank You For The Music concert in Hyde Park was a once in a lifetime event,” he said. “It was such an overwhelming experience and I am so happy that we were able to do that.”

Sunday’s recording of Moraeus med mera, which also featured Lisa Miskovsky, girl duo Good Harvest and hip-hop star Linda Pira, is scheduled to be broadcast on SVT in the autumn.

The recording will be shown on SVT in the Autumn
There’s more…

Benny Andersson on stage with folk group Systerpolskan

Benny and Systerpolskan on the Stallet stage
Benny and Systerpolskan on the Stallet stage

Yesterday evening, Sunday 4 December, Benny joined the all-female folk group Systerpolskan for a one-off concert in Stockholm.

The event was held at ‘Stallet’, a former stable which has been converted into Stockholm’s only performance space dedicated to world folk music.

With its beamed ceiling, white-washed stone walls and rug-strewn floor, the venue had a very relaxed and intimate feel.

Seating for just 100 people was arranged around small candle-lit tables, as well as on wooden benches and bar stalls.

The two hour gig ran without a break and Benny remained on stage throughout, accompanying the band of fiddlers and nykelharpa players on electric keyboard and accordion.

Ida, Lena E, Benny, Cecilia, Erika, Cajsa and Lena W
Ida, Lena E, Benny, Cecilia, Erika, Cajsa and Lena W

The set list showcased many of the tracks featured on the album Benny recorded with Systerpolskan earlier this year along with a couple of Swedish folk songs.

When the musicians left the stage at the end of the performance the audience stomped their feet for an encore.

The group obliged with a lively finale of the folk classic, Polska efter Bysskalle, which Benny often performs with his own band BAO.

Afterwards Benny and the members of Systerpolskan remained in the room for some time, chatting with family, friends and fans alike.

Systerpolskan new CD
Systerpolskan’s new CD – Randig kjortel

Systerpolskan’s new album Randig kjortel, featuring Benny on piano, keyboard and accordion, is available now on CD and digital formats. The release features 10 new compositions plus traditional songs from Uppland and Dalarna.

There’s more…

Benny Andersson to compose music for new Swedish play

Benny Andersson will contribute a piece of music for the next production by acclaimed Swedish artist, playwright and director, Marie-Louise Ekman, Försökskaninerna.

'Försökskaninerna' premieres in March 2017
‘Försökskaninerna’ premieres in March 2017

The play, which is the third in a trilogy of stagings which highlight issues relating to a mother’s progressive ageing, will open at ‘Dramaten’, Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre, in March 2017.

Benny has worked extensively with Marie-Louise since she designed the artwork for his solo album November 1989. The pair have collaborated on a wide variety of TV, film and theatrical projects, including both previous instalments of the Försökskaninerna trilogy.

Marie-Louise's artwork on Benny's November 1989 album.
Marie-Louise’s artwork on Benny’s November 1989 album.

“I always say yes if she asks me,” Benny told us. “She has a lot of artistic soul and her work is very, very original,” he explained.

For the forthcoming production Benny will write a song with lyrics by Marie-Louise.

The last play featured purely instrumental music.

Benny said: “The piece I wrote for the second play is a tune that I have never used again anywhere else. It is actually one of the tracks that I am considering including on my piano album.

Tickets for all performances of Försökskaninerna, including previews and opening night, are on sale now via the link below.

There’s more…

Benny and friends perform at Trondheim Orgelfest

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Benny and friends taking rapturous applause in Trondheim

On Saturday 29 October, Benny Andersson, together with fiddlers from Orsa Spelmän and BAO members Göran Arnberg (keyboard) and Pär Grebacken (clarinet), joined the acclaimed organist Gunnar Idenstam and nyckelharpa player Johan Hedin, for a one-off concert at the 11th century Nidarosdomen, in Trondheim, Norway.

The performance got underway at 8pm as Benny, playing accordion, led his fellow musicians in a processional up the candlelit aisle of the cathedral to take their place on ‘stage’ beneath the pipes of the magnificent Steinmeier organ.

Benny Andersson with members of BAO and Orsa Spelmän in front of the Nidarosdomen Organ
Benny Andersson with members of BAO and Orsa Spelmän in front of the Nidarosdomen Organ

Although the 2 hour event ran without an interval, it was split into three distinct sections:

The first five pieces performed were all Swedish folk tunes, including a beautiful and moving composition by ‘Perra’ Moraeus, Koppången and Benny’s Machopolska.

Benny and the fiddlers left the stage while Gunnar – who performed with Benny in Piteå back in 2012 – and Johan played a varied selection of traditional and self-penned pieces for organ and nyckelharpa accompanied by Göran Arnberg.

The final third of the evening was dedicated to some of Benny’s most famous choral music, Vilar glad. I din famn, Kärlekens tid, O klang och jubeltid, Anthem and En skrift i snön. All vocals, including solo sections, were sensitively performed by the Nidarosdomen choir.

To the surprise of the cathedral’s 1000 capacity congregation, the evening concluded with an un-programmed finale which was in marked contrast to the, until then, classical tone – a loud and rousing rendition of Dancing Queen.

The previously sedate audience erupted with whoops of delight and were instantly on their feet, singing, clapping and even dancing in the aisle. When the musicians eventually left the stage, they did so to a standing ovation.

Benny Andersson in front of members of the Nidarosdomen choir
Benny Andersson in front of members of the Nidarosdomen choir

Afterwards Benny told icethesite that he had enjoyed the occasion immensely. “It is always fun to try new things and wonderful to have the opportunity to work with such talented musicians as Gunnar and Johan again,” he said.

There are no plans to repeat the concert and no official recording was made.

Exclusive: Benny Andersson to record solo piano album

Benny Andersson at the piano that will feature on his solo CD
Benny Andersson at the piano that will feature on his solo CD

In an interview with icethesite Benny announced that he has decided to mark his upcoming 70th birthday with the release of a solo piano album.

“I’ve actually been thinking about it for a while but haven’t had the time. Now I do and it kind of feels right,” Benny said. “I think it’s going to be fun!”

Although he has not chosen exactly which tracks to record yet, they will all be his own melodies and he says that he intends to include pieces from every phase of his musical career from 1965 through to 2016.

“Some pieces, such as Mountain Duet from CHESS, are really suitable as piano solos whereas others, Waterloo for example, just don’t work,” he said. “It will depend on what feels good in my hands when I play.”

Benny hopes to start work on the project next week, but as he wants to record the album on the piano that is currently in his office rather than the one in the studio, he needs to get it moved first.

“My office piano has electro-magnetic sensors which makes editing easier,” he explained. “I fear that I am getting rather particular, but I don’t want to hear myself playing sounds that are too perfect,” he said.

Benny doesn’t plan to feature any other musicians or an orchestra on the release, making it the solo recording that many people have hoped he would make for a long time.

The album will be released on vinyl as well as CD and digital file formats. In addition, a book of sheet music will also be made available.

“I like the idea that anyone who can play a little, young or old, talented musicians or otherwise, can take it home and give it a go themselves,” Benny told us.

Benny is not sure if he will get the album completed before his actual birthday on 16 December due to the pressure of other commitments.

“Probably not, but we’ll see,” he said. “It would be nice if I could, but Spring 2017 is more likely,” he concluded.

benny-atthepiano3
Benny doesn’t plan to feature any other musicians or an orchestra on the release

There’s more…

Occasionally, Benny has played around on the piano, just for fun, as part of being filmed for this site and below is an example of Benny’s wonderful playing on the ABBA song Happy New Year.

Benny to play a ‘one-off’ organ concert in Norway

Benny Andersson together with BAO fiddlers Orsa Spelmän and keyboard player Göran Arnberg are going to play a one-off concert in Norway.

The Nidarosdomen Organ in Trondheim
The magnificent Nidarosdomen Organ in Trondheim

The appearance will be with the acclaimed organist Gunnar Idenstam and nyckelharpa player Johan Hedin at the 11th century Cathedral, Nidarosdomen, in Trondheim on Saturday 29 October 2016.

Benny has told icethesite that the concert will certainly include his track, En skrift i snön, written for the Piteå organ in 2012, as well as pieces such as Kärlekens Tid and Vilar glad. I din famn. Vocals will be performed by the Nidaros Cathedral choir.

Nidarosdomen features a 9600 pipe, 1930’s Steinmeier organ which was originally commissioned to commemorate the 900th anniversary of St Olav’s death at the Battle of Stiklestad. At the time of construction it was the largest pipe organ in Europe. A full restoration was completed in 2014.

Benny says that the concert was originally organist Gunnar’s idea, but that he had immediately thought it would be a really nice thing to do and was immensely looking forward to playing in the cathedral.

UPDATE 01 October: Event details: Nidarosdomen concert tickets.

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Benny on tour with Gustaf Sjökvists Kammarkör

On Thursday evening (22 September) Benny Andersson took the stage at the Uppsala Konsert & Kongress Centre for the first in a series of concerts with Gustaf Sjökvists Kammarkör (GSKK).

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Benny Andersson performing with Gustaf Sjökvists Kammarkör

The Kärlekens Tid tour showcases a selection of modern choral pieces together with all 11 Benny penned tracks from the choir’s 2015 album of the same name, including En skrift i snön, Anthem, Vilar glad. I din famn, Klinga mina klockor, and O klang och jubletid.

Towards the end of the performance, Benny delighted the 1,100 capacity audience and members of the choir alike, with a piano solo of Thank You For The Music.

The idea for the album was that of the choir’s founder Gustaf Sjökvist who thought that Benny’s music suited the choir perfectly because of it’s strong classical roots. Sadly, Gustaf passed away before the album’s completion, but the choir continues to perform in his memory.

The current tour is being conducted by Cecilia Rydinger Alin, Rector of Stockholm’s Royal College of Music, Kungliga Muiskhögskolan, of which Benny is a member of the advisory board.

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Benny Andersson and Cecilia Rydinger Alin at Uppsala Konsert & Kongress

Before last night’s show, Cecilia told us that the Kärlekens Tid project is one that is very close to her heart:

“The coming together of Gustaf’s choir and Benny’s music is something really special. It is such a joy to have been involved from the start,” she said. “Being on tour with the choir and playing at such wonderful concert halls is going to be a really fun experience.”

Benny said that performing with the choir was such a different experience than being on stage with his band:

“It is so much more intense than playing with BAO,” he said. “Then I am just one of fifteen. I can play or not, as and when I like and no one really notices if I make the odd mistake!”

Benny says that he would very much like to record another album of his music with the choir, but that it probably won’t happen for a year or two due to other commitments.

The tour continues on to venues in Gävle and Västerås before concluding at Eric Ericsonhallen in Stockholm on 9 October 2016. Tickets are available via the link below.

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