It’s “Nordic Cool” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

Yes, it’s big and Nordic and it kicks off tonight for a whole month with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of the Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo and with Danish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen performing Nordic music by Sibelius, Alfvén, Grieg, Leif and Nielsen.Nordic Cool 2013

Never before, neither in the U.S. nor in Europe, has such a broad Nordic culture initiative taken place, and in this case it was a Kennedy Center’s initiative, with support from the five Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland).

– Yes, it’s really exciting and a great opportunity for the Nordic countries to showcase what is best in Nordic culture, said Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth at a press briefing today at the Swedish Embassy, ​​House of Sweden, here in Washington, DC.

All the Nordic countries, plus Greenland and the Faroe Islands, have turned up in full force with all they have to offer in music, theater, film, food, dance, architecture, art and design. From Sweden, except for the Royal Philharmonics, there is the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s production of “Fanny and Alexander”, performances by Anne Sofie von Otter, workshops on Nordic literature, not the least detective novels, and films like Jan Troell’s newest, “The Last Sentence.”

It will be interesting to see how this major Nordic venture is received by the American audiences. In any case, it’s a great chance for them to learn a lot about what makes northern Europe tick, and to tick so successfully.

Cool.

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Delightful evening about legend Ethel Waters

The other night I had a delightful, and surprising, theater experience in Alexandra, Virginia, one of Washington’s close suburbs. It was at Metro Stage, another sign of Greater Washington’s steadily growing theater scene.  Much of this growth is taking place in the suburbs, like in the mall near my home, where you can find Silver Spring Stage.

At Metro Stage on Sunday, I saw “His Eye is on the Sparrow” by Larry Parr. It is a play, a musical, about the African-American singer Ethel Waters, a legend for her groundbreaking singing career, which included blues, musicals on Broadway, movies in Hollywood, an Oscar nomination, and election to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Ethel Waters was born in 1900 in Chester, Pennsylvania as a result of her then 13-year-old mother being raped, and she died in 1977 in California. She had a rough life but also one filled with great success. She sang with all the major music legends of the time, such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Her accompanist on piano was for many years Fletcher Henderson, the big band leader. Her most famous recordings include “Am I Blue?”, “Stormy Weather” and “Dinah,” and especially the spiritual from 1912, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”, which is also became the title of her memoirs.

The play is a story of her life and her singing career, which began in Baltimore, Maryland. She eventually moved to Harlem in New York, appeared at the famous Cotton Club and became a part of the Harlem renaissance of the 1920s. She became one of the first African-American singers ever to be recorded. That was in 1921. In 1933, she became the first black member of an all-white ensemble on Broadway in the musical “As Thousands Cheer.”  In 1949, she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film “Pinky”.   At the end of her career, she often participated in Billy Graham’s crusades where she sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.

At Metro Stage, Ethel Waters was played by the Atlanta singer and actress Bernardine Mitchell, and she was absolutely brilliant, accompanied sensitively on piano by William Knowles. In all, it was a wonderful theater and music evening.