An artist who knew himself

Sven-David Sandstrom in 2008, speaking for the symposium “Composing for the Voice” organized by the Latin American Music Center at Indiana University, around the Jacobs School of Music’s premiere of the opera “¡Unicamente la verdad!” by Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz, in 2008.

I have been pretty much in shock after hearing of the departure of my colleague and teacher Sven-David Sandstrom, yesterday June 10.  I have spent 24 hours reading and sharing all the tributes online without the will power to comment myself. I had spent all day yesterday saying farewell, one way or another, to colleagues and friends, and even to a doctoral  student after a very successful defense. But I did not quite expect to receive the news at the end of the day of Sven-David’s passing, even though the prognosis of his lung cancer was not good. I saw him in Stockholm barely three weeks ago. He looked well and was extremely generous with his time and energy, as we reminisced about past projects and projected a few new ones.

Sven-David Sandstrom and the composition class at Indiana University in 2008

He was an artist that knew himself and his artistic aims. He abandoned his early radical modernism to embrace an ecstatic lyrical and exuberant language, with the intention to move the listener, often in expression of his Lutheran faith. Still, his technique was extremely sophisticated and his demands on the performers were always high. Bach was his model. He believed in singers and choruses. All this required no small amount of courage at the time.

Of all these aims he spoke freely to his students, and he shared his techniques in the lessons, sprinkling great wit and philosophy along the way. Many of my former singers with Indiana University’s Contemporary Vocal Ensemble have written to say how much they remembered singing his ‘Es ist Genug,’ Sven-David’s work in the Lutheran tradition of Bach and Buxtehude. It seems appropriate to hear it again today, as it is marks the departure from this world.  Still, his music shall not depart, as it was composed in sincerity and generosity, and will remain with us his colleagues, students, admirers, and listeners everywhere.

Sven David Sandstrom: Es ist genug. Swedish Radio Choir, Peter Dijkstra, conductor.

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