Swedish orchestra turns homophobic hate mail into a beautiful cantata

4 June 2018, 17:53

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

After playing a concert that included music by LGBTQ composers, the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra received homophobic hate mail – so they responded by turning the message into beautiful music.

The anonymous letter, which initially thanked the Swedish orchestra for the great setting at their concert and the fine wine they provided, went on to say their concert made the sender “want to vomit”, and that the orchestra was “hopping aboard the f*g train”.

The sender also said they would be cancelling their membership to the Helsingborg Sympony Orchestra.

Composer Fredrik Österling wrote earlier this year that he had wanted to respond to the sender, but the letter’s anonymity made it difficult. So, tenor Rickard Söderberg suggested turning the the message into music.

“The hate letter I received reeked of contempt and fear for the love between human beings,” Österling told the website Queerty. “I had no hesitation when Söderberg suggested that I should set it to music. By considering the text as an opera libretto, we were able to scrutinise the emotions that the anonymous sender was seeking to express. And at the same time, we are doing exactly what an artistic institution should be doing: we are reflecting our times in our art.”

The composer created a cantata called Bögtåget (‘The fag train’), which the orchestra premiered on 26 May in the lead-up to Pride Month this June.

The concert also featured Robert Schumann’s ‘Frauen-Liebe und Leben’, which they performed as a new orchestral arrangement by Österling. Sung by a man, they altered the theme from a woman’s life-long love for her husband to a more inclusive expression of love in a relationship.

Before the performance, Söderberg posted a sample of the piece to his Facebook page, which he filmed while wearing an LGBTQ rights rainbow shirt.

Thrilled to be performing the new piece at the concert, he said: “I cannot let hate with such poetical ambitions go unnoticed.”

Of the anonymous letter sender, he said: “It’s a shame that they cancelled their subscriptions, so that they cannot hear their nice libretto.”