Anytime you get a chance to be influential for the good, you’d better do it.”
Rolf Kristian Stang, a former American Scandinavian Society Vice President and distinguished member of the American Scandinavian Society, has dedicated much of his life to the presentation and interpretation of Nordic culture in the United States. He has received recognition as a charismatic figure, writer, language teacher, translator, vocal-repertoire coach, composer, character actor and singer.
A significant and integral part of the face of A.S.S., Rolf has promoted endeavors of our society’s Program Committee, Cultural Grant Committee and Art Committee; working fervently behind the scenes, as well as in the fore, as a writer, advisor, performer, MC, public relations chairman and facilitator.
Rolf has been a backbone of The American Scandinavian Society from its inception and has been contributing countless hours of his time and talents to A.S.S. for over 30 years. His diligence has been an invaluable asset to The Board and A.S.S. Presidents (past and present).
The countless number of press releases and critiques of A.S.S. artists that Rolf has written through the years are, literally, works of art and labors of love. The A.S.S musical programs that Rolf has put together and hosted throughout the years have been successes without exception!
A Note from Elfi von Kantzow Alvin
Our versatile American Scandinavian Society Art Committee Chair, Elfi von Kantzow Alvin, an acclaimed painter, subject-matter expert on Scandinavian Art and a highly-respected New York curator who worked closely with Rolf on many projects, wrote the following personal note:
You are my dearest friend, supporter and a great inspiration to me for over 30 years. You are unique and irreplaceable with your command of the languages, and ability to express your thoughts. Thank you for dozens of inspiring write-ups and tireless work to promote Scandinavian artists and culture. It has been so much fun collaborating with you and cherishing your friendship for all of these years!
A Note from John Lidal
John Lidal, The Norwegian Opera; Manhattan School of Music, Faculty; and Master Class coach; sent Rolf and the A.S.S. the following appraisal:
OSLO, THE OPERA: … Through my own work as a pianist, concert accompanist, and coach, in New York, London, Oslo, Paris, and Berlin for the past 20 years, collaborating with numerous prolific artists, particularly in the field of the vocal arts, I have yet to encounter a ‘Mensch’ of Rolf’s caliber, combining such a vast array of qualities, professional and human, all at the highest levels.
Rolf, a renaissance man living in New York! Those of us who have had the good fortune of knowing Mr. Rolf Kristian Stang and his many great gifts, will know exactly what I mean. No task is too small, and no task is too big for this man — in fact, everything is possible. “Let’s just get started.” The sense of determination with which Rolf does all his work, leaves essentially nothing to be desired. Every stone is turned, and every avenue is explored, making the outcome absolutely fabulous!
Mediocrity — professional, as well as human — is shunned, and excellence is constantly being strived for on all fronts. Whether it be a new translation of the songs by Edvard Grieg; the wording of an article that simply must be written; the interpretation of Scandinavian, German, English or American poetry and their historic contexts; the careful devising of a concert program and its comprehensive program notes; the sharing of invaluable knowledge to the new generation of singers, through generous coaching sessions; and, further, to speak up against injustice in society, and actually doing something about it; having a chat with the guy on the corner, who is selling coffee and doughnuts in the midst of a freezing winter; the virtuosity of a seemingly off-the-cuff speech; conceiving the celebration of a Hollywood star; the impersonation of legendary playwrights, the envisioning of new possibilities that no one else has thought of; — the list goes on. And who, really, can resist Mr. Stang’s charming and gentle insistence in anything he does? With refined, to the point, and eloquent language, we all stand aback dazzled, and simply nod!
Oh, and let’s not forget — Mr Stang is one of the funniest people one is ever likely to meet. Proustian volumes could be written about the wit, irony, keen observations, and jokes that this grand homme possesses. Be ready, folks — here comes one sharp gentleman!
Rolf – you rock!
Who is Mr. Rolf Kristian Stang?
Rolf was knighted by The Norwegian Crown, King Harald V for his role as an important tradition bearer in 1998. He received the St. Olaf Medal of Honor. He also has been inducted into the Scandinavian American Hall of Fame, 1997. In the Millennium year, 2000, he was the recipient of the Sons of Norway Leif Eriksson Citation. Having joined in 1971, Rolf, is now, not surprisingly, a ‘golden’ member of the Sons of Norway. Rolf has also been a member of the Board of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church since 1974. He feels honored to be called the ‘oldest and longest-serving volunteer’ at the church.
Entering a room is warmth followed by an unassuming free- spirited and well-put-together gentleman. With gleaming white hair and mustache, and with a smile from ear to ear, he offers an engaging “Hello” and “Good to see you” to everyone he meets. Shortly after Rolf enters the room, don’t be surprised to hear genuine laughter that is akin to sunshine on a snowy day. It is difficult to not be affected by his charm and congeniality.
Rolf is intent on knowing everyone crossing his path and, without exception, makes it his business to be certain that every individual feels comfortable, is acknowledged and is engulfed by a sense of belonging. His aspiration to attend to every individual takes precedence over everything pursuant to his philosophy that everyone and everything has a recognizable significance and value.
Rolf has been teaching Scandinavian repertoire for many years and introducing young artists to the cultural riches of the five countries of The North. Rolf’s zeal to teach and influence continues. His infectious joie de vivre permeates all that he does and affects attitudes by encouraging students to learn and grow and to appreciate aesthetics. His effectiveness as a writer/teacher/performer is focused on detail and is solidified by a utilization of humor, information, music, accents and costumes. He uses his craft cleverly and creatively to drive home timeless messages focused on our common essence. Under-currents embedded in those messages are universal life lessons of inspiration, perseverance, spirituality and joy.
Rolf, the son of Norwegian immigrant parents who, joining family, settled in Rockford, Illinois which used to be known as “little Sweden.” Danes and Norwegians also settled there which may explain Rolf’s pan-Scandinavian outlook which always precedes him.
Rolf originally had aspirations to become an architect; however, from an early age he discovered an enduring love of music which he explored and pursued. “I found making music,” said Rolf, “to be the quickest way down into my soul.”
Little about the history, culture or music of the Nordic democracies was taught in American schools or colleges. Determined to affect that omission, Rolf decided to focus his life and career in a way that promoted Scandinavian awareness on several fronts.
Rolf received a B.A. in Music from Augustana College. He received a Master’s Degree in music and history from Columbia University (NYC), and furthered his studies at Juilliard and the Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music. Expanding horizons in Hamburg, Germany, he attended the Hamburg Music Conservatory and the University. He toured Germany as a vocal soloist with the “Christoph Weber Barock Ensemble.” Awed by the history and complexity of the German culture, Rolf remained in Germany for three years. He says he performed in more old German churches, seemingly, than any other singer of his day.
Returning to the United States, he taught music and German language. His intense passion for music continued to grow and be cultivated. His love for teaching was realized and continues to “raise the bar” for students as he inspires them and encourages improvement and perfection. Rolf has taught concert singers in the German, English, Norwegian and Swedish art-song repertoire and he has instructed well-known opera stars in linguistic and interpretive nuances of singing German opera.
In his performances, Rolf is driven by a determination to remain true to historical figures of the past who he has admired, (in literature, music, and all the arts). His objective is to keep their spirit and philosophies alive by creative means. In the past, Rolf has performed for The American Scandinavian Society and has brought his students to perform as well.
As a voice coach, Rolf’s goal has been to motivate singers to represent the specified literature and the poet. In order to achieve this, he instructs inflection, pronunciation, and the understanding of musical texts in German and other languages. His techniques are introspective and innovative. His focus and continued attention is to heighten performance.
Eva Engman, Swedish singer and actress wrote:
Rolf has been such a great supporter of me as a singer over the years, since I first took over the Lucia crown for ASS. I was thrilled when, for the first time, I sat with Rolf Stang as he prepared to coach a singer. The up-and-coming star he is working with, baritone John Brancy, is auditioning in Helsinki for a scholarship. Rolf sent me his translation and interpretive commentary which he gave to the singer after they had first worked together.
After reading it, this is what I wrote to Rolf:
I got goose bumps and tears were burning behind my eyelids reading your notes on the Sibelius/Runeberg song: “Under Strandens Granar.” Fabulous work and what a gift for the singer! I wish more coaches were as thorough and helpful as you! I am looking forward to hearing this. I am sure he is going to bring new life to the piece.
Encouraging students to remain true to the composer’s spirit and essence, Rolf conscientiously continues to nurture dignity and soul to performances. Many fine artists have had their beginnings with Rolf, recognizing and appreciating his classical insistence on the purity, sincerity and integrity of music. As a result of Rolf’s growing reputation as a subject matter expert on text, communication and teaching effectiveness, accomplished singers have sought him out and continue to seek him out to work with him to improve and to rekindle their expertise and passion.
A Note from Judith Blegen
Judith Blegen, Norwegian-American member of the Metropolitan Opera and star at London’s Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Paris’ Palais Garnier, and frequent guest on the Johnny Carson Show, worked with Rolf on several occasions. Ms. Blegen called once from Norway, to report on her appearance in the Bergen International Music Festival:
“Hi, Rolf, this is Judy calling from Hotel Norge, with Erik Bye* standing beside me. Erik says he is awed by my singing of the Grieg songs–in which you coached me so, so very, very thoroughly!” (laughs) I wish I could give you a hug….. Right now!”
* Erik Bye: Norway’s late, great, leading TV commentator, talk-show host, documentary maker and a singer, as well.
A card about this soon followed:
“I was able to express my feelings like never before and people from the audience came up afterwards and spoke to me in Norwegian, assuming I speak it.”
An Autographed Photo from Janet Norquist
“To Rolf Stang, with love and deep gratitude for many years of friendship and the best kind of musical guidance known on this earth.”
Soprano Janet Norquist premiered Rolf’s English translation of the Grieg/Garborg “Haugtussa” Song Cycle.
Rolf’s specialized niche and interpretive skills in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Danish music, art and literature continue to familiarize the public with Nordic Culture. Rolf has written infamous one-man shows in which he portrays “Leif Eriksson, Icelandic Viking-Era Voyager,” “Henrik Ibsen, The Quiet Eye of the Hurricane,” “My Name is Grieg, Edvard Grieg” or Hans Christian Andersen.
The New York Times covered an evening of Classical Scandinavian Song Tradition held at prestigious Carnegie Recital Hall (Weill Hall). Rolf produced this program which featured the works of Edvard Grieg, Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. The article mentioned Rolf’s translation of Grieg’s song-cycle “Haugtussa,” poems by Arne Garborg. This translation is now included in the “Collected Works of Edvard Grieg.”
A Note from Per Brevig
Susan Ullmann (A.S.S. Board for 25-plus years) was sent the following note from Per Brevig in reference to Rolf Stang:
Dear Susan Ullmann:
It is my pleasure to offer the following as a commentary of Rolf Stang’s work as a translator.
At an Edvard Grieg Society concert which took place in the residence of the Consul General of Norway, our audience was given translations into English of the Arne Garborg poems, the poems Grieg used for his Haugtussa song cycle. The translations were done by Rolf Stang.
As Swedish-American mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson sang the cycle in Norwegian, accompanied by John Lidal of the Oslo Opera, we were able to follow along. This was very helpful. Arne Garborg wrote in the secondary Norwegian language, with its many archaic terms and grammar, quite different from the standard, modern Norwegian. The challenges for him were many. Rolf undaunted, made masterful translations.
Rolf succeeds in matching words of emphasis in the text exactly where they lie in the Norwegian musical line so there is no distortion!
His translations were chosen to be included in the complete “Collected Works of Edvard Grieg”, published in the composer’s Sesquicentennial Year 1993.
Per Brevig DMA
— Per Brevig, Music Director and Conductor, Strathmere Festival Orchestra, Faculty: The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music New York University, Aspen Music Festival and School, President and Founder Edvard Grieg Society, Inc,. Board, Member, Musicians Club of New York, Principal Trombone, Metropolitan Opera (ret.) —
Rolf produced and sang in a program celebrating the tercentenary of the Bergen-born genius playwright, Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754). Holberg made his career in Denmark and many of this Dano-Norwegian’s texts have become songs and arias, as in Carl Nielsen’s opera “Maskarade,” based on Holberg’s comedy of the same name.
Rolf & Edvard Grieg
Rolf is an undisputed subject matter expert on Grieg.
On the occasion of Grieg’s 150th birthday anniversary in 1993, Rolf debuted in his reenactment of Grieg’s final birthday celebration. He later toured as Grieg in his one-man show throughout the US and abroad. He premiered his Edvard Grieg performance at The York Theatre, CitiCorp Center, in New York City to a capacity house.
Else Hvistendahl reported in the Norway Times: “A highlight of the year and the most unusual performance is the totally unique Rolf Stang one-man show.” The heartwarming impersonation received rave reviews.
In 2011, the prestigious Delius Society of Philadelphia presented Rolf Kristian Stang in his “My Name is Grieg, Edvard Grieg.” Rolf “enraptured” his audience by his depiction of the composer.
Rolf was invited to deliver a lecture at Cambridge University, in 1984, on the music of English composer Frederick Delius and the composer’s connections to Scandinavia.
On the 60th anniversary of the sensational Metropolitan Opera debut of Norwegian soprano, Kirsten Flagstad. Rolf’s multi-media tribute to the legendary singer was presented at the Norwegian Church and Cultural Center and repeated under the auspices of the Wagner Society shortly thereafter. Robert Tuggle, archivist of the Metropolitan Opera, called the presentation “remarkable.”
As a guest on the Ed Sullivan Show, celebrating “Oklahoma!,” the first American musical to be translated and performed abroad — in Sweden.
Rolf sang: “O, What a beautiful Morning” in Swedish. Celebrated actress, Celeste Holm, also a guest performer that evening, quickly made acquaintance with Rolf. Subsequently Rolf and Celeste became lifelong friends and they often performed together including three of the A.S.S.-sponsored “Ugly Duckling’s Birthday Party” events at the Hans Christian Andersen statue in Central Park.
On the occasion of her 90th birthday, beloved actress of Hollywood fame, Celeste Holm, was in the audience for Rolf’s performance and her countenance portrayed pure delight.
In 1982, Norway was ‘in oil’ and doing business with Texas, when Rolf Stang and Celeste Holm were asked to perform jointly for a gala fundraising dinner in Houston in the presence of King Olav V. (Money raised would be used to a build a Norwegian Seamen’s Church.) Rolf came up with the idea to translate “The Yellow Rose of Texas” into Norwegian, which they sang as a duet. This surprise rendition/translation tickled and endeared the audience and the king absolutely roared.
From 1983-93, Rolf toured and sang concerts in England, France, Central America, Mexico and 30 states…always including Scandinavian songs… which was in line with his life-long determination to promote our heritage.
Rolf has performed annually at the Norsk Høstfest in North Dakota, North America’s largest Scandinavian Festival. Tracey Lawson of the Norsk Hostfest Association wrote to him to compliment and thank him appreciatively for his high quality school program along with your years of commitment, dedication to the young, and energy.
A note from Carl Soyland
When asked by the editor of the Norway Times (now, Norwegian-American Weekly), Carl Soyland, to cover concerts and recitals, Rolf agreed. He was afforded the venue here to feature and highlight various up-and-coming young Scandinavian artists which he did brilliantly. This gave these young artists the opportunity to make New York professional debuts, knowing they would be covered in the press. Rolf’s reviews have been a boost to many careers. Following is a letter to Rolf from Carl Soyland, Editor in Chief of Norway Times:
Dear Rolf Stang:
This is simply a belated thank-you for beautiful singing and that spirit that you bring with you, which lay over my birthday “Meatball Dinner” on the 20th of May. When it comes to an artistic contribution to the “Norwegian Colony, you have been absolutely outstanding.
Among folks in general, there are, very likely only a few who are fully aware of the artistic and intellectual background that stand behind your singing and your work.
Your congeniality and much appreciated willingness to participate are a chapter waiting to be written. You are truly unique in very many ways.
Every autumn for the past 25 years, Rolf has been Hans Christian Andersen in New York’s Central Park. He delights children (and adults) as he presents “The Ugly Duckling’s Birthday Party.”
Rolf’s interpretive rendition focuses on the moral of Mr. Andersen’s story and the core of the meaning is expressed so well by Rolf that young and old alike grasp the lesson. Rolf’s love of the audience and sincerity of purpose are driven directly from the heart of the author to the inners selves of those present.
Rolf loves talking to kids. “I see myself in them and remember how grateful I was for the people who taught and inspired me and, as a bonus, their joy and laughter is so moving.”
An annual A.S.S. program: In character as Hans in the park, every autumn, Rolf sings; “Inch worm, inch worm measuring the marigolds, seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are!” So telling is this of the importance Rolf places on the appreciation and celebration of this amazing life. This follows a rendition of “The Ugly Duckling” song with the entire audience happily quacking in participation.
Using costumes, accents, and humor, Rolf continues to bring historical figures to life. He touches countless children and adults with his presence and performances at fabled Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota every year. For 22 years, Rolf has returned annually to perform.
Insisting on staying true to the integrity of his characters is always at the core. Rolf goes to great lengths to promote this. In fact, Rolf journeyed to Iceland in order to assure the most accurate portrayal possible of Leif Eriksson at the Smithsonian Discovery Theater.
A note from Virginia Ritan
Susan Ullmann (A.S.S.) requested a commentary regarding Rolf Stang from MiDDfest International in Middletown, Ohio, and the Executive Director, Virginia Ritan responded:
I am very happy to respond to your request regarding Rolf Stang’s participation here in Middletown, Ohio at our annual MiDDfest International events. It has been a long and happy association.
Each year we feature the culture as well as the food, of course, of a different country. Rolf, recommended by the Consul General of Norway in New York, came to us first in 1993 with his one-man show. “Grieg Edvard Grieg”. At our 20 years/25 countries Retrospective Year in 2005, he returned as Leifur Eiriksson.
In 2007, we realized as we planned our salute to The Netherlands, we needed a Rembrandt. Quick call to our friend in New York and Rolf came for those festival days as none other than the great artist. Then the same thing occurred as we prepared to feature France in 2012. You may well guess who came well-prepared to be Gustav Eiffel.
It has been a wonderful association! In fact, my colleague, the late Jane Fisher, would say if we ever need an Albert Einstein, Hans Christian Andersen or any number of famous characters from history or fiction, Rolf would be a natural,
Virginia Ritan, Executive Director, MIDDfest International
A Final Comment from Jane Thorngren
Operatic star and soloist at a recent Harriet Nilsen Winter Concert, Jane Thorngren’s remarkable singing is well-known to the members of the American Scandinavian Society. She wrote:
“Any time spent with Rolf is heightened time, and I always leave our encounters light of foot.
I consider Rolf to be one of my Master Teachers. His passionate ideas, enthusiastic guidance and unwavering support have enriched my life in countless ways.
I cherish our friendship.
Oh….and we laugh a lot.”
Rolf’s cultural voice scans a myriad of diverse, innovative and creative ideas and philosophies as they come to fruition in Nordic tales of humanity and morality. He virtually brings fictional characters to life!
It cannot be overstated how compelling Rolf’s contribution to A.S.S. and the promotion of Scandinavian Heritage has been.
Rolf’s aptitude to, almost subliminally, teach us just a bit about ourselves; about being humane, respectful, non-judgmental, appreciative and kind should not go unmentioned. There is usually a moral or a focal point to every story he tells or writes which is intricately woven into its fabric.
As an adjunct to his professional life, Rolf is a true humanitarian who strives for social justice. Rolf has been instrumental in turning lives around. Since 1988, he has spent time helping the homeless in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields, reaching out to folks who have temporarily lost their way.
Insightful, compassionate, and a great performer, teacher and wordsmith is his persona. Rolf has the ability to paint portraits in words, music and with actions. He carefully and painstakingly chooses to share with us, persuasively, yet subtly, a notch of introspection, cultural insight, and enlightenment.
Thank you, Rolf, for always returning to us and for all you do….from The Board of The American Scandinavian Society.
Written by Susan Ullmann
Designed by Cindy Smalletz