Kim Borg

A legendary artist
Kim Borg was surely an “uomo universalis”. This term was used in the renaissance about artists, who mastered a vast field of topics, knowledge and areas. Borg was an opera-, oratorie- and liedsinger touring all over the world, but he was also composer, photographer, painter and writer. It is almost breathtaking to follow his work. Moreover, he was a teacher and mentor for many singers, seeking his knowledge and help. This job became even more intense when he from 1972 to 1989 worked as professor at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. His career as a world famous singer made him travel and work outside his home for around 9 months a year, but his two children, son Matti (composer and voice coach) and daughter Mette (dramaturg and director), always underlines that he was an extraordinary father (both using the Finnish term “isä”) – very present in mind, inspiring and listening. Never moralizing, but urging them to find their own way in life, believing in their artistic talents. They both agree: “it was a celebration when he came home, and though he only stayed for a rather short time, we felt, that these months were as good and intense as a year together”’. In a self-biographical article in the Danish book: “Musikalske Selvportrætter” (Musical Selfportraits) Borg writes about his travelling – and you clearly get the impression that he was a relative to Hermes/Mercury, the Greek God with wings on his feet, ‘flying’ all over the world, encouraging both gods and human beings: “When I was a child I dreamt of a life travelling. I was granted that: four parts of the world, three times around the world. Singing in Carnegie Hall and at Metropolitan, in Concertgebouw and La Scala, in Musikverein and in Royal Festival hall, in state-operahouses here and there, in baroque halls and in open air, at the vast stage of Bolshoi, interpret the largest role in their national opera, Boris, sweating like hell in Osaka and Bombay, shivering of cold on stages in Tasmania and Lapland. Having the world’s most expensive flying ticket in my pocket, making concerts in 26 European states. – I am now a little tired of Mefisto’s empty theatre-laugh and wants a merry life comedy” In the same article he also mentions his favourite composers (Mozart, Schubert, Mussorgsky, Sibelius, Debussy, Britten) and underlines, that he likes working with characters not only from the world of tragedy and drama (Don Giovanni, Almaviva, Philip, Arkel, Boris, Scarpia, Pizarro, King Marke, Pimen, Hans Sachs etc.), but also enjoys the freedom of comedy and the grotesque (Osmin, Don Basilio, Baron Ochs, Schigolch) – always with the double focus on both singing and acting. He considers himself just as much actor as singer, and truly had the talent! His daughter Mette f. ex. remembers his interpretation of King Philip the second in Verdi’s “Don Carlos’. She was a teenager when she saw him in this part at the operahouse in Helsinki: “I shall never forget, how he made Philip both king and man, and so moving … one moment singing about his pain of love, as a vulnerable, honest, and human Philip, – his voice like dark silver – the next moment changing into a frightening powerful and dangerous king of Spain. This capacity of opening a character both in light and shadow so to say, and in its contradictions, made an everlasting impression on me and probably made me choose theatre as my future working area.” Borg was born in Helsinki August the 7.th. 1919 and died in his summerhouse in Humlebæk Denmark April the 28th 2000. His father was the architect Kaarlo Borg, his mother music teacher and former opera singer Hilkka (b. Stenius). He studied voice with Heikki Teittinen at the Sibelius Academy (1936-41 and 1945-47), but was also trained in theory and composition with Leo Funtek and Aarre Merikanto. During the war he was chief of the war-photographers and is the master of some of the most iconic photos from that period! He also studied biochemistry at the Helsinki University of Technology and received his diploma in 1946. But he chose to leave this scientific career to follow his inner drive for art and went to Stockholm, studying for the Russian teacher Andrejewna de Skilondz. In 1951 he made his operatic debut in Århus as Colline in ‘La Bohème’ which started his world-career. As a composer he has a production of 139 works (!), which were given to the Royal Library of Copenhagen in 2015 – soon after the death of his wife, writer Ebon Borg. It is quite a mystery how he found the time to write all this music, which is a true treasure of songs, lieder, 3 symphonies, orchestrations, arrangements and chamber music. A treasure which is of course not very well known yet, but is going to be in the years to come. Kim Borg has made a lot of recordings and many of them are on Spotify, and at the internetpage “Worldcat.org” there’s much more! In 2008 his recording of Sibelius songs with pianist Erik Werba was awarded “The Gramophone, Historic Reissue”, a kind of Oscar in the field of classical music. “Of course,” Rob Cowan wrote commenting the choice, “this offers a direct line back to Sibelius. Kim Borg was not only the composer’s contemporary and relative, he was his ardent champion. He was also one of the original setters of Sibelian song style. Flexibility abounds in this recital; at one moment, Borg’s bass-baritone will be at its most mighty, muscular and hard as granite. At another, the voice will loosen, open up to let the emotions fly on the breath. If ever there was doubt as to the range of Sibelius’s songs, Borg answered it. If ever there were questions as to whether he was a song composer of genius, Borg put paid to them. In fine sound, this disc makes a tremendously welcome return.” And recently, July 2019 – as a special 100 years celebration – Deutsche Grammophone published a collection of Borg’s most famous recordings: “Kim Borg Essentials”. In 1962 he received the Pro Finlandia Medal of Order of the Lion of Finland – one of the many orders with which he has been honoured for his great achievement in art. Yes, it is truly a legend we are celebrating!