A Tribute to Rolf Kristian Stang

The American Scandinavian Society honors a living performing arts legend

Photo: Marit Areklett Frank Basile, bass-baritone, singing “Min gule blomst i Texas / The Yellow Rose of Texas” in Norwegian, with the man of the hour looking on.

Photo: Marit Areklett
Frank Basile, bass-baritone, singing “Min gule blomst i Texas / The Yellow Rose of Texas” in Norwegian, with the man of the hour looking on.

Kirsten Vibe Philippides
The Danish Pioneer

The ASS arranged for a loving tribute to Rolf Stang, a former American Scandinavian Society Vice President and distinguished member who for 30-plus years has contributed graciously to the society with his many talents, his enthusiasm and energy.

For the occasion (which turned out to be less of a surprise in the end!) the ASS assembled a group of outstanding singers and musicians with whom Rolf has worked in the past as a repertoire and language coach.

Rolf Stang was warmly introduced by Lars Nilsen, V.P. for Norway, and by Lena Stenwall, President of ASS. She described in warm and glowing terms Stang’s involvement and sincere dedication to the Scandinavian community and to furthering the knowledge of Nordic culture in this country.

Through the years, Rolf has received recognition as a charismatic figure, writer, language teacher, translator, vocal-repertoire coach, composer, character actor, and singer.

He has been a backbone of the American Scandinavian Society from its new beginning (1982) and has promoted endeavors of the Society’s Program Committee, Cultural Grant Committee, and Art Committee as writer, advisor, performer, MC public relations chairman, and behind-the-scenes facilitator.

In 1998 Stang was knighted by King Harald V for his role as an important tradition bearer, at which time he received the St. Olaf Medal of Honor. He also has been inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame, in 1997. He received the Sons of Norway Leif Eriksson Citation in 2000, prior to his summer appearances as Leif Eriksson at Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Discovery Theatre. Having joined in 1971, he is now a “Golden” member of the Sons of Norway. He has been a Board Member of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church since 1974. He enjoys being called “The oldest and longest serving volunteer” at the church.

Rolf is the son of Norwegian immigrant parents who settled in Rockford, Illinois, which was known as “Little Sweden.” Danes and Norwegians also settled there, which accounts for his pan-Scandinavian attitude.

Book cover courtesy of the ASS The cover of a tribute book, with cover illustration by Ingrid Tostrup of Bellingham, Wash.

Book cover courtesy of the ASS
The cover of a tribute book, with cover illustration by Ingrid Tostrup of Bellingham, Wash.

He received a B.A. in Music from Augustana College and a Master’s Degree in music and history from Columbia University, studied at Juilliard, and spent three years in Germany, where he attended the Hamburg Music Conservatory and the University and sang as a soloist with the Christoph Weber Barock Ensemble.

Returning to the U.S., Stang taught music and the German language. He has taught concert singers in the German, English, Norwegian, and Swedish art song repertoire and he has instructed and coached opera stars in German opera.

Stang is also well known for his one-man shows, “Leifur Eiriksson, Icelandic Viking-Era Voyager,” “Henrik Ibsen, the Quiet Eye of the Hurricane,” and “My name is Grieg, Edvard Grieg.”

Every autumn for the past 25 years Rolf Stang 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.”

A musical program was presented as a tribute to Rolf by the following performers:

Jane Thorngren, Soprano opera sang the Grieg/Ibsen “Med en vandlilje” movingly and in perfect Norwegian, and was accompanied by Thor-Erik Fjellvang at the piano.

Frank Basile, bass-baritone was also accompanied by Thor-Erik Fjellvang. His handsome, Italian operatic voice was heard in a medley of popular tunes along with an amusing rendition of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” in Norwegian, translated by Rolf(!), which brought the house down. (Frank Basile is the husband of the late beloved Hollywood star Celeste Holm, of Norwegian background, who also gave freely of her rich talent to the Nordic community.)

John Brancy, baritone, recently graduated from the Juillard School of Music has been enthusiastically recognized as an up-and-coming talent who is causing quite a stir in New York music venues. In Swedish, we heard him sing the epic Sibelius/Runeberg song “Under Strandens Granar,” accompanied by Peter Dugan.

Anja Christin Nielsen, playing beautiful trumpet, accompanied Rolf in “Alt lægger for din fot jeg ned” by Halfdan Kjerulf and Thomas Moore, with the very versatile Thor-Erik again at the piano.

Roses and a “Tribute” book with a David Levine cover design, featuring Ingrid Tostrup’s drawing of Rolf Stang, were presented to the very touched and charming-as-usual Man of the Evening.

This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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