This evening's VocalEssence concert is billed as "A Hakan Hagegard Farewell" and described as his final American recital. Hagegard himself, however, is not comfortable with those words. He won't say for certain if tonight's concert will indeed be his last performance in this country.
"Final is a very strange word. Farewell is a very strange word. I'm not much for greetings or farewells," Hagegard says with a laugh.
The description of tonight's concert as Hakan Hagegard's "farewell performance" comes from VocalEssence Artistic Director Philip Brunelle. The two had long wanted to collaborate on a concert, Brunelle says, but he recalls a moment when Hagegard told him they'd better find a project and pick a date because his retirement was approaching.
Hagegard is joining the 32-voice VocalEssence Ensemble Singers for the world premiere of a new work by fellow Swede Sven-David Sandstrom called "Five Pictures from the Bible." Even if this isn't Hagegard's final American recital, he does admit he's winding down his performance career to dedicate himself to teaching.
"If you want to start up a new stage of things in your life, you have to plan that a couple years ahead," Hagegard says. "And if you want to stop something you also have to plan that--not to sit and wait until the telephone doesn't ring anymore--because then you just get depressed and say, 'Nobody loves me.'"
Hagegard is not accustomed to that feeling; he's won some ardent admirers over the years. One of them, John DeHaan, singles out "the beauty of the voice. It's a creamy, lush and very warm sound," he says.
DeHaan is a tenor and an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Music. In the early 90s he worked with Hagegard at the German Opera in Berlin. He remembers that even during rehearsals, Hagegard's voice stood out among all the others.
"Even in the context of an opera house where there's a lot of beautiful voices around, when Hakan started to sing everyone would gather in the wings and stop and listen. I noticed that very clearly," DeHaan says.
John DeHaan last heard Hakan Hagegard sing four years ago and says his voice was as beautiful as ever.
Philip Brunelle has a similar reaction based on rehearsals for tonight's VocalEssence; he thinks Hagegard still sounds wonderful.
"I think Hakan is very wise," Brunelle says. "He has just turned 60 and he said, 'You know, I really want to stop publicly singing while everybody thinks I'm still sounding very good.' He, of course, will continue to sing when he does coaching. He is a phenomenal person in master class situations working with singers."
Hagegard led a master class at the Schubert Club as part of this month's St. Paul Summer Song Festival.
At the moment, however, Hagegard isn't ready to focus exclusively on teaching. He's looking forward to this evening's concert at Bethel University, whether it's his last American recital or not.
"You never know," he laughs. "But it's important to stop. Things have to have an end and go into a new stage. And teaching is certainly something I enjoy a lot. To work with young people, what could be better?"
While his decision about performing may still be up in the air, Hagegard has plans to be back in the Twin Cities very soon. On July 1, he'll conduct a conference workshop for the National Association of Teachers of Singing.