As It Happens

Why this Swedish tenor turned anti-gay hate mail into a song

When a Swedish orchestra received a hate-filled letter about tenor Rickard Soderberg, the musician decided to turn it into "something beautiful."

Warning: This story contains graphic language in the form of a homophobic slur

Tenor Rickard Soderberg suggested turning anti-gay hate mail into music for the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden. (Christian Andersson/Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra)

When a Swedish orchestra received a hate-filled letter about its tenor Rickard Soderberg, the musician decided to turn it into "something beautiful."

The anonymous letter addressed to the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra came after a performance featuring Soderberg, who is gay.

The letter first praised the event's wine, service and setting, before lashing out in a homophobic screed about how pride parades make the writer "want to vomit" and accusing the orchestra of "hopping aboard the fag train."

"First of all, you want to scream and cry and get mad. But then I thought, I don't want to do that," Soderberg told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I just want to make this is into something beautiful. I don't think we can go on being mad at each other. We just have to do something else. We have to change that agenda."

When you look closely at the letter's contents, Soderberg said, "there's some poetry there."

"I want to go on that train," he said. "It sounds fantastic."

So he contacted the show's director Fredrik Osterling and proposed they take the words, put them to music and "just get on that fag train and sing."

The resulting cantata is called Bogtaget — Swedish for The Fag Train — and has Soderberg's operatic voice crooning exact lines from the letter, including "Why do you have to force this gay agenda on us poor people?"

Soderberg posted a video of himself on Facebook practising the song.

"By considering the text as an opera libretto, we were able to scrutinize the emotions that the anonymous sender was seeking to express," Osterling told LGBT news site Queerty. 

"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 orchestra debuted the song on Saturday alongside a performance by Soderberg of German composer Robert Schumann's Frauen-Liebe und Leben.

That song, usually performed by a woman about her undying affection for her husband, was also adapted to express a more universal theme of love.

"The people who were there were super enthusiastic, and it's obviously done with a sense of humour, all of it," Soderberg said.

"But underneath the lightness is the big question, and that is: What kind of world do we want to live in? One with more people who love each other or less?"

'I want to change it. I want to own the word and I want to own the way that people love each other,' Soderberg said. 'I live for that.' (Erik Lundback/Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra )

But there was one person missing from the audience.

Soderberg reserved two seats for the letter writer and a guest, and made announcements in the local papers inviting them to come.

"But they didn't arrive, unfortunately," he said.

"I don't think necessarily this is an evil person who wrote this letter.… It's just someone who needs a bit more love in his life."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Rickard Soderberg produced by Julian Uzielli.