Sixten Ehrling studied the piano, organ and conducting at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music before becoming a répétiteur at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, where he worked from 1936 to 1940, winning the Jenny Lind Scholarship in 1939 and making his debut as an opera conductor there in 1940. During 1941 he studied conducting with Karl Böhm in Dresden, and made his debut in concert at Gothenburg the following year. He remained at Gothenburg until 1944, when he was appointed as a conductor at the Stockholm Royal Opera; having been promoted to conductor of the company in 1953, he held this post until 1960. During this period he taught conducting at the Salzburg Mozarteum (1954) and the Stockholm Conservatory (from 1956). While at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, in 1959 Ehrling conducted the first performances of Blomdahl’s opera Aniara which attracted international attention.
Having left the Royal Opera in 1960, Ehrling began to appear internationally, the first Swedish conductor to do so. He was appointed chief conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in succession to Paul Paray in 1963, and held this post for ten years, in 1964 also taking up the direction of the Meadow Brook Music Festival, the summer home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra located in the grounds of Oakland University. After his departure from Detroit Ehrling taught conducting at the Juilliard School in New York and began to appear regularly as a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, leading a complete Ring cycle in 1975; from 1974 to 1976 he was also chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Two years later he was appointed musical adviser to the Denver Symphony Orchestra, going on to be the orchestra’s principal guest conductor between 1979 and 1985; he also acted as music adviser to the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra from 1985 to 1988, and at San Diego during 1985. Ehrling remained active as a musician for many years, appearing as an accompanist at the piano as late as 1998, his eightieth year.
Ehrling was the foremost Swedish conductor of the twentieth century, able to deliver performances both of Scandinavian music, with which he was closely identified, and of the more general repertoire with conviction, technical security and a high degree of musical integrity. He was greatly respected as a teacher of conducting and counted amongst his pupils many who went on to enjoy significant careers. Of his recordings, which were limited in number, the most distinguished is the complete set of Sibelius symphonies, made for the Swedish label Metronome in the early 1950s with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. This set has been praised for its uncompromising portrayal of all the different moods of Sibelius the symphonist.
Also of interest are Ehrling’s accompaniments to David Oistrakh’s first recordings in the West after World War II: the violin concertos addressed were those by Beethoven and Sibelius, and the orchestra was once again the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Ehrling recorded a varied repertoire of Scandinavian music, such as Berwald’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Singulière’ and No. 4 ‘Naïve’ with the London Symphony Orchestra for Decca, and from the twentieth century, Blomdahl’s Chamber Concerto, also with the LSO for Decca. He may also be heard live in performance, directing the Danish National Radio Orchestra in Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Espansiva’, and the forces of the Royal Stockholm Opera in a 1959 performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).