Finnish maestro: a mourning on the south coast

We have received this fond remembrance from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, where Paavo Berglund served as chief conductor in the 1970s:

“Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is sad to hear of the loss of its Conductor Emeritus Paavo Berglund, its Principal Conductor from 1972-1979.  Berglund’s performances and recordings of Sibelius with the BSO are legendary and his death was announced as the Orchestra played Sibelius Symphony No.5   with Kirill Karabits, who himself worked with Paavo in Budapest. The music parts used by the Orchestra are the ones used by Paavo himself, and the Orchestra dedicated its concert last night in Cheltenham, and its concert tonight at Portsmouth Guildhall (27 January 2012), to his memory.

Roger Preston, Co Principal Cello, who worked with Paavo on many occasions, said ‘Anyone who played with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Kerimäki Church, Finland, as part of the BSO’s 1981 tour will tell that it was a truly unforgettable experience.  On this tour we played all the Sibelius Symphonies, with Paavo on spectacular form. Many of Paavo’s comments, criticisms and demands are as fresh in my mind as though it were only yesterday. He remains, for me, one of the best, if not the best conductor that I have ever played for, and I am so grateful to have caught the latter days of Paavo’s extraordinarily fruitful relationship with the BSO.’”

 

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  • What a sad day for lovers of Sibelius’ music. Paavo Berglund’s set of the symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on the Finlandia label is arguably the best set of the many available. It is certainly my favorite set by a wide margin, and I have heard all or nearly all of them. Berglund employs rubato with subtly, with precision, and usually for reasons springing from a concern with the music’s formal properties. He is a classicist and so rarely uses rubato for merely expressive purposes at the expense of the elucidation of the music’s formal properties, as does Segerstam, whose Sibelius cycle on Chandos I admit that I deplore. Likewise with the adjustment of the relative volumes of single voices making up complex harmonic material. It is often the inner voices that most matter, and here again Berglund surpasses the competition. But the Berglund style is not to every Sibelius lover’s liking. Some want more overt drama. Others want a thicker, more romantic orchestral sound. I would argue that neither is appropriate given the very nature of the music as it appears on the page. This is concentrated and demanding stuff. The Sibelius symphonies conducted well are not easy listening, though they are sublime music.

  • Saddened by the death of Paavo Berglund, who, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra crammed onto the stage of the old Queen’s Hall, Barnstaple, Devon in the early 1970s, gave me one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life with a mind blowing performance of Sibelius 5.

  • One of my imperishable concert-going memories is a performance by the Boston Symphony under Paavo Berglund. By this point (perhaps five years ago), he could barely walk. His gestures were minimal but his command was overwhelming. When the Sibelius Violin Concerto (with the estimable and very young Julia Fischer as soloist) began, the string sound in pianissimo was other-worldly. You really couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from, which seems exactly to have been the composer’s point. After intermission, the performance of the Shostakovich 8th Symphony was “beyond category”. Maestro Berglund was another of the great musicians more or less ignored by the “music business”. The list is endless but among conductors Jascha Horenstein leads the way followed closely by Berglund.

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