Maestro lets rip in mid-concert

A rapturous performance of Scheherezade earlier this year by the symphony orchestra of Galicia, impressive in every respect. But at 45 minutes on the dot, the conductor erupts.

Fast-forward and watch.

segerstam

The conductor is the law-unto-himself Leif Segerstam, a loner even among Finns.

Mr Segerstam, 71, recently composed his 289th symphony.

It is titled ‘When the cat visited’.

 

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  • Wonderful orchestra and an excellent performance. I don’t know anything about his rehearsal technique but clearly a fine conductor. It is insane and sad what he does at 45 minutes. Rimsky-Korsakov would not be impressed.

  • He is clearly completely bonkers. Raving. Off his trolley. Which makes a pleasant change from the usual dull grey men in suits.

  • I wouldn’t worry too much about what Rimsky-Korsakov might have thought – he’s no longer around to have an opinion. On the other hand, this performance, and therefore his music, is very much alive.

  • Isn’t that related to the score, like illustrating an attack by the Mongols or something to that effect in Sheherezade’s tales?

  • Isn’t that point supposed to be the arrival of the Pirates? That’s what Ilya Musin used to say anyway. Its a great performance with or without the shouting.

  • I’ve never been a fan of Rimsky-Korsakov’s work. If anything, his outburst only improves upon the score. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Segerstam hasn’t gone mad himself. But at 71, he should be free to do as he pleases musically.

  • Started off the day right, I get his vision of Mongol Hordes, but think it’s probably easier to take this in a video than in a concert hall. Was our beloved and much missed Maestro Masur channeling the same rage when shouting at the Verbier orchestra during the Mendelssohn concerto with Yuja Wang?

    Anyway, for all his bizarre aspects, I cherish his lovely Sibelius cycle.

  • Notice that many other members of the orchestra are yelling as well – it’s obviously planned. They’re having a great time and so is the audience, as you can see by the many smiling faces…

  • I wasn’t expecting that since, here in the US, “to let rip” connotes a rather different noise, from a different orifice.

    • I was expecting the same thing myself. In light of that, the real thing was much more fitting and much less of a shock.

  • Seigerstam based his performance upon the original manuscript which is in the St Petersburg conservatory’s library, where on the relevant page a couple of brown splatters can be seen. Some Soviet musicologists interpreted this in the sixties as indications of mongol screams (comparable with graphic notation in the West at the time, and possibly forefelt by Rimsky), while Richard Taruskin in his portable version of Music History of the West (OUP) assumes it was mere spilled coffee.

  • Well that’s a new one for me! Played Scheherezade not too long ago & nothing of this was ever mentioned.
    Different publisher maybe?

  • The Orquesta Sinfonica de Galica (OSG) is indeed a fine orch.! OSG was founded in 1992, during Spain’s “golden age” of orch. start ups. (Spain has at least one orch. for each of its regions – about 26 full time pro orchs. in all). It’s based in A Coruña, a beautiful seaport city in northern Spain. Current Music Director is Dima Slobeniouk. Like all of the Spanish orchs, they attract top soloists and guest conductors.

    Ongoing projects include a live streaming series and an upcoming tour to the Arab Emirates.

    Of the non-Spaniards, players originally came from around the world, inc. top US conservatories – Juilliard, Curtis, NEC or MTT’s New World Symphony. Most of these original players are still in the ensemble and can be seen in this video. Now many young Spaniards are returning after studying abroad to win positions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orquesta_Sinf%C3%B3nica_de_Galicia

    Interestingly, the fine quality of playing in this orchestra has shifted the traditional focus of turning out top wind and brass players from Valencia to the north! Valencia, with its long tradition of bands has always produced the largest volume of Spain’s wind and brass players. Because of OSG, we are now seeing a huge shift to the north – top notch young players from Galicia who began their studies under professors in OSG are now at the front of the pack, winning auditions. Valencia still turns out quantity, but Galicia is turning out QUALITY. And without the Valencian arrogance and clannishness.

    Another interesting feature of OSG’s website is that they’re publicly jumping on the Ley de Mecenazgo bandwagon. This is a controversial new Spanish law which allows tax deductions for contributions by private entities to arts organizations. OSG is one of the 1st orchs. in Spain to actively solicit private donations. Good for them! http://www.sinfonicadegalicia.com/mecenazgo/

  • Just as a matter of interest was wondering if anyone had actually heard a Segerstam symphony live. I see from Wikepedia that over 100 have apparently been performed and there are a few recordings listed on Amazon. Personally, I don’t know his music at all. Perhaps Naxos should start a complete symphony edition!

    • I have played a couple of them and a few can be seen on YouTube. The last time that I worked with him he announced to the orchestra that his doctor had told him that he could die at any time and so we should be prepared for a dramatic week. That was two years ago.

    • In 2009, Mr Segerstam came to New Zealand (not for the first time, he’d already visited in the 1990s) and performed two different respective concerts (in different centres) with the NZSO, one of them featuring his Symphony No. 191. This was one of the most bizarrely disturbing atonal orchestral pieces I’ve ever heard live, twenty minutes of unrelenting dissonance, with one of the players repeatedly whacking a suspended metal sheet with a hammer for good measure, and somehow all so intensely unsettling at relatively close range that I quite literally needed a stiff brandy during the interval afterwards! This was hardly an isolated reaction in the audience (one person even wrote a letter to the editor of the local daily newspaper about how “the music had made her ill”), and as a rule I’m not at all overly sensitive to “challenging works” myself, but this was a real exception. I.e. I’m not at all sure whether that represents a good recommendation for his work, but I will at least be magnanimous here and say that (logically, of course) it would be quite unfair to judge all of his symphonies based on hearing just this one of them. Nevertheless, I was together with a number of friends that evening, several of them only very occasional attendees at NZSO concerts and really not used to this kind of approach, and I had to do a lot of persuading afterwards to convince one or two of them to ever come to a concert again!! On the plus side, I will say that, in keeping with his reputation, he conducted the Sibelius (Karelia Suite), Strauss (Four Last Songs, with Solveig Kringelborn) and (at another concert) Brahms’ Fourth Symphony masterfully, and one of my friends, not normally a friend of Wagner, was also (temporarily) won over after the interval, at the concert following his symphony, by a similarly masterful, spacious reading of the “Meistersinger” overture. Otherwise, I believe several of his symphonies are available on the Ondine and BIS labels, at the least. From the descriptions I’ve read of them, it seems they vary greatly in style from one to another. Anyway, for other, “official” critical reactions to the concert with No. 191, see also https://www.nzso.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/DominionPostReview02.11.09.pdf (whereby the comparison here to Varese is actually quite an appropriate one), and http://middle-c.org/2009/10/kringelborn-and-segerstam-with-nzso/ – anyway, he’s clearly a one of a kind, if nothing else!!

      • It has become convention after 1945 for some ‘composers’ to write, all at once, all the notes that have been left-out in all the time before the war. But what would you expect from someone turning-out a symphony every week? Not much thought will have gone into that. Performing such music is the best way to chase-out audiences and to contribute to the decline of classical music.

        • In all seriousness, and with all due respect to the man’s considerable abilities as a conductor, and without knowing anything about his other symphonies, this particular one was indeed something of a shocker for many, and as I say, its “visceral impact” was really quite extraordinary – see also http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/letters-to-the-editor/3043737/Letter-That-music-made-me-ill – I’m afraid he didn’t make too many new friends that night, and another young German friend of mine, who was completely new to orchestral concerts, was next to me sliding down into her seat almost down to the floor with her mouth literally hanging open in utter disbelief! A bit of deft sweet talking from me, and I had her join me still for subsequent concerts including the St Matthew Passion, Bruckner 7 and even Strauss’ Metamorphosen, all of which she happily lapped up after that… but we nearly lost her altogether, and no one else I knew who was there that night has ever forgotten it.

          • A clear demonstration of the problem of contemporary music. Where performers and audiences are writen-out of the ‘contrat social’, the art from breaks down. The three parties: composers, performers and audiences, together form the musical tradition which is not an orthodoxy but a holistic organism, balancing delicately between what is already known and to be revisited, and what is to be explored. Again, an example not to be followed:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwlCD2y2tBA

          • PS:
            Composers of unpalatable pieces in the last century used the protests against new works in history to defend their position, according to the logic: ‘People protested against Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, so if I write something that surely will provoke protests I will become as great as those masters.’

        • Just re your interesting responses further below:

          “Where performers and audiences are writen-out of the ‘contrat social’, the art from breaks down.” – Yes, I think I’ve seen you put forward this argument on these pages before. It puts me very much in mind of a well-known comment from the rock world, from Pete Townshend, always one to have a very good sense of these things: “If you’re going to progress, then you need to take the people with you.” Speaks for itself.

          And re the logic of composers of unpalatable music thinking “People protested against Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, so if I write something that surely will provoke protests I will become as great as those masters.” – of course, in view of the composer presupposing that he/she will automatically rise to the heights of a Beethoven, Wagner or Mahler just through sheer bloodymindedness alone, the logic is at heart fundamentally flawed – astonishing, however, that that isn’t then obvious to him/her right from the outset. Anyway, given the date and time, I think I must now be wishing a very Merry Christmas!! 🙂

  • I thought this was absolutely wonderful – it didn’t detract one iota fromm a super performance of great elan and I am ony sorry the audience didn’t join in! We need a bit of unbridled eccentricy occasionally…

    • Totally agree with this comment. And so good to see a conductor who can be both expansive and economical in his gestures. It seems as if the orchestra are enjoying being allowed to play out, not to mention shout out. I’ve never really followed up Segerstam as a conductor but I’ll go and listen to his Sibelius now. But what a great performance of Scheherazade!

  • And…I also like the (surely) ironic and iconoclastic approach to the writing of a symphony. On that, could I pay homage to John White and his 100 plus piano sonatas, one of which I have played, always to great enjoyment: No 109 Reminisenza di Tango?

  • That’s rather impressive orchestral playing for an ensemble – dare I be presumptuous – that I have never heard of until now. The lower brass would put most American sections to shame……

  • One of my fondest musical memories is Segerstam and the Danish National Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall, perhaps 20 years ago, playing an utterly transfixing Valse triste. For what must have been eight minutes, time stood still.

  • I must say I enjoyed every minute of it! The orchestra sounds excellent, the concertmaster solos were very fine and very much enjoyed the brass. I would have never heard this orchestra otherwise-and I’d play for that guy any day. Bizarre, yes, but I think he actually loves music!

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