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  Leif Segerstam Review

Ongaku Gendai April 2013

Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra
522nd Subscription Concert

Leif Segerstam, a regular guest conductor with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, returned to Japan to perform with pianist Yoko KIKUCHI, who was featured in the first half for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23. Kikuchi, whose speciality is Mozart's works, played with a most beautiful touch with a moving expressiveness permeating the soul in the second movement. Although the orchestra was precise and on form, I felt that the impression of the work could have been deeper had they been able to acquire a transparency to rival Kikuchi's playing. Kikuchi's solo encore piece was Segerstam's composition 'Seven questions to Infinity', where we could glimpse a superb modernistic side to Kikuchi, which greatly pleased the composer. In the second half, Segerstam conducted his trademark Mahler, performing the Symphony No. 5 at this concert. The tempo was intense, with a super heavyweight class of sound - a masterful performance. Although I felt there
were instances where the orchestra members either didn't quite follow the conductor or individually handled their instruments in a less than perfect manner, I could feel their full display of spirit resulting in spectacular music, especially from the latter half of the second movement until the finale of the entire work. Overall this was the highlight of the concert.
(Yasushi KURABAYASHI, 21 January at Suntory Hall in Tokyo)

Sapporo Symphony Orchestra
556th Subscription Concert

Maestro Leif Segerstam, with his own symphony in hand, dynamically drove preludes, symphonic poems and an assortment of orchestral works. Segerstam, who conducts at the Met and La Scala as he continues to compose a staggering 260 symphonies, stands out with his gigantic stature and definitive presence. The opening work of this concert was Brahms' 'Tragische Ouvertüre', where the orchestra let loose a spirited sound from the start. Mami HAGIWARA, winner of 2010 Geneva International Music Competition, was featured in her solo performance of the Grieg piano concerto, which she played with temperamentally abundant expressiveness and with contrast in each of the movements, finishing off with a singular drama throughout all the works. Her relaxed strength of phrasing in the latter half in particular was exquisitely fascinating pianism. Segerstam's Symphony No. 245 featured the composer's own piano and harp, two pairs of which were arranged at stage
left and stage right, and together with a multitude of percussion instruments, a universal expansion could be felt. However, as this was a work of about twenty minutes long, it would have been nice to better savour the silent sections. Richard Strauss' 'Tod und Verklärung' was also performed.
(Kozo YAGI, 1 February at the Sapporo Concert Hall)

Osaka Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
465th Subscription Concert

Finnish conductor and composer Leif Segerstam, his imposing figure swaying as he took his place on the conductor's stand, began the concert with Grieg's piano concerto in a joint performance with pianist Michie KOYAMA, whose presence has been felt in recent years with her solid standing and lack of wavering of expression. She has come to abundantly demonstrate the fruits of her musical investigations, even for ordinary works, based on her own original viewpoint. Segerstam then globally premiered his Symphony No. 248 'Errorings of Mirrorings...' To give a very simple overview of the composer's detailed explanation (which was translated by Yukihiro NOZU), the six parts become musical pearls, perhaps to form a rosary which waits for 'No. 7 of Destiny'? Shouts of bravo swirled amidst the applause. Last to be performed was Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, which was as desolate as could be compared to the masterpiece Symphony No. 2. I had to smirk
wryly at the ending which was imitative of Beethoven's 'Destiny'. On the other hand, the Osaka Phil put forth a sufficiently lively performance with a free and easy style.
(Nobuya MONDA, 8 February at the Symphony Hall in Osaka)

February 19, 2013 Asahi Shimbun

Music Review
Leif Segerstam conducts the Osaka Phil
Traditionalist with smooth and good balance

Nordic music savoured on a cold day is something special. I went to the Osaka Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra's 465th subscription concert held on the 7th and 8th of February at the Symphony Hall in Osaka. Finnish conductor and composer Leif Segerstam made his first appearance with the Osaka Phil, where he brought out a very clear sound.
With an imposing bearded figure reminiscent of Santa Claus, Segerstam's musical creation is actually traditionalist. His conducting was most certainly not deft. However he manifested the music with a large sense with absolutely no exaggeration, putting in place a good balanced sound. Even in Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, where establishing consistency is unexpectedly difficult, his delivery of detailed phrasing was actually smooth, particularly on the second day with a swell of the supremely blissful sound in the last section of the final movement. However, the rhythm of chords on the verge of going out of control at the curtain closing left me with an impression of being terribly rushed, as was the case for the final concluding part of the first movement. Because this happened on both days, I assume this is his style. This was in contrast to the full-bodied lyrical singing of the slow tempo parts.
Segerstam debuts his own symphonies when he is an international guest performer - and he is supposedly now composing his 261st work. At this concert, he performed Symphony No. 248 'Errorings of Mirrorings', a twenty-two minute performance comprising six parts. He does not conduct the work, but rather musicians cue the orchestra at the measured time, and as he gives detailed instructions on the score such as the number of times to repeat each musical phrase, the work is not completely impromptu. At the edge of stage right, Segerstam gave a skilful performance on piano, as if conversing with another performer located at stage left. The work was full of percussive instrumental sounds as well as bursts of explosive sounds of repeatedly striking large hammers. It is difficult to grade the better performance, that is, between the tension-filled first day vs the deepened mellowness of the second day.
Together with the roar of the wind instruments, an orderly form pierced with chaos was thrilling.
Mochie Koyama, pianist for the Grieg piano concerto, attacked with keystrokes even more forcefully than usual. Her playing was most definitely freer on the second day. (Hiroyuki KOMIBUCHI, music critic)

February 7, 2013 Hokkaido Shimbun

556th Subscription concert of the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra
led by Segerstam with an individual style

Finnish conductor and composer Leif Segerstam (photo, right) and Mami Hagiwara, winner of 2010 Geneva International Music Competition in the piano division (photo, left) made their first joint performance with the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra. It was a subscription concert where much attention was focussed on how they would take on the four works of the programme.
Segerstam demonstrated his unique way of conducting from the beginning of Brahms' 'Tragische Ouvertüre'. In his style of bringing out the orchestra, a Nordic wind could be felt as if he was moving the air. He showed his virtuosity in combining a definitely structured image of sound whilst bringing out all parts of the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra with a free and easy singing style.
In terms of bringing out the feeling of a large space, the same was true for the final piece, Richard Strauss' 'Tod und Verklärung'. However, unlike the Brahms performance, it was a pity that the musical progress was rather disordered. The openness of the performance may have been a negative factor here.
Meanwhile, the individuality of Segerstam as a composer was perceived from his Symphony No. 245 which made its international debut at this concert. The interwoven formation of two pianos and multifarious percussion instruments was a seemingly disjointed group of sounds. However, amidst the chaos, sound patterns such as warbling birds and rustling leaves, as well as repetition and vanishing of identical sound forms could be heard. Could it be that this sensation of simultaneously hearing sounds from various places in a space is a unique disposition of the Nordic people?
Of the four works, the greatest accolade would be given to the Grieg piano concerto. From the subtleties of the pianissimos to the fortissimos, Hagiwara's solo performance, abundant with delicate intonation, re-created the romance, solitude and Norwegian folksiness of the work. There was no ordinariness of expression in the least. Supported by her high technique, she was able to shape any expression as she wished, no matter how fast the musical passage.
For this young and exceptional pianist, her performance must have been an adventurous creation in and of itself. In this regard, Segerstam and the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra grasped well the musicality of Hagiwara, and their good support merits special mention.
(Hiroshi MIURA, Professor at Hokkaido Information University, reviewing the performance held on 1st February)
Performances were held on 1st and 2nd February at Sapporo Concert Hall Kitara (Main hall)

Leif Segerstam & Philharmonia Orchestra


Ruslan and Ludmilla - Overture

Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.82

Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Nicola Benedetti (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Leif Segerstam

Southbank Centre, London - 10/9 Royal Festival Hall

Leif Segerstam's considerable body is a match for his largeness of spirit. When conducting, his hands turn into vibrant, fluttering birds at the end of up-stretched arms. There is no Kapellmeister beat. The results count - the Philharmonia Orchestra plays splendidly for him, with panache.

Where Segerstam excels is in projecting works of splendour and size - works of blazing vitality and colour. Pieces that all-too-often receive limp, lacklustre performances take on vigour and dynamism once more. Glinka's Overture to "Ruslan and Ludmilla" - well-known, well-worn - blazed with vitality. Its exuberant momentum swirled. The music sang in jubilation.

Glazunov's Violin Concerto is rarely played. It deserves wider repute. The piece is alive and melodic, its craftsmanship meticulous and assured. This is a highly civilised affair. Nicola Benedetti plays a Stradivarius and she takes her music seriously, giving us supple, sinuous, silvery phrases of soaring length, elegantly gliding over the water's surface, majestic and splendid as she coasted through the air, seamless and quite beautiful. Segerstam conducted with discretion.

With the 'New World' Symphony, Segerstam set the Atlantic on fire. He presented a card of greeting from Europe to the USA - a resplendent declaration of the finest and most exuberant that the European tradition could offer to the American people. It asserted - and celebrated - the nationalism that was the composer's life-blood. It then recognised - with blazing dignity - the presence of the American-Indian and the recently-freed African slaves in the potential of America's future. Yet this was no crudely-coloured propaganda poster. Segerstam and the Philharmonia Orchestra confidently pronounced that Dvorák's Ninth Symphony contains some of the finest music in the European tradition.

LSO/Segerstam Christine Brewer
[Four Last Songs ... Death and Transfiguration]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Symphony No.10 - Adagio

Vier letzte Lieder
Tod und Verkla¨rung, Op.24

Christine Brewer (soprano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Leif Segerstam

Barbican Hall, London

Sunday, January 25, 2009

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A potential problem with programming three works of similar length is where to place the interval. Given there is a quotation from Death and Transfiguration in "Four Last Songs", it might have been an idea to have these two works side by side and leave the Adagio (opening movement) from Mahler's unfinished (if now performable) Tenth Symphony to stand alone. As things turned out, the performance of this torso (which is more or less 'total Mahler') that Leif Segerstam conducted (he was replacing Donald Runnicles who withdrew a while ago for "family reasons") was an absorbing and draining experience; an interval after it would have been timely.

Segerstam's success was that he conducted a real Adagio, at a tempo that allowed transitions and acerbic dance-like measures to emerge naturally (statistically this was a 31-minute traversal - the average is about 24), the movement taken in a single breath and begun with the violas playing carefully and beautifully the opening statement. Segerstam - for all his vividly demonstrative gestures - is very certain as to what he wants; he charted the Adagio's course with certainty - with solemnity yet still questioning, resigned rather than poignant, but not without burdened edge. Maybe the big, nine-note dissonant climax was slightly underplayed, yet its purging effect was tangible as the music moved into ethereal climes to close an effective 'symphony in one movement'.

Christine Brewer is very closely associated (too much so?) with Richard Strauss's "Four Last Songs"; performances from her are certainly regular (she was in Liverpool last week with the cycle and she opened last year's BBC Proms with a performance, albeit as a last-minute stand-in for Karita Matilla).

Some breathing and phrasal difficulties affected Brewer's opening contribution, but she soon settled and gave a very experienced rendition - just a little too run-in - soaring as required and benefiting from the expressive corners that Segerstam opened up while keeping the music on a gentle flow. There was nothing overly-languid here; Timothy Jones's horn solo at the close of 'September' was particularly affecting, as was Deborah Nemtanu's quietly rapturous violin-playing during 'Beim Schlafengehen' (Going to sleep). Brewer's command of dynamics on long-held notes was enviable and she found a good balance between the public and private nature of Strauss's response to the texts; in the final song - 'Im Abendrot' (At Dusk), a sense of withdrawal was palpable, 'sunset' suggested without it being milked.

Yet, although Brewer is very possibly an ideal 'Strauss soprano' (and was afforded such an ovation on this occasion), it is possible to perform this music with a beguiling intimacy that explores other aspects beyond the well-worn, such as Solveig Kringelborn achieved with Sir Charles Mackerras; memorable indeed.

In Death and Transfiguration, the conductor once again gave the music time, the opening heavy in despair; Segerstam is a weaver of magic spells. This was a contrasted account, lamenting and fevered, the LSO responsive to all moods, the conductor highlighting detail and painting vivid pictures. If the transfiguration itself was more thunderous than transcendental, we had nonetheless moved to 'somewhere else'.

My colleague Kenneth Carter was bowled over by Segerstam's (belated) debut with the LSO last year; although he returned here to 'save the show', it seems that he and the LSO have developed an excellent rapport, one that will hopefully continue into fuure seasons.


The Works of Leif Segerstam

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