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Berglund Makes Move On America

January 15, 1986|JOHN VOLAND

Conductor Paavo Berglund--former music director of the Bournemouth Symphony in England and the Helsinki Philharmonic and Finnish Radio orchestras in his native Finland--is making a move on America.

Within the next several weeks, the maestro not only will be making his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducting two programs as well as tonight's Philharmonic pension-fund benefit with violinist Isaac Stern, but will be making appearances with orchestras in Dallas, Rochester, N.Y., and Cincinnati.

It is a fitting career move for the 56-year-old Finn, for although he has made numerous recordings (mostly for Angel/EMI Records) and has worked extensively in Europe, he made his American debut only recently--in 1978--and has made a limited number of appearances here.

"But then it is a question of demand and supply," Berglund noted during a recent interview. "In a number of cases, I simply have not been asked to come. Word of mouth only goes so far, after all. Several years ago I made my debut in America, conducting the American Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony and Sibelius' Fourth Symphony. Everyone was quite happy, but . . . the calls did not come."

Now, however, it is a different matter: Not only American orchestras are calling, but ensembles in Vancouver and Ottawa (Canada) as well.

And the music Berglund is to conduct with these orchestras, while quite varied, tends to include at least one work by the most famous musical Finn of them all, Jean Sibelius, with whose music Berglund is intimately involved.

His second week of concerts here (on Jan. 23, 24 and 26) will be devoted entirely to the composer with performances of his First and Seventh symphonies and the Violin Concerto, with the young American violinist Joseph Swensen (also making his Philharmonic debut) as soloist.

"With orchestras in Finland I have worked with, Sibelius' music really makes them play outstandingly," Berglund said, opening his hands wide. "They do not generally have the technical brilliance of American orchestras, or those in London, but they love the music of Sibelius--they feel it when they play it."

But Berglund was quick to deny any nationalistic affinities for Sibelius. It is, he said, a matter of taste and style.

"Orchestras play anything very well if they are interested, but I suppose there are many musicians who are not interested in Sibelius or a number of other composers for that matter," he remarked with a quick grin. "Everyone has their own taste, and that of course includes me. Oftentimes it has little to do with urbanity or nationality, but instead with a conductor who leaves his ideas or impressions on the orchestra--makes them interested in a work.

"For instance, the Boston orchestra has played Sibelius since Sergei Koussevitzky was there (from 1924 through 1949), and he really instilled that music in them," Berglund continued. "He obviously told the orchestra 'not too sentimental,' since their playing is very fresh. That is something I think a conductor can bring to an orchestra, not just in Sibelius but in many other things too."

It is also, he added, a matter of tradition. The Finnish orchestras have been playing Sibelius for decades, as have the English orchestras, but many American orchestras--especially since the fall from grace Sibelius experienced here in the 1940s and '50s--haven't played much recently.

"The Helsinki Philharmonic gave most of the first performances of Sibelius' symphonies, so they have this solid kind of tradition behind them--although I assure you no one who played the First Symphony (in 1898) is still around there now," Berglund said with a twinkle in his pale blue eyes.

As conductor and as the editor responsible for the revised score of Sibelius' Seventh Symphony ("The original published score had so many errors I couldn't believe my eyes," he recalled), Berglund has been instilling some of that Sibelian tradition in other orchestras, including the Bournemouth, where he was music director from 1972 to 1979, and the Detroit Symphony, where he has been conducting regularly since 1979.

And now Los Angeles, where principal guest conductor Simon Rattle has conducted much Sibelius to large audiences in both the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Hollywood Bowl.

"There have always been several feelings about Sibelius' music among listeners and musicians too, and the tide has come and gone for him in this country, I think," Berglund noted, looking out the window at the palm trees and bright sunshine. "But it never really goes away; there will always be conductors who will be very interested in presenting his music. Because it is individual, it has its own strong logic, there will always be admirers, champions. I will certainly go on conducting Sibelius' music, because it is in here"--and he tapped himself on the chest--"and it will come out."

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