Leif Segerstam

 Composer & Conductor

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 Born in Vaasa (Finland) 2nd of March, 1944, Leif Segerstam is one of the most outstanding musician in Scandinavia. He studied violin, piano, composition and conducting both at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki (1952-63), and in the Juillard School of Music in New York. He was the winner of the Maj Lind Piano Competition at the age of only 18.

Some of the pages proposed below are yet just 'sketched' and must be expanded step by step.
Thank you for your interest!

 ... More recently, the Nordic Music Commitee NOMUS awarded him the 1999 Nordic Council Music Prize. And in 2004, he was awarded the State Prize for Music in Finland while the next year he got the prestigious Sibelius Medal.


updated March 2016


Leif Segerstam has shown exceptional creativity as composer throughout his musical career. His output consists of 296 symphonies, 30 string quartets, 11 violin and 4 piano concerti and other numerous concerti, chamber and vocal music. Among his original composition cycles there are orchestral works from around the turn of the millenium that are performed without a conductor (or also for chamber scores without exact synchronisation), which have been eagerly received all over the world; at some point there have been premières almost monthly.

The word "symphony" used for most of his orchestral works since 1995 might be nevertheless a bit confusing for uninformed people: in fact there is almost nothing in these pieces linked with the classical or romantic european tradition of symphonies. This free pulsative music, but as a paradoxe rather precisely written, evokes may be more for exemple some traditions of the Japonese theater 'Nô', and most of all are strongly related with nature, both for the atmospheric spirit of these sounds, and for the kind of almost biological writing. His early scores were clearly under neo-expressionist inspiration. Then, the first "free-pulsative" pieces emerged in the early 70s, but as far as orchestral works are concerned, those were still to be somehow conducted. The Symphony n.16 - the longest piece ever written by Segerstam, for a duration of 53 minutes - is certainly one of his great succes in his early ouput. But most of his recent symphonies without conductor (since the 21st) are using a similar structure in 6 small sections (one page of score each) for a complete duration around 25 minutes.

His most important scores from his first period until our new century are probably Patria, the ballet Pandora, the Symphony of slow movements (n.1), Symphonies n. 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, Monumental Thoughts Martti Talvela in memoriam, the 12 Months, Six songs of experience for voice & orchestra, Piano Concerto n.1, Two…onwards for 2 pianos & orchestra, Epitaphe n.6-VI for violin & violoncello solo with orchestra (or chamber ensemble), Thoughts 1990 for solo string quartet with orchestra, and for chamber music, may be 6th and 7th but also 28th String Quartets could be specially mentionned, as well as Three Moments of Parting for violin et piano (or bass voice & piano), At the border and Noëm n.1 for violoncello & piano, and Thoughts 76 & Tensions for solo piano.

an almost complete alphabetic listing of the works (613) and all necessary informations to get most of these or to rent parts:

a small discography

a small photo gallery

a small biography of Leif Segerstam in French from 1996 (updated in 2016)

For discographic informations:
(mainly Reger, Scriabin, Pettersson, Schnittke, Segerstam)
(mainly Wagner, Berg, Korngold, Sibelius, Koechlin)
(mainly Sibelius, Rautavaara, Segerstam)
(mainly Mahler, Sibelius, Nielsen)
(mainly Berio)
(Feinberg, Sirodeau)
Bayer Records
(mainly Brahms)
Warner / Apex
(various Finnish modern composers) 
Numerous recordings by Segerstam are recognized by critics and public alike as outstanding among modern interpretations: these include Complete Mahler's Symphonies and Sibelius' works as well as contemporary music with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra for Chandos, Scriabin, Reger and Schnittke in addition to his own works for Bis, and complete Brahms' Symphonies for Bayer with the Rheinland-Pfalz Staatsphilharmonie. His Sibelius and Rautavaara recordings with the HPO have received several international awards and nominations. The Finnish recording company Ondine and the Helsinki Philhamonic with Segerstam have continued their partnership with a new recording of the complete Sibelius symphonies in 2005. It is now followed by a new set of 6 Sibelius rarities for Naxos.

His initial career as a conductor started with positions in the opera houses of Helsinki, Stockholm and West Berlin, and guest appearances included the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Covent Garden, Teatro Colon, the opera houses of Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, Geneva and the Salzburg Festival. At the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland Segerstam has conducted Salome, Boris Godunov, Don Carlos, The flying Dutchmann (available on DVD), Fidelio and Macbeth. He has collaborated with great artists including Birgit Nilsson, David Oïstrakh, Issac Stern, Henryk Szeryng, Arthur Rubinstein and Emil Gilels.

From 1975-82 Segerstam was chief conductor of the Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Vienna and from 1977-87 of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Helsinki. He served as Generalmusikdirektor of Staatsphilharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz from 1983-89 and remains as honorary guest conductor. From December 1988 he was chief conductor of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra until 1995 when he became chief conductor of the Royal Opera of Stokholm. In autumn 1995, Segerstam was appointed Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra until 2008. More recently, he is the principal conductor of the Turku Philharmonic and at the Malmö Opera.

His has been all his life a champion of contemporary music particularly linked with music by Magnus Lindberg, Alfred Schnittke, Krzysztof Penderecki, Luciano Berio, Witold Lutoslawski, Luigi Nono, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Poul Ruders, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Toru Takemitsu, Heinz Holliger, Per Norgard, Allan Pettersson, Sofia Gubaidulina,…

He had travelled as a conductor in almost all the world, particularly in all Europe, in USA and Canada, in Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Singapour, Israël and Russia.

For the 'anecdote' he was playing the role of Brahms on the theater at the end of the 90s.