Leif Segerstam at work with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
This week the conducting class of the Sibelius Academy had the wonderful opportunity to observe professor Leif Segerstam rehearse and perform all seven symphonies by Jean Sibelius to honour the 50th anniversary of the composer's death. Of course nobody else could come up with the idea of performing all of them the same week in only three concerts (years ago I witnessed Maestro Segerstam perform the whole Beethoven cycle in one day, with two orchestras alternating)!
Already during past two weeks we had studied Sibelius' first and second symphonies in class and tried them with the conductor's orchestra, but now we could get a deeper view to every one of them. In addition to seeing how professor Segerstam shaped them in rehearsal, he also shared his insights to us during the rehearsal breaks. He is a master of making visual images and metaphors about music, which help performers find the right feeling and atmosphere to the piece.
A glimpse of Leif's score
I also did a bit of my own research into the Leif uses. I wanted to see if he has any kind of a system for marking his scores, but apparently not - or then this repertoire is just so familiar to him that he has no need to mark them any more. The most frequent marking was just a vertical pencil stroke here and there to mark the phrases. He has circled some important harmonies and entrances and occasionally pencils in a "magic word", like CLIMAX or NYTY (visible in the photo above). I would love to see some obscure contemporary score he has conducted - would it be as clear of markings as this one?
Jari and Huba getting instruction from Maestro Segerstam
After this week the class is definitely more wise about the compositional style of Sibelius and all the different challenges his music presents to the performer. To me it seems that his symphonies would benefit of more straightforward interpretations, especially as to the tempos. Segerstam, on the other hand, loves to spend time enjoying each different orchestral colour, emphasizing the rhapsodic side of the music. Maybe we are here encountering the "apollonic - dionysic" dichotomy?