Paavo Allan Engelbert Berglund OBE (14 April 1929 – 25 January 2012) was a Finnish conductor and violinist.
Born in Helsinki, Berglund studied the violin as a child, and played an instrument made by his grandfather. By age 15, he had decided on music as his career, and by 18 was playing in restaurants.
During the Second World War, Berglund worked at the iron factories in Billnäs. Children were moved out of Helsinki during heavy stages of the war. His professional career as a violinist began in 1946, playing the whole summer at the officers' mess (Upseerikasino) in Helsinki. He had already played in dance orchestras in 1945. Formal study took place in Helsinki at the Sibelius Academy, in Vienna and in Salzburg. He was a violinist in the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1949-58 in the 1st violin section, unique among the instrumentalists in being accommodated for seating to account for the fact that he played the violin 'left-handed'.
In a radio interview made of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE in 2002, Berglund explains how he heard the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on their tour in Helsinki with Wilhelm Furtwängler and was very impressed. Shortly after that he left for Vienna to study. He had many friends both in the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna Radio Symphony orchestras, and could attend rehearsal and recording sessions. One particular recording session he remembers is when he was present one evening when Furtwängler recorded Schumann's Manfred Overture and Smetana's Die Moldau (Vltava) at the Musikverein in Vienna. Another conductor that he was very impressed with was Hans Knappertsbusch.
Berglund's conducting career began in 1949, when he founded his own chamber orchestra. In 1953, Berglund co-founded the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra (partly inspired by the Boyd Neel Orchestra).
In 1955, he was appointed Associate Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and served as chief conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1962-71. Berglund became music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 1975 and held the post for four seasons. He was conductor of the mixed voice choir of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, The Academic Choral Society (Akateeminen Laulu) from 1959-61.
Berglund attained notoriety as a strict orchestral disciplinarian due to his ruthless rehearsals and dedication to musical perfection. As a conductor Berglund often went beyond the printed score in the music of Jean Sibelius and others to improve on what he believed were weaknesses, especially in orchestration, colour and balance.
Most orchestras he conducted responded well to his no-nonsense approach. He was tireless in studying, preparing and rehearsing. He almost always came to the orchestra with his own materials he had corrected and bowed by his own hand. He would then mark highly detailed instructions on the sheet music of each individual musician.
Berglund would certainly not always agree with composers; he felt comfortable in elaborating any nuances he considered important but which the composers had not highlighted. He believed in details: "I think we have already had our fill of mushy recordings", Berglund noted in an interview by Finnish Music Quarterly (FMQ) in 1999.
In the UK, Berglund led Sibelius Centenary Concerts with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1965, and became their principal conductor in 1972, concluding his tenure in Bournemouth in 1979. He significantly raised its performing standards, as can be heard from the many recordings made by it for EMI during this period. He also served as principal guest conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra, from 1981-85.
Berglund resigned from both the Helsinki and Bournemouth orchestras in 1979. More noticed in his native Finland was the fact that he had seemed to give up his dictatorial ways. In 1996, he was quoted as saying, "The rise in the standard of Finnish orchestras has been quite incredible...young musicians play so much better than their predecessors did."
Guest engagements saw him conducting all the major North American and European orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the St Petersburg and Moscow Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestras.
Berglund was a member of the Russian National Orchestra's conductor collegium.
He made his New York debut in 1978 with the American Symphony Orchestra at the Carnegie Hall, in a concert of Shostakovich and Sibelius. From the 1990s he became a regular guest conductor in the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Berglund made over 100 recordings. In an interview for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat in 2009, he said when asked about his recordings, that the Smetana recording with the Dresden Staatskapelle is probably the best, since this was the best of the orchestras that he made recordings with.
Berglund conducted opera a few times. The most important of his opera projects were Beethoven's Fidelio with Finnish National Opera in Helsinki in 2000 (with Karita Mattila, Matti Salminen, Jaakko Ryhänen) and Nielsen's Maskerade in Copenhagen.
Paavo Berglund told in a radio interview for the conductor Atso Almila, made on occasion for the 75th anniversary in 2002 of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, that he had the closest relation and friendship of contemporary Finnish composers to Joonas Kokkonen (1921–1996). The collaboration was very strong. He championed his music as much as possible and also helped him during the difficult times in life. He commissioned many of Kokkonen's works.
Berglund was also the first conductor in the early years, alongside Jukka-Pekka Saraste, for the Finnish Chamber Orchestra founded in 1990. The orchestra does not serve as a primary job for anyone, but rather as an instrument to gather top musicians to work together in an exquisite ensemble where art and quality come before routine.
The orchestra consists of concertmasters and principals from leading Finnish orchestras such as the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra of the Finnish National Opera, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Avanti! and Lahti Symphony Orchestra. Berglund also conducted the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra on a few occasions.
Relationship with Jean Sibelius' music
Berglund was particularly associated with the music of Sibelius and he recorded the complete Sibelius symphonies three times.
During the mid-1950s, Jean Sibelius heard Berglund conduct some of the symphonies and the Suite Rakastava, and told Berglund how much he had enjoyed the performances. He met Sibelius at his home Ainola as a member of the delegation of the Radio Orchestra that visited Sibelius. Sibelius asked him whether they were playing any Schönberg. To this Paavo Berglund answered no. This was the whole conversation. Berglund made the first recording of the Kullervo Symphony.
Berglund's source-critical research on the Sibelius Seventh Symphony began in 1957, when he conducted the Seventh with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and noticed that they were playing from parts that Sibelius had corrected. He saw that the printed parts had numerous errors. His subsequent research led to the publication of a new edition of the symphony by Hansen in 1980.
In an interview in 1998 with the London Sunday Times, Berglund spoke of his interpretative ideas on the music of Jean Sibelius:
"Sibelius's music is often ruined because it's too strictly accurate. I think maybe musicians like to play like this" – he makes a series of downward vertical gestures – "but it's good to do it like this" – his hands, one above the other, oscillate gently in and out of vertical alignment. "Accuracy against atmosphere: it's not that simple. The early Sibelius conductor Georg Schneevoigt once complained that he couldn't get the details out of Sibelius's scores. Sibelius said that he should simply swim in the gravy."
Berglund sometimes courted controversy with his re-touching of orchestral parts; as he said in a Gramophone interview in October 1978, "Sibelius was a superb orchestrator, but right up to the very end he made strange dynamics which I find I have to change. In the Second Symphony you don't have to alter so much, but funnily enough there is a lot that needs altering in the Seventh Symphony ... My attitude was "werktreu" which in German means roughly 'be true to the work'. But you see, the composers didn't always know; they could have given it more thought. Bruckner, when things were suggested to him by Lowe and Schalk (who were certainly not stupid) told them to go ahead and do it. Maybe he was weak and should have argued sometimes a little bit more, but on the other hand many of their suggestions are fine."
He collaborated with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in recordings of the complete symphonies of Jean Sibelius and Johannes Brahms. The origin for the Sibelius recordings were made when Berglund conducted the orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival in a complete cycle of the Sibelius symphonies. What was especially notable was using smaller string forces than usual in some of the symphonies. The result was highly praised.
Berglund's early Sibelius interpretations are more dark and heavy. Later on he discovered a new style. While other conductors often go for the big effects in Sibelius, Berglund started to love the clarity that could be achieved with an orchestra of about 50 players.
Berglund was one of the jury members in the 1st International Sibelius Conductors' Competition held in 1995.