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Do not disturb: World’s busiest symphonist at work

The international conductor Leif Segerstam has written 265 symphonies. Not many of them get performed, but there’s no stopping Leif.

This summer, deep in the Finnish countryside, he expects to compose five symphonies. His record, he tells a local newspaper, is one a day.

When he finishes, he pops down to the public library (below) and makes a photocopy.

leif segerstam

photo: Iisakki Härmä

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  1. Everytime he went to conduct at the Royal Academy of Music he premiered one of his own symphonies! They involve a lot of aleatory elements and are fairly short.

  2. John Borstlap says:

    If someone composes a symphony a day, it is not hard to imagine how much thinking goes into that labor.

  3. Looking at him I imagine he is either busy writing short insignificant pieces that he then calls Symphonies, or getting ready for playing the St. Claus gig at a nearby hospice. With breaks for eating. Lots. [redacted: abuse]

  4. How many people do you know, who are happy in their work, and doing just what they are here on this world to do?

    Why be so snide and make fun of someone fulfilling their destiny. Is he harming you? Is he harming anyone else?


  5. DrewLewis says:

    I agree with Leslie. Segerstam is to be admired for his irrepressible energy both as composer and conductor, and for the consistent quality of his invention as a symphonist. He deserves better than an immature attempt at wit of the sort offered by PM. Those of Segerstam’s symphonies that I have managed to hear have impressed me by the clarity, freshness and exuberance of the orchestral environment that he creates.

  6. Timon Wapenaar says:

    Dibble dibble… GUSTAV!

    (Segerstammers will know what I mean)

  7. Fabio Fabrici says:

    What’s an “international” conductor?

    • Haraida says:

      A conductor that is internationally acclaimed, or has received recognition in several other countries other than his own.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That is a conductor who spreads his girth over more than one country.

    • Segerstam is currently the chief conductor of the Turku Philharmonic (Finland) and Malmö Opera (Sweden).

  8. “Do not disturb?” He’s disturbed already – delightfully mad!

  9. Leif’s looking almost thin that photo. . .
    : – )

  10. Segerstam is an exceptionally bright man who puts a distinctive touch to all he conducts. And his music is fascinating. Bravissimo to him, he is very industrious indeed. Perhaps if I ask nicely he’ll write a piano concerto for me. It should be done in a few hours, I expect!

    • John Borstlap says:

      I have listened to his Symphony nr 215 which is an impressive, big lump of sonic art, at places bordering on music because of the intervals forming coherent harmonic lines. His feeling for orchestral colour is strong… pity he does not write music since he is obviously very gifted.

      • a domani says:

        Ah, the oracle has once again spoken.
        Such a fine feeling to know what is and isn’t music.
        grazie mille

  11. Some people do crossword puzzles daily. Some paint. Others cook, go fishing or golfing. Segerstam writes symphonies. They may not be earth-shattering masterpieces that audiences want or orchestras are waiting to perform. Maybe they are just a mental exercise to keep his mind sharp, his ear in-tune, and general musicianship in shape. I have a disk of some of his symphonies, and let me just say it’s a good thing he’s a conductor and doesn’t need to compose to put food on the table. But what a conductor! I was truly saddened that he never did the complete Mahler symphonies. The ones he did give us are superb and show the keen insight into the works that a composer can reveal, unless it’s Boulez.

    • True regarding the insights a conductor who is a part-time composer can offer.
      Let’s not forget the great Mahlerian Rafael Kubelik, who was also a composer. There’s a particular sweep,and sense of paragraph which is very special.
      Likewise, Antal Dorati-compare his spellbinding account of Messian’s ‘Chronochromie’ with Boulez’s earthbound one on DG.

  12. Dennis Webb says:

    How would you (anyone) compare him to Hovhaness?

  13. Joel V. says:

    Regarding the duration of the symphonies, Segerstam’s symphonies (besides the first 30 symphonies) all have a pretty exact duration of 24 minutes. This is also written in the score.

    Meaning, they are not “that” short as some here might think.

    To get a good idea of the works, there is an interesting Ondine release (ODE11722) from 2011 which includes the symphonies Nos. 81, 162 & 181. Personally, I think the orchestrations are very interesting, perhaps bearing even a certain influence of Scriabin….

  14. Joel V. says:

    And, regarding being an international conductor or not – Segerstam is a conductor “par excellence” when it’s about Wagner.

    Attached two reviews from the Vienna Staatsoper, for those who can read in German. Two triumph reviews worth reading.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I just wonder what a composer has so say in 265 symphonies that he cannot say in 10.

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