Leif Segerstam (b. 1944) was a child of unusual musical talent. He learnt to play several instruments and was already composing at a very young age. He played the viola and violin in the youth orchestra formed by Hannikainen in 1953.
Segerstam made his conducting debut at the age of 19, in 1963. The work on the programme was The Barber of Seville. He entered the conducting class of Jussi Jalas in 1962, but the following year set off for New York to study at the Juilliard School. In 1968, five years after his debut, he accompanied the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra on its tour of America, conducting some of the concerts while Jorma Panula handled the major ones.
By the time he assumed the post of Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra Leif Segerstam had conducted numerous orchestras. He also conducted opera at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, the Deutsche Oper and the Finnish National Opera. He conducted the ORF in Vienna, the Finnish and Danish Radio Symphony Orchestras, and was an active composer. The HPO thus got an extremely experienced conductor and composer as its Chief Conductor in 1995.
In that year, 1995, Segerstam began as conductor of both the HPO and the Opera in Stockholm. According to Finnish critic Vesa Sirén, Helsinki got caught up in “Leif fever” when the appointment was announced, and the HPO actively advertised it. There was a notable rise in the sale of season tickets.
As a conductor, Leif Segerstam is regarded as virtuosic, temperamental and highly original. The members of the orchestra especially appreciated his sharp ear and his strong ability to enter into the music. His sharp ear also motivated the musicians to practise hard. People say that the way the HPO played improved considerably during Segerstam’s term.
Under Leif Segerstam, both during his term as Chief Conductor and thereafter, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has recorded extensively, and with good results, works by Sibelius, Rautavaara and others.
In 2007, the HPO appointed John Storgårds as its Chief Conductor and conferred on Leif Segerstam the title of Emeritus Conductor.
Source: Vesa Sirén – Suomalaiset kapellimestarit