SEGERSTAM

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - — James M. Keller

Sym­phonies Nos. 81, 162, and 181

(On­dine) The Fin­nish com­poser Leif Segerstam writes sym­phonies like other peo­ple eat potato chips: by the hand­ful. By cur­rent count he’s up to No. 244, al­though that num­ber will need to be up­dated any minute now. They are full-scale pieces for large orches­tra, nor­mally run­ning about 25 min­utes each. Nonethe­less, each oc­cu­pies only a few pages of score, thanks to a su­per-efficient mode of com­po­si­tion in­volv­ing what he calls “free pul­sa­tion”: he gives the mu­si­cians gen­eral di­rec­tives about the sounds they are to pro­duce, but it’s up to them to im­pro­vise the de­tails of pitches and rhythms. As a re­sult, his pieces can re­sem­ble one an­other closely, es­pe­cially when in­ter­preted by the same orches­tra. Here Segerstam (who is a dis­tin­guished con­duc­tor, es­pe­cially of Scan­di­na­vian reper­toire) leads the Ber­gen Phil­har­monic in three sym­phonies that are nu­mer­i­cally re­lated: No. 81 (suit­ably sub­ti­tled “Af­ter Eighty …”), No. 162 (“Dou­bling the Num­ber for Ber­gen!”), and No. 181 (which in­volves nu­mer­i­cal play partly de­rived from Sym­phony No. 81). The mu­sic char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally in­volves weighty blocks of sound etched with vi­brant sur­face de­tail or else tran­quil pas­tures of lyri­cism — which is to say he can re­sem­ble his fel­low Finns, Saari­aho on the one hand and Rau­tavaara on the other. Each of these vi­sion­ary works could serve to ac­com­pany a plan­e­tar­ium show. If you like them, there are plenty more where they came from.

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