Conductor. The longtime maestro of several symphonic ensembles on both sides of the Atlantic, he is remembered as perhaps the world's premiere exponent of the works of his fellow countryman Jean Sibelius. Raised in Helsinki he was an early fan of military bands but did not take-up music himself until begining violin lessons at 11. Berglund worked in a factory, studied at Helsinki's Sibelius Academy, and played in street cafes, then in 1949 got a job in the violin section of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (FRSO) where he was soon to make his conducting bow after criticizing a maestro and being challenged to 'do better'. He used a chance to spend time in Vienna to study the conducting of some of the grand masters of the day then returned homewhere he formed the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra. Gradually receiving opportunities to take the podium of the FRSO he led technically perfect performances with a manner as ice-cold as the winters of his native land while also developing a reputation, which he earned but still resented, as a Sibelius specialist. Berglund knew the great composer personally though certainly not well and was to spend countless hours studying his personal score markings, along the way becoming convinced that both Sibelius himself and the published scores of his works had faults. Becoming principal conductor of the FRSO in 1962 he began a 10 year tenure that saw him travel widely with the orchestra, his presentations of Tchaikovsky, Schonberg, and others marked by a fire lacking in his readings of Nordic composers. First invited to lead the Bournemouth Symphony, a group once headed by Sibelius himself, in 1965 he became its principal conductor in 1972. Simultaneously taking the helm of the Helsinki Philharmonic in 1975 he was to resign from both of his conducting jobs in 1979 to devote himself to guest appearances. Thru the 1980s Berglund led much praised performances with the Scottish National Orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the London Philharmonic, and the New York Philharmonic; he was to head the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic from 1987 to 1991 and the Royal Danish Orchestra between 1993 and 1996, last appear in New York in 1996, and give a highly acclaimed concert with the London Philharmonic in 2006, though by then he was slowed by the infirmities of age. Berglund was honored by both the Finnish and Swedish governments and in 1977 was made an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). At his death he left a large recorded legacy of virtually the complete Sibelius canon with three sepatate cycles of the seven symphonies, several pices by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, Smetana's "Ma Vlast", the Third Piano Concerto of Sergei Rachmaninoff, and other works. Taking a somewhat jaundiced view of the composer around whom he built his career he said: "The way I conduct a Sibelius symphony is very different from the manuscript. It will naturally sound horrible when I say that Sibelius wrote downright poorly. Just about everything has to be corrected".
Bio by: Bob Hufford
Kirsti Helmi Ilona Kivekäs Berglund
1929–2017 (m. 1958)