Blessed with perfect pitch, Mr. Segerstam was recognized as a musical prodigy by age five, as comfortable with musical notation as he was with the alphabet. From 1953 to 1963, he studied violin, piano, composition and conducting at the Sibelius Academy and continued with post-graduate studies at The Juilliard School.
He began his career as a violinist and violist, but at 21, Mr. Segerstam was appointed Conductor of the Finnish National Opera, where he remained for 3 years. His conducting career continued with posts at the Royal Opera of Stockholm (1968-1971), where he once stepped in for an indisposed tenor, and the Deutsche Oper Berlin (1971-1972), a professional trajectory aided by his polyglot fluency in Finnish, Swedish, English, French, German, Italian and Japanese.
In addition to his position with the Helsinki Philharmonic, Mr. Segerstam also served as Visiting Conductor of the Royal Opera of Stockholm, a post he has held since 1995. He has served as Chief Conductor of the Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1975-1982, Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1977-1987, and General Music Director of the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany from 1983-1989. In 1988 Mr. Segerstam was appointed Chief Conductor of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, where he served until 1995. In addition to his honorary post as Chief Conductor Emeritus of the Helsinki Philharmonic, Mr. Segerstam serves as honorary guest conductor of the Danish National Radio Symphony and the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz.
Mr. Segerstam has conducted at the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, La Scala, Covent Garden, the Teatro Colon and the opera houses of Cologne, Hamburg, Munich and Geneva, as well as at the Salzburg and Savolinna Festivals. In addition, he has taken the podium as guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony and the Toronto Symphony, as well as orchestras in Stockholm and Sweden.
Praised by critics for his outstanding modern interpretations, Leif Segerstam’s numerous recordings include the complete symphonies of Mahler, Sibelius and Nielsen in addition to several works by contemporary composers with the Danish National Radio Symphony, Scriabin and Schnittke with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Brahms with the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, and Reger and Alan Pettersson with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.
With the Helsinki Philharmonic, he embarked on a new series of Sibelius recordings for the Ondine label, including the Four Lemminkäinen Legends and Tapiola; The Oceanides and The Tempest, Suites 1 and 2; and the Karelia Suite, Belshazzar’s Feast and the Violin Concerto in D Minor with violinist Pekka Kuusisto, which was awarded a Gold Disc in 1997.
The Finnish Ondine recording company and the Helsinki Philharmonic have continued their long-standing partnership with a new edition of the complete Sibelius symphonies (2005) and a fresh addition of Kullervo Symphony (2008). The symphony cycle has won excellent reviews in the international press. Finnish star soprano Soile Isokoski’s recording of orchestral songs by Jean Sibelius received in Cannes a MIDEM Classical Award 2007 in the ‘Vocal Recitals’ category with Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra accompanying. The first ever Wagner Album by the Helsinki Philharmonic under the baton of Leif Segerstam, featuring Finnish bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo, was released in spring 2008.
Mr. Segerstam and the Philharmonic have also made five recordings of works by Einojuhani Rautavaara. The first two disks B Symphony No. 7 Angel of Light and Annunciations, and Angels and Visitations and Violin Concerto with Elmar Oliveira as soloist B have both won Cannes Classical Awards. The third recording released in 1999 includes Rautavaara’s Anadyomene, Flute Concerto with Patrick Gallois soloist and On the Last Frontier, a work for choir and orchestra commissioned by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Ondine’s acclaimed Einojuhani Rautavaara recording cycle has continued with CDs containing world première recordings of Rautavaara’s 8th Symphony and the Harp Concerto (soloist: Marielle Nordmann), Clarinet Concerto (soloist: Richard Stoltzman) with Cantus Arcticus and Garden of Spaces, “Song of My Heart” (soloist: baritone Gabriel Suovanen) and Manhattan Trilogy (2008).
While pursuing his conducting career, Leif Segerstam has also produced an extensive oeuvre as a composer. He has written 200 symphonies, 30 string quartets, 11 violin concertos, 4 piano concertos, and several other instrumental concertos, as well as chamber and vocal music. Mr. Segerstam began composing as a post-Expressionist in the 1960s, however in 1970, he adopted a method of composition he calls free pulsative. The term refers to the rhythmic freedom accorded to performers that allows them to interpret their parts in the ‘here and now’, according to Mr. Segerstam, without necessarily being synchronized.
Since 1997 Leif Segerstam has been Acting Professor of Conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. In November 1998 the Nordic Music Committee NOMUS awarded Segerstam the 1999 Nordic Council Music Prize for his work “as a tireless champion of Scandinavian music”. In 2004 he was awarded the State Prize for Music and in 2005 the prestigious Sibelius Medal for his artistic merits as an internationally acclaimed Sibelius conductor.