Leif Segerstam

Leif Selim Segerstam[1] (/ˈlf/ LAYF, Swedish: [ˈlɛjf ˈseːɡɛʂʈam]; born 2 March 1944) is a Finnish conductor, composer, violinist, violist and pianist, especially known for writing 335 symphonies as of September 2019, along with other works in his extensive oeuvre.

Segerstam has conducted in a variety of orchestras since 1963, mostly American, Australian and European orchestras.[1][2] He is widely known through his recorded discography, which includes the complete symphonies of Blomdahl, Brahms, Mahler, Nielsen, and Sibelius, as well as many works by contemporary composers, such as the American composers John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse, the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, Swedish composer Allan Pettersson and the Russian composers Alfred Schnittke and Alexander Scriabin.[3][4][5]

His contributions to the Finnish music scene and his vibrant personality[5][6] have contributed to his fame.


Leif Segerstam was born on 2 March 1944 in Vaasa, to Selim Segerstam and Viola Maria Kronqvist, into a musical family.[7] Selim made several song books as a living.[8] The Segerstams then moved to Helsinki in 1947. In Leif's time in school, he played the violin and the viola in the Helsinki Youth Orchestra.[7]

Leif's debut concert as a violinist was in 1962,[8] and his conducting debut was in 1963, with Rossini's Barber of Seville, in Tampere.[2] Following the premiere, Segerstram was hired to conduct the Finnish National Opera, and a year later, he conducted the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He conducted modern works, such as Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and Shostakovich's 1st symphony.[7]

He studied violin, piano and conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and received a diploma in conducting in 1963. He studied conducting as well at the Juilliard School in New York with Jean Morel, he received the diploma in 1965.[1][9]

Segerstam served as chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra from 1995 to 2007, and now holds the title of Chief Conductor Emeritus with the orchestra. He has held positions with numerous other orchestras, including the Danish National Radio Symphony and the Austrian Radio Symphony, and has guest-conducted many orchestras throughout the world including the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Toronto Symphony, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Symphony Orchestra of the State of São Paulo. He is also the professor of conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.[3] His students include Susanna Mälkki, Mikk Murdvee, Sasha Mäkilä and Markku Laakso.[10]


As a composer, he is known especially for his many symphonies, which number 335 as of September 2019.[11][12] Most of his symphonies last for about 20 minutes, are formed of a single movement and are performed without a conductor. This is partially inspired by Sibelius' 7th symphony.[6] More than a hundred of Segerstam's symphonies have been performed.

He developed a personal approach to aleatory composition through a style called "free pulsation" in which musical events interact flexibly in time,[5] and this composition method is persistent throughout his œuvre,[13] most notably in his "Orchestral Diary Sheets". This method was first used in his 5th String Quartet, the "Lemming Quartet".[13][14]

Among Segerstam's juvenilia (1960–1969) are four string quartets from 1962–1966, and the post-impressionist ballet Pandora from 1967. The quartets are usually labeled as being from his "Post-Expressionist" period.[7][12][13]

In 2015 Segerstam began work on an opera, Völvan, with a libretto by Elisabeth Wärnfeldt.[5][15]

Personal life

He was married to the violinist Hannele Segerstam (concertmaster of the Finnish RSO), with whom he had two children, Jan and Pia. Pia is a professional cellist; Jan is a businessman.[16] After Segerstam's divorce from Hannele, he married the Helsinki Philharmonic harpist Minnaleena Jankko in 2002, with whom he had three children: Violaelina (born 1997), Selimoskar (born 1998) and Iirisilona (born 1999).[8][17] In 2009, it was announced that their marriage would end.[17][18]


  • 335 symphonies (as of September 2019)
  • 30 string quartets
  • 13 violin concertos
  • 8 cello concertos
  • 4 viola concertos
  • 4 piano concertos


In 1999, he was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize for his work as a "tireless champion of Scandinavian Music".[3]


  1. Liljeroos, Mats. "Segerstam, Leif". uppslagsverket.fi (in Swedish). Uppslagsverket Finland. Archived from the original on 6 June 2015.
  2. Hillila, Ruth-Esther; Hong, Barbara Blanchard (1997). Historical Dictionary of the Music and Musicians of Finland. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 368–369.
  3. "Leif Segerstam, conductor". ondine.net. Archived from the original on 20 October 2014.
  4. "Emeritus ylikapellimestarin esittely". hel.fi (in Finnish). 15 January 2014. Archived from the original on 1 April 2015.
  5. "Composer / Conductor Leif Segerstam, A Conversation with Bruce Duffie". kcstudio.com. 1997. Archived from the original on 18 September 2014.
  6. Service, Tom. "Leif Segerstam: weird and wonderful symphonic master". theguardian.com. Archived from the original on 5 June 2015.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  7. Dahlström, Fabian. "SEGERSTAM, Leif". blf.fi (in Swedish). Biografiskt lexikon för Finland. Archived from the original on 5 June 2015.
  8. Arvonen, Margit (28 May 2007). "Leif Segerstamin lapsuusmuistot". iltalehti.fi (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 19 October 2014.
  9. Sirén, Vesa (2 March 2014). "Uskomaton Leif Segerstam täyttää 70 vuotta ja säveltää sinfoniaa nro 270". hs.fi (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 5 June 2015.
  10. "Kapellimestari Leif Segerstam työskentelee viimeistä kertaa oppilaittensa kanssa". yle.fi (in Finnish). 26 April 2013. Archived from the original on 18 January 2015.
  11. "Music Finland / Composers & Repertoire". musicfinland.fi. Archived from the original on 5 June 2015.
  12. "Composer Profiles: Leif Segerstam". musicfinland.fi. Archived from the original on 18 January 2015.
  13. White, John David; Christensen, Jean (2001). New Music of the Nordic Countries. Pendragon Press. pp. 213–214.
  14. "Leif Segerstam". naxos.com.
  15. Wärnfeldt, Elisabeth. "Völvan: An opera to be". elisabethwarnfeldt.info (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 6 June 2015.
  16. Latva-Kurikka, Marika (9 February 2012). "Leif Segerstamin poika avoimena: "Kasvoin varhain aikuiseksi"". iltalehti.fi (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 14 June 2012.
  17. Aho, Esko (2 November 2005). "Mies kuin Brahms tai Zorbas". kaleva.fi (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 18 January 2015.
  18. "Leif Segerstam: avioero!". iltasanomat.fi (in Finnish). 28 May 2009. Archived from the original on 5 June 2015.
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Milan Horvat
Principal Conductor, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Succeeded by
Lothar Zagrosek
Preceded by
Okko Kamu
Principal Conductor, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Succeeded by
Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Preceded by
Lamberto Gardelli
Principal Conductor, Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Succeeded by
Ulf Schirmer
Preceded by
Sergiu Comissiona
Principal Conductor, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Succeeded by
John Storgårds
Preceded by
Eri Klas
Professor of conducting, Sibelius Academy
Succeeded by
Atso Almila
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