Bergmann takes over for Previn, premiere and all

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

“Jumping in as a replacement is always scary and fun at the same time,” conductor Rune Bergmann said recently, on the phone from Calgary. The lively and amiable Norwegian musician, the new music director of the Calgary Philharmonic, has been asked to step in on short notice to replace André Previn, who withdrew from his concerts with Pacific Symphony on Oct. 19-21 due to injury. Though it was a tight fit in his schedule, Bergmann gladly accepted the offer.

“I was planning to go back to my family (in Oslo) and spend time with them, but since it was Pacific Symphony that called, of course you have to go,” Bergmann said. “Nice people calling.

“I had my first concert with Pacific Symphony in November last year, and we had so much fun.”

Bergmann agreed to not only conduct the concerts, but also to take over Previn’s identical program, which included Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 (with Garrick Ohlsson) as well the West Coast premiere of Previn’s own “Almost an Overture,” which was given its first performance in Rhode Island in July.

Bergmann has conducted the mammoth Rachmaninoff symphony before, and in fact had already programmed it both with the Calgary Philharmonic later this season and with the Szczecin Philharmonic in Poland (where he is chief conductor and artistic director) the week after the Pacific Symphony performances. He has never conducted the Mozart or Previn scores, however.

Born in Sykkelven, Norway, Bergmann studied conducting at the Royal College of Music in Sweden and at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, where the prolific composer/conductor Leif Segerstam was among his teachers. A multi-instrumentalist, he plays trumpet, piano, violin and viola. He has conducted widely in Europe and has led orchestras in the U.S. in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Houston and New Mexico.

As a guest conductor, he says, it is often easier to work with an orchestra on a new piece than an old one.

“I’m sure that Pacific Symphony has played Rachmaninoff Second many times,” he explains. “So they will have an approach to do that, and the further away that is from my view, or my approach, the harder it will get actually to accomplish the result we would like to.” Conversely, with a new work, such as the Previn, everyone starts with a clean slate.

As for the Rachmaninoff, Bergmann has his own strong feelings on how it should go, and thinks that others often get it wrong.

“With many kinds of Romantic music I feel many conductors, to my taste, they make it over Romantic. So it’s kind of like they are focusing so much on squeezing out every part, every corner, every note to a maximum. While when I read the score for Rachmaninoff, it’s more that there are a lot of notes and if he really wanted us to milk every one of them for such a long time it would never finish. So I probably have a little different approach to that. Let the music flow, let it fly a little bit, so we don’t get stuck in every corner.”

Bergmann has had to make a quick study of the Previn score. Unlike with Mozart, he’s never even conducted a note composed by Previn.

“I’ve just been at concerts where I’ve heard his music,” Bergmann said. “I heard his Violin Concerto many years ago with Anne-Sophie Mutter.” (Previn wrote the piece for Mutter, who he was married to at the time.) “And many years ago he was music director of the Oslo Philharmonic — I attended some concerts there. So I just know a little bit about his music, but I never studied it.”

Bergmann studies a new score in his own way.

“First, I usually just read it like a book. So, I just open the score and see how it looks in the structure, and harmonically. Then if there’s something I need to check out I will use the piano.”

In the case of “Almost an Overture,” there was also a recording of the first performance, sent to Bergmann by the Symphony. This, Bergmann said, helped give him an idea of “the colors of the orchestra, Previn’s instrumentation.”

Between nine and ten minutes long, the piece goes through a number of different tempos, meters and moods. It is in Previn’s accessible, fluent manner, jazzily syncopated, recalling film music — Previn was a composer at MGM for many years, and won several Academy Awards — Shostakovich and Britten. It is the varied landscape that gives the piece its title, Bergmann suggests. “It’s kind of a mix between an overture, a symphonic poem and a symphony somehow.” It also makes it a tricky piece to conduct.

Bergmann’s opinions of the Previn piece are as yet unformed.

“I haven’t really thought if this is something I love or not,” he said. “I just think, OK, this is the piece I agreed to do, and then I just have to make sure it sounds as good as possible.

“Then of course the audience has to make their own opinion whether they like it or not.”

  • Pacific Symphony
  • With: Rune Bergmann, conductor; Garrick Ohlsson, piano
  • Where: Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
  • When: 8 p.m. Oct. 19-21
  • How much: $35-$206
  • Call: 714-755-5799
  • Online: pacificsymphony.org

photo: Kristin Hoebermann

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