Paavo Allan Englebert Berglund was one of the leading Nordic conductors, known for clean, well-balanced, and dynamic performances.
He studied the violin from the age of eleven. In 1949 he joined the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, In 1952 he was a co-founder of the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, which was founded with the purpose of expanding the scope of orchestral music available in the Finnish capital. He was its first conductor.
Also in the 1950s he became an assistant conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony, and was its chief conductor from 1962 to 1971. He vastly improved the orchestra¹s quality. He achieved these results through very hard and strict rehearsals, gaining the reputation as a podium dictator.
He first conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England in 1965 in a series of Sibelius Centenary Concerts, and was frequently invited back. With that orchestra in 1970 he led the first performances outside Finland of Sibelius¹s long-suppressed Kullervo Symphony and made its first recording, which has remained a classic. He has won numerous international awards for some of his many recordings.
In 1972 he was asked to take over the post of Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leaving the Finland Radio Symphony Orchestra to do so. By now, his reputation as a musical perfectionist was so strong in his home country that the story got around that he left his old orchestra because Finnish musicians could not longer keep up with him. This legend persisted even after he returned to Finland to become Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 1975.
He resigned from both the Helsinki and Bournemouth Orchestras in 1979. He guest conducted widely, debuting in the United States with the American Symphony Orchestra in 1978. He was principal guest conductor of the Scottish National Symphony Orchestra (1981-1985) and Principal Conductor of the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra from 1987 to 1991. He took the position of Principal Conductor of the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen in September, 1983.
Especially in Finland, it was noticed the Berglund changed his approach to rehearsals, giving up dictatorial ways. "The rise in the standard of Finnish orchestras has been quite incredible," he explained. "Young musicians play so much better than their predecessors did." He says that his aim all along was simply to make Finnish orchestras among the best in the world."
He was still meticulous and demanding, though, particularly in matters of orchestral balance, with sharp, sure directions in rehearsal that make it seem everything is pre-planned. In Edinburgh in 1998 he was asked about the reasoning behind differences in tempos of his Sibelius symphonies, of which he has made three complete sets. His reply: "I have not given it a thought, or even listened to those recordings. I conduct from the heart." ~ Joseph Stevenson