Memories of Paavo Berglund

Here are few of my memories of Paavo, in way of dealing with the passing of one of the great musical and human influences of my life.

Paavo was a very warm friend for my family. I never had the pleasure to play on stage with him, but got to know him in 1992 at Oslo airport (we lived in Oslo at the time). I was on the same flight with him from Helsinki. Since I was carrying a cello, I thought I should introduce myself, even if I was quite intimidated, I had heard that he might be of being inaccessible and austere. When I told him who I was he said: "So you are, well, what do you think of Schumann’s orchestration?" After an intense discussion while we waited for our suitcases we drove him to his hotel, talking about orchestration, he was at our home the following evening for dinner, again talking about orchestration. 

When we went to visit him at the interval of his concert that week, just before the Schumann 2 he was conducting - and worried about - there were two things that struck me: that he was immediately busy at work with the score of Fidelio (which he was conducting the following year). He was writing his special reduction  which he always stuck at the bottom of the page in every score, a sort of a reduction of the pure essentials that he wanted to hear. The other thing that struck me was the exercise bike, which he always asked to have in his room. I think there was a good reason why he wanted to do the exercise; walking was to become a problem for him when his health started to decline. 

But although he seemed to be always, and I mean ALWAYS, working, he was a very warm and caring friend of the family, always interested to discuss books, reflexology or philosophy with my wife or have a conversation with our daughter about her school. He didn't like his fish undercooked, though, and liked sauces with cream. Twice I had to take my salmon back to the oven and he often repeated how good the shrimps with rice and cream were that we had on a visit to Irma Urrila. 

If there was one thing that was totally absent from his personality it was any sense superiority. He related to everyone on his down to earth level. He was ready to say when he had done a good concert, but that it was a result of everyone doing their job well, not because he was a greater conductor than anyone else. After recording Sibelius many times with many orchestras, he played for me a recording of one of his early Tapiola’s with the Helsinki Philharmonic, which he thought came off better than the later ones. The same with the everyday things, he travelled with his own proper Finnish "Kulta Mokka" coffee, he said that all other coffe was good for nothing.

I think it was 1994 when I was performing at the Crussell-festival near the island where he spent his summers; he appeared with his wife at the concert and invited my family to his island. There he was, in the simple Finnish cottage, at his desk hunched over a score, happy to have everyone go about their things around him, but himself never far from his work.

The only time I made music with him was when he called me to come and play tangos at his daughter's graduation. There we were, as the dance band, him playing his violin backwards - in his youth, us left handed people were made to play like that! - playing tango after tango that he had prepared for us.

One of the last times I was at a concert of his was in Glasgow, he was on a Brahms tour with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and I with the London Sinfonietta. When I went to him during the interval, he was sincerely delighted to have someone to talk to, told me that a friend had sent him a review of something I'd done in Los Angeles and how he was keeping track of my life even if we hadn’t seen in some years.  He kept following with real interest what all of his younger colleagues did and this until the very end of his life.

I remember my last (how sorry I am it was the last!) phone call to him a few years ago. I heard him making his way to the phone slowly with his walker frame, when he finally got there we had a long conversation about the Mark Twain book he was just reading, just as if we had just interrupted our conversation the day before. 

I have the feeling that everything with him was like that, our friendship started as if we always knew each other, just hadn't met before. He surely showed - or would have showed - exactly the same interest to all young musicians as he showed to me, unfortunately many mistook his down to earth-ness as being inaccessible.

Anssi Karttunen 2.2.2012