For a conductor, a first appearance with new orchestra is a little like a blind date.
“It’s always about chemistry,” according to conductor Rune Bergmann.
The Norwegian-born conductor’s first date with the Grand Rapids Symphony two years ago led to a special return appearance several months later. This week Bergmann and the Grand Rapids Symphony will share the stage for the third time in just three seasons.
Bergmann, 41, returns to DeVos Performance Hall on Friday and Saturday, October 5 and 6, for music inspired by the lore and landscape of Scandinavia.
Tickets start at $18 or $5 students for the second concerts of the 2017-18 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series.
A graduate with high honors from the Sibelius Academy of Music in Helsinki, Bergmann will lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in Sibelius Symphony No. 2. He'll be joined by Norwegian mezzo soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, a past Grammy nominee, as soloist in Gustav Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer.
Bergmann, who was awarded second prize in the Nordic Conducting Competition in Helsingborg in 2002, will open the concerts with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersingers, the only comic opera by the composer who immortalized the mythological Norse gods in his Ring of the Nibelung cycle of four music dramas.
“All music tells a story,” Bergmann said the second time he was in Grand Rapids.
“It’s either true or not,” he added with a smile. “It it’s not true, we have to invent one.”
Just two years after his very first appearance in the United States, the Bergmann made his Grand Rapids Symphony in November 2015, conducting Brahms’ Requiem. It left a lasting impression on him.
After his first appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony, Bergmann said the orchestra’s “potential is enormous.”
“The city is great, and the orchestra plays very well,” he said in November 2015. “This is an orchestra that deserves to be well-known internationally.”
As a candidate for the post of Grand Rapids Symphony music director, Bergmann returned in April 2016 for a special, encore performance at the Jenison Center for the Arts.
Rune Bergmann, who lives near Oslo, grew up in Norway in the small, furniture-making city of Sykkylven along the Norwegian Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, some 335 miles northwest of Norway’s capital city.
The town of fewer than 8,000 people didn’t have an orchestra, nor did Bergmann grow up in a musical family. But at age 8, after watching Carlos Kleiber conduct a New Year’s Eve concert from Vienna on television, Bergmann was inspired to make music and conducting his life’s work.
“The music spoke straight to me, and the way he communicated with the orchestra was unbelievable,” Bergmann recalled. “At that moment I told my parents that this is what I am going to do with my life."
“My parents thought I was crazy,” he recalled with a smile.
But Bergmann took up trumpet, piano and viola and began spending his pocket change on classical music recordings instead of candy. First, he attended Sweden’s Royal College of Music choir and orchestra conducting.
“You couldn’t study conducting in Norway,” he explained.
He set his sights next on Finland’s prestigious Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, which typically receives some 400 applications for each available spot. Bergmann was the one and only student admitted his year.
“I was lucky to get the best of everything,” he said.
Bergmann’s career includes appearances with orchestras and opera houses throughout Europe including the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Norwegian National Opera as well as the Mainfranken Theater in Wurzburg, German.
He formerly held the post of deputy Kapellmeister General with the Augsburger Philharmoniker and Theater Augsburg in Germany.
Today, he’s Music Director of Canada’s Calgary Philharmonic as well as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of Poland’s Szczecin Philharmonic.
Classic rock, not classical music, first brought Bergmann to the United States four years ago.
Guitarist Steve Miller – whose hits include “Abracadabra” and “Fly Like and Eagle,” had a hand in one of Bergmann's earliest appearances in the United States in Corona, California.
Bergmann orchestrated a 35-minute production dubbed “The Steve Miller Rock Symphony” featuring the Steve Miller Band performing five of the band’s top songs along with Bergmann conducting the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Artistic Director of Norway’s innovative Fjord Cadenza Festival since its inception in 2010, Bergmann leads the summer festival of jazz and fine arts as well as classical music.
The festival is unusual in another way. It’s entirely privately funded “in an American-style way,” he said.
Bergmann said he appreciates the buy-in that comes with private support for arts and culture in the United States.
“I that feel people care,’ he said. “When you’re involved, you care.”