About Leif Bjaland

Leif Bjaland is one of the most dynamic and exciting American conductors now before the public. As Artistic Advisor to The Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra for the last three seasons, he conducted concerts, led the orchestra on its first statewide tour and administered the recently completed search for a new music director. He served as the Artistic Director/Conductor of the Sarasota Orchestra from 1997 to 2012, during which time the orchestra experienced unprecedented artistic growth. Mr. Bjaland is also currently the Music Director of the Waterbury Symphony in Connecticut where he has received enormous enthusiasm and critical praise for his performances and imaginative programming.
Mr. Bjaland is an active guest conductor appearing with the Louisville Orchestra, Las Vegas Philharmonic, and will lead performances with Cynthia Gregory and Nevada Ballet Theatre, and the Louisville Ballet. He will also conduct performances with the Pacific Northwest Ballet at the Seattle Opera House (McCaw Hall) as well as performances with the Auburn Symphony. Recently he as served as conductor for Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center and on two international tours featuring all Balanchine programs. He has also acted as a guest conductor for New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Sarasota Ballet and Miami City Ballet. He conducted the Florida Grand Opera in three productions including a highly acclaimed Don Giovanni a triple bill of one‐act operas by Manuel de Falla ‐ El Amor Brujo, Master Peter's Puppet Show and La Vida Breve; and Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. Bjaland received great attention and critical acclaim when he gave the world premiere performance of 19th century American composer George Chadwick's opera, The Padrone.

Mr. Bjaland has created a new multi media presentation, written and narrated by Bjaland called "Journeys to Genius" which explore the creative road taken in writing a masterpiece work. These enthusiastically received performances include a first half of actors, projected images, and narration leading towards a performance of the full work on the second half of the concert. Works featured so far have been the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, Mozart Jupiter Symphony, Beethoven Eroica Symphony, and Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony.

Mr. Bjaland made his debut at the Ravinia Festival conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program entitled "Bernstein on Broadway" also involving soloists, chorus and dancers. He recently appeared with The Chicago Philharmonic, the Gulf Coast Symphony, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, and the California Symphony. He has appeared with the San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony, Florida Philharmonic, Louisiana Philharmonic and the symphony orchestras of Fort Worth, Nashville, Detroit, Rochester, Utah, Madison, Akron, Fort Wayne, Fresno, Des Moines, Mobile, San Jose, Rhode Island, Virginia, Harrisburg, Colorado, Long Beach, New World Symphony. Mr. Bjaland led the Cincinnati Symphony at an opening concert of a Riverbend summer season, and conducted at Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival, the World Youth Symphony at Interlochen, and the Young Artists Orchestra at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute culminating in a performance in Ozawa Hall.

Mr. Bjaland is also an enthusiastic proponent of music education having taught for several summers in Venezuela as part of that country’s “el Sistema” program. He received his Masters degree in conducting from The University of Michigan where he studied with Gustav Meier. He is the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Music degree, awarded by Susquehanna University and makes his home in San Francisco, California.

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Looking back, I think I became a musician because there were no other options.  By the time I was 10, music was everything to me.  I was smitten.  Making it my career involved ongoing negotiations with my parents. The question "Can you really make a living being a musician?" came up pretty often. I didn't really have a good answer for that one, at least not yet.  I just hoped that somehow I could put food on the table though making music.  My dad, who had emigrated from Norway as a child and lived through the Great Depression was very skeptical about my prospects. At the University of Michigan, I got an education degree in addition to my Woodwind Performance degree, so at least I could make a living teaching if nothing else panned out.   And that wouldn't have been a tragedy - I loved high school band and worshipped my band director, so following in his footsteps would be a good way to go.

 

And that's the way I might have gone, but at age 25 I got a big break.  I auditioned for a conducting workshop at the Chicago Symphony that was being given by the orchestra's music director, Sir Georg Solti.  There were about eighty applicants for four spots.  Amazingly, I got one of them, and spent three full days with the maestro and the Chicago Civic Orchestra. At the workshops conclusion, Sir Georg said to me "you make a very nice impression."  I thought that was the end of it, but then I got an invitation to do a full concert at Orchestra Hall and a letter of introduction from the maestro himself.  Solti was very generous to this young, very green conductor.  With his support, I was able to make my dream of a life in music a reality, and finally put to bed that nagging question, "Can you really make a living being a musician?"