Mats Bergström has taken guitar performance into so many directions and with such skill, it’s a challenge to simply define his career. He is a highly successful soloist, chamber player, accompanist, and arranger, and in most of these roles he has struck out rather imaginative paths. In the chamber realm he has played in duos, trios, and larger ensembles, and in such unusual combinations as vocalist, double bass, and guitar. He has done much accompaniment, particularly with vocal soloists like mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman and soprano Annika Skoglund. As an arranger he has, through Mats Bergström Performance Editions, fashioned numerous renditions for guitar and other instruments of works by J.S. and C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Bizet, Grieg, Nielsen, and many others. Naturally, his repertory is inclusive of music by these, as well as by contemporary composers like Reich, Takemitsu, Åke Parmerud, and Anders Hillborg. And Bergström has also performed crossover fare by Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Michel Legrand, and others. Bergström has recorded for such labels as BIS, Naxos, and Wergo.
Mats Bergström was born in Gävle, Sweden, in 1961. Raised in Stockhom, he studied music at the Royal College of Music there, graduating in 1982. He debuted at London’s Wigmore Hall in 1983 and while he experienced reasonable success afterward, even appearing on several recordings in the mid-’80s, he decided on further study. From 1990-1992 Bergström had post-graduate studies at Juilliard. Thereafter he occasionally appeared as soloist in concert, but largely focused on chamber music performance and song accompaniment.
His 1995 Areco Music CD, With a Little Help, was a crossover effort (works by Ravel, de Falla, Chick Corea, Gershwin, etc.) that was quite in the spirit of chamber collaboration, as it featured Christian Bergqvist (violin), Sam Bengtsson (electric bass guitar), Anna Norberg (flute), and many others on various tracks. By the turn of the new century Bergström was a major international presence, with many successful recordings and a busy concert schedule. His concert appearances with mezzo Malena Ernman resulted in their first CD, My Love, issued in 2004 on the BIS label.
In 2006 Bergström was made a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. He remained busy making numerous arrangements of instrumental and vocal pieces from the classical repertory. Bergström recorded a disc of his arrangements of Schubert sonatas for the Proprius label in 2010 that featured Nils-Erik Sparf, on violin and viola, and other artists.
The beginning of my interest for his guitar’s music comes with the CD Substring Bridge, 2002, with music by Anders Hillborg, Åke Parmerud, Arne Löthman, Steve Reich, Toru Takemitsu, Trio Escort and Johan Söderqvist….
Mats Bergström SubString Bridge (2002, Bis Northern Lighs BIS-NL-CD-5019)
I choose this record because of a lot of different factors:
– the repertoire, with the exception of two contemporary “classic” pieces like Electric Counterpoint and All in Twilight, is complete prerogative of Swedish composers with interesting, and at the same time, difficult to find works,
– the interpreter (he is one of two guitarists playing regularly in the Ensemble Modern and therefore an undeniable quality guarantee, even a hyper perfectionist like Frank Zappa had nothing but praise for them)
– the remixes, Close Enough (Close Up by Anders Hillborg) and Escortic Joynt (Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich), a common things for popular music, but only recently introduced in classical and contemporary music (Deutsche Grammophon docet ).
Remixes are the things that hit me more: the remix of Magnus Frykberg (Swedish musician, author of music for films and television programs, collaborator, bassist and producer for Jay Jay Johanson, Lisa Miskovsky, Kent, Eagle-Eye Cherry, Robyn, CajsaStina Åkerström and Papa Dee) inserts electric jitters on the methodic and syncopated rhythms played for the guitar of Anders Hillborg’s passage, while Trio Escort manages to achieve a minimal techno tribute worthy of the best German Chain Reaction managing to insert an ambient – motorik rhythm in Reich’s musical process without affecting his counterpoint guitar’s rigor.
The other pieces are not far behind. SubString Bridge by Parmerud Ake establishes a good architectural relationship between the guitar and mathematic interactions generated by the computer. Diptych by Lothman Arne plays with the guitar’s sounds and tones with an almost disarming simplicity, while the quiet chiaroscuro of Epilogue by Johan Söderqvist represent a fitting closure to this album, so distant by Darmstadt’s musical ideas, but able to offer equally interesting, rigorous passages who, at the same time, don’t disdain to play with the melody and pastel colors that are so natural for the classical guitar.
In this sense also All in Twilight of Takemitsu is not a foreign thing but it fits well in this repertoire. The multimedia bonus track shows instead the weight of years and the acceleration suffered by the technology curve but it can be a valid inspiration for those who want to play live with more interaction between music, video and sound.