Photo: Paul Yates

On November 10, the Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt was awarded the Great Cross of Merit with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his life's work at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. 

Michael Kretschmer, the prime minister of Saxony, presented the award and paid tribute to Blomstedt: "Maestro Blomstedt, we are all full of admiration for your vitality and mental elasticity, for your strength without doggedness," reported Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, in its TV program MDR-Aktuell.

In a statement distributed in advance, Kretschmer described Blomstedt as a "bridge builder in the best sense of the word." He stands for the unifying function of culture in Europe and throughout the world. Blomstedt had already received the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2003. Now he also holds the award with a star.

"Music is his source of strength"

"I am, of course, delighted to be honored with such an award by a country in which I have lived for a long time and had been the leader of two of the best orchestras—namely, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the Staatskappelle Dresden," Blomstedt told MDR. Despite a fall, the consequences of which forced him to conduct while sitting down, he feels "as fit as ever." Music is his source of strength "that can't be ignored," according to the MDR report.

Conductor of Numerous Orchestras

Blomstedt was born to an Adventist pastor couple on July 11, 1927, in the USA, but moved with his parents to their native Sweden at the age of two. He received his first musical education at the Royal Conservatory in Stockholm and at Uppsala University. He later studied conducting at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, contemporary music in Darmstadt, and Renaissance and Baroque music at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, and worked under Igor Markevitch in Salzburg and Leonard Bernstein in Tanglewood.

In February 1954, Blomstedt made his conducting debut with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Later, as principal conductor, he led important Scandinavian orchestras such as the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Danish and Swedish Radio Symphony orchestras, staying with the latter until 1983. From 1975 to 1985, he was the principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden. For the next ten years, he was the music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. From 1996 to 1998, he was the principal conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg and conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1998 to 2005. 

To this day, Blomstedt regularly conducts concerts of various major orchestras in America, Japan, and Europe. He currently conducts concerts in the Leipzig Gewandhaus and was a guest in the Dresden Frauenkirche in cooperation with the Sächsische Staatskapelle in the summer.

Numerous Awards

Herbert Blomstedt is an elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and has received several honorary doctorates. He remains associated with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, of which he was the 18th Kapellmeister as an honorary conductor. Six other orchestras also awarded him this distinction: the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Japan, the Danish and Swedish Radio Symphony orchestras, as well as the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the Staatskapelle Dresden, which had already honored him with the Golden Honorary Pin in 2007.

In 2013, a biography about Blomstedt was published, entitled Mein Leben—ein grosser Gesang (“My Life—A Great Song”). It is not commercially available and was written by freelance author Ursula Weigert for his friends.

His Vitality Was “a gift”

In an interview with the New York Times newspaper in February 2017, Blomstedt talked about the secret of how he manages this workload at his age. 

"It is a gift," Blomstedt emphasized. Asked about his weekly day of rest, the conductor explained why he does not rehearse on the Sabbath (Saturday) but does perform with the orchestras: "I thought of my father [who was a pastor]: He prepared his sermon very thoroughly during the week. On Fridays, at sunset, he would close his books and spend time with the family; but on the Sabbath, he would preach the sermon. I love to rehearse, to work with the orchestra. But on Sabbath, we don't practice anymore; we just play what we have rehearsed together. And that is a blessing for all of us," says Blomstedt.

Blomstedt Prize for Students at Friedensau Adventist University of Applied Sciences

Herbert Blomstedt has also endowed a prize himself. In memory of his wife, Waltraud, who died in 2003, the Adventist Theological College Friedensau near Magdeburg has been awarding the Waltraud and Herbert Blomstedt Prize since 2008. The prize is awarded to Friedensau students for excellent bachelor’s or master's theses in the fields of theology and Christian social work or for a particularly worthy artistic achievement in the field of music.

The original article was published on the Inter-European Division website.