3 questions to conductor Herbert Blomstedt
Priska Ketterer/Lucerne Festival
Herbert Blomstedt conducting the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2020.
The eminent Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt will turn 95 on July 11, 2022. On this occasion, he will give two special concerts with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, following his performances with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in mid- June. Thanks to our colleagues from NDR, we were able to ask him three questions.
Q: If you had to highlight an important moment in your career, which one comes to mind first?
A: Well, perhaps the most important was my debut in Stockholm with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. I was 27, quite old by today’s standards. Today, many outstanding conductors begin their careers as teenagers. I’m quite a slow developer. But the second moment, which was very important, was my meeting with the Staatskapelle in Dresden. I was invited as a guest conductor in 1969. It was a fantastic experience for me and shaped my musical world in a new way. It was the first very famous orchestra I played with – I had played with good orchestras in Scandinavia; I was musical director in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen; but Dresden Staatskapelle was absolutely world class. And their musical ethic, their work policy and their seriousness were molded for me.
During your career you have worked with many radio ensembles such as the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra. What is so special about conducting a radio ensemble and how does it compare to conducting other orchestras?
There really is no difference; it’s a symphony orchestra. In Copenhagen, for example, which was the biggest radio orchestra I conducted in Scandinavia, the Copenhagen Radio Symphony was The Copenhagen Symphony Orchestra. There was no philharmonic orchestra. It was the radio orchestra. Then there was a grand opera and a magnificent baroque orchestra, and later the special philharmonic for Copenhagen was created. But in 1926, when the orchestra was formed, it was a radio orchestra. It was a very happy situation because not only the musical director of the radio station but also the president of the whole radio organization was a musician. He was a world famous opera singer. And he ensures that this small orchestra which began in 1926 develops in the best conditions. For example, he got money from the beer companies, now Carlsberg and Tuborg. They obtained large sums of money to buy instruments for this orchestra. And what did they buy? They bought Stradivarius, Guarnerius, etc. All these marvelous stringed instruments from Italian masters, he bought them with money from the beer companies. And they are played in the orchestra today. When you manage to conduct the orchestra, at intermission, when they put their instruments on the table while they go to have a snack, you see that it’s marbled what they have. Here’s a Storioni, here’s a Lupo, here’s a Vuillaume, just the perfect instruments. I don’t know of any orchestra in the world that has such good string instruments as the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Radio orchestras have a special repertoire. Since they don’t depend on the audience – because the radio audience [audience] sits at their receiver and listens – they don’t depend so much on ticket sales and play only Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler. They can play new music that doesn’t appeal to a lot of people but is important to a country that has a fledgling music scene. But also these radio orchestras in Germany, they of course discovered that in order to reach the highest artistic level, they also have to play the standard symphonic repertoire.
On July 16, 2022, you will conduct the Gewandhaus Orchestra for a big concert on the occasion of your 95th birthday. What program are you going to do?
In Rosental there is a large park within the limits of Leipzig, a beautiful and very large area. They started their programs there when I was music director once. There you can have twenty, thirty thousand people in the audience. It is enormous! Sure, they sit on the grass with their families or maybe a little meal, have fun, and you hear it over the speakers. But you also see them on the big screen. So these two concerts we have in July are the first after the Covid situation is more or less over – we know it’s not completely over but we have a large audience again and expect at least twenty thousand people for each gig.
The first concert is a popular program with Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto and his Pastoral Symphony, you know, the symphony where the birds are singing and there’s a storm and we hope there won’t be any rain but in the symphony there is rain… Wonderful Beethoven was a nature lover. In the second program we also play the Pastoral Symphony at the beginning but then we have two different works: we play the Variations on a Rococo Theme, for cello and orchestra, by Tchaikovsky, and end with the William Tell Overture by Rossini.
Music Swap Deals
Three concerts are offered to all EBU radios in honor of this important anniversary: the two memorable all-Beethoven broadcasts performed with Martha Argerich from the 2020 Lucerne Festival (ER/2020/B4/09 and ER/2020/B4/19), offered by the SRF, and the concert conducted by Herbert Blomstedt on June 17, 2022 with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra (SM/2022/05/26/01), courtesy of NDR. Warm thanks to Julia Wellershaus and Stephan Sturm for their collaboration in this interview.