Maestro, 92, signs on to record two symphonic cycles

Maestro, 92, signs on to record two symphonic cycles


norman lebrecht

May 31, 2020

Herbert Blomstedt, in an engaging conversation with Alan Gilbert, announced that he has committed to record two sets of symphonies with the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra – the nine symphonies of Schubert and Franz Berwald’s four. The two composers, he explains, were born within the same year.

On his time in lockdown, he says, ‘I’ve been studying new scores that I’m planning to perform next season.’

Watch the distanced conversation here.



  • Edward says:

    Nine Symphonies of Schubert? Does he actually mean eight or he would include the reconstructed No. 7 or No. 10?

  • The View from America says:

    This is pretty amazing. Has any other conductor made such major recording commitments in his/her tenth decade?

    • Pedro says:

      Yes. Stokowski. I have a Sony recording of Brahms 2 made just before he died. I think he was 94 or 95.

      • The View from America says:

        I own several of those late Stokowski recordings (Rach 3, Sibelius 1, Bizet) and they are quite fine. But Stoky didn’t contract to record complete symphony cycles, much less less-familiar repertoire like the Berwald.

      • John Kelly says:

        91 but close enough. If you don’t have his last recording, the Bizet Symphony in C, listen to it (it’s on YT). Incredible and the finale in a single take. He did have Sid Sax and the phenomenal National Phil it has to be said. Killer oboe solo in the slow movement. A delight beginning to end!

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Possibly Pierre Monteux, altho not an exact parallel: at the age of eighty-six, he accepted the post of Principal Conductor of the LSO, on condition of a twenty-five year contract, with option of renewal!

  • MezzoLover says:

    Really interesting exchange between Herbert Blomstedt and Alan Gilbert on Wilhelm Stenhammar, and the way Blomstedt speaks so glowingly – and emotionally – about Stenhammar’s music is very touching.

    Berwald and Stenhammar are undoubtedly two of Blomstedt’s favorite composers, and he has done more than any other conductor in recent memory to champion the symphonic music of these two Swedish masters (especially Stenhammar’s Second Symphony).

    Dare one hope that, in addition to the Berwald project, plans are also being drawn for Blomstedt to perform and record major works by Stenhammar in the upcoming season, with either the Leipzig Gewandhaus or the Gothenburg Symphony?

    (Robert von Bahr – when can we expect a new recording of Stenhammar’s First Symphony with Maestro Blomstedt from you and your brilliant BIS sound engineering team?)

  • Greg Bottini says:

    More power to you, Maestro Blomstedt, and long may you wave (a baton). Here’s to your continued good health.
    In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must state that in my long experience of attending SF Symphony concerts, countless occasions dating back to the early Krips years, I have fallen asleep only three times at those concerts. All three were when Maestro Blomstedt was conducting.
    Say no more, nudge nudge….

    • steveb says:

      The Academy of Music in Philadelphia was notorious for putting the audience to sleep. The warmth, the seating, the slight hiss of the air handling system combined, and not to good effect. The new house (Verizon Hall) is much better in that regard.

      • John Kelly says:

        Much better sound too. Coffee helps in my experience. I have never fallen asleep in a concert though Celibidache taking 80 minutes (yes, eighty) to meander through Bruckner 4 made me crave a pillow…………

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Hello, steveb….
        Thank you very much for your comments re: the Academy of Music and Verizon Hall. They’re much appreciated.
        The hall in which I fell asleep on the three occasions I wrote about was Davies Hall in San Francisco. I’ve sensed no particular sleep inducing qualities (such as you mention in regards to the AoM) in Davies Hall. There, the air is well-circulated, comfortable but not too warm, and the seats are bog-standard.
        Truth be told, Blomstedt is simply not an exciting conductor. Solid (and stolid), yes. Accurate, yes. But exciting? No.
        I have heard many concerts he gave with the SF Sym. at Davies, performing a wide range of composers, and I own a number of Decca recordings he made in that space with that ensemble (and recordings of his with other ensembles as well). So I have a large personal data base to work with.
        And as a further control sample, I’ve heard many concerts given by his predecessor (DeWaart) and his successor (MTT) in the same hall.
        I can’t help but form the honest opinion I have formed.
        I certainly don’t wish to hammer on him, but let’s face it: Blomstedt is a Kapellmeister, not a spark-lighter.
        I’ll say again, and I’m sincere: I wish him only the best of health and a long musical life.

  • batonbaton says:

    Oh good, Berwald is interesting – I have recently paired them with Brahms in my own home listening – would make for absorbing concert hall programming when conditions allow.

  • annnon says:

    Intriguing, what is the future of recording under covid?

    The technology is certainly there to record each musician, even of a 100 piece orchestra, separately, and to lay down (and manipulate) each track for each musician separately, to a degree Karajan never dreamt of.

    The conductor (+ engineer) re-shapes the solo clarinet line exactly as he wants it, since the principal clarinetist didn’t quite do it.

    The second trumpet out of tune? Autotune it.

    The 6th chair first violin not very good? Drop him and double up the track of the 5th chair violin. Or just multiply the tracks of one violin, one viola, one cello, one bass.


  • Concertgoer says:

    Blomstedt’s Leipzig Bruckner cycle (2005-12) — on the Querstand label — is the finest of all, albeit expensive. Joy in the playing throughout, with the rhythms just right, the lyricism full, and the perfect choice of edition for each symphony.

    • Sixtus says:

      While I look forward to Blomstedt’s upcoming recordings, I do wish the superb Leipzig Bruckner cycle would appear on at least one of the major music streaming services. As of now it is a quite expensive CD rarity. Aside from its considerable sonic and musical values, it is by far the best of the Bruckner cycles employing an authentic and musically superior 19th-century string layout (split violins, cellos left, violas right), easily surpassing Tintner’s and Barenboim’s third try.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Concertgoer, I’m a huge fan of Maestro Blomstedt, and an even bigger fan of Bruckner. Everyone’s opinion is valid for themselves, but I think if you did a survey of people who consider themselves Brucknerians, Blomstedt’s cycle would be on very few peoples’ lists of the best cycle of performances. The sound is indeed excellent, but the complete cycles that would appear regarded as the “best” and most frequently would be probably in this order: 1) Karajan; 2) Jochum/DG; 3) maybe Skrowaczewski. Others might mention Wand/Koln (which is the only complete Wand cycle), and maybe one of the Asahina cycles. I enjoyed the Blomstedt cycle, but having discussed this matter with a number of others who are Brucknerians, I’ve never heard anyone other than yourself elevate this particular cycle to the level of “the best.” That said, I think the performances of 3, 6, and 8 in the Blomstedt/Leipzig cycle are tremendous.

      • Concertgoer says:

        Well, Herr Doktor, being nearly as old as you, I can report having attended Bruckner concerts under Asahina, Jochum, Karajan, Skrowaczewski, Wand and, alas only recently, Blomstedt. But I suppose we are talking here about the recordings, which is to say things to be experienced again and again, so it is helpful to point out that Karajan is fierce in Nos. 2 and 3 and only really loving in Nos. 7 and 8 with Vienna, and he uses the wrong edition of No. 2, which I consider an important work; that Asahina was working with a regional Japanese orchestra, Skrowaczewski with a regional German one; that Jochum/DG is amazing in No. 1 but elsewhere has much competition, and in any case relies too much on Nowak; and that Wand too does not always present the most convincing texts, and frankly lacks the joie de vivre so consistently there with Blomstedt and so obviously central to Anton Bruckner, a personality we thought we understood until the Leipzig cycle!

        • Herr Doktor says:

          Concertgoer, I think it would be a great pleasure to talk with you! You obviously know and love Bruckner and have a wonderful perspective of various performer and performances. I’m JEALOUS that you have heard Bruckner live with these conductors, I’ve heard none of them live myself. I am fortunate to have heard some absolutely astonishing live Bruckner performances in my life, but what I would do to have heard Karajan perform Bruckner live with my own ears, that would have been truly an experience. I agree that Skrow’s orchestra is not at the front ranks, but at least they don’t embarrass themselves as has happened in other recordings where conductors worked with minor orchestras (Stuttgart quickly comes to mind, although they seem to rise above their own limitations with Leitner). With regards to Bruckner 2, I’m incredibly satisfied with Karajan’s performance and choice of edition. I think he solves the text issues of B2 as well as they can be solved, with the right cuts in the first and second movement, and all the excisions removed in the 4th. Personally, I think that performance will never be surpassed.

          What a great pleasure to read your comments. Thank you!!

  • Alexander Hall says:

    For me Bernstein was an early musical pedagogue but even several decades on I am so happy to learn so much from the great Herbert Blomstedt. He himself quotes Picasso’s bon mot of it needing a lifetime to become youthful. Blomstedt in old age is astonishingly young in spirit and still prepared to reconsider opinions formed much earlier in his career (he goes into the question of Beethovenian tempi in some detail). That is true humility for you. But the insights too just trip off his tongue: differences between the orchestras in Dresden and Leipzig, the difficulties in persuading musicians to do things against their own traditions, the ambivalence of the Mona Lisa, the terrifying aspects of Schubert, Colin Davis’ utter rejection of the HIP standard-bearers and much else besides. Right at the end Alan Gilbert suggests they should reconvene to continue their hour-long discussion. Norman, please alert us to that as soon as it becomes available.

  • This is a great man, a great musician, great teacher, and certainly an inspiring conductor.

  • John Kelly says:

    Maestro Blomstedt is still fully in charge! I heard him recently with the NYPO – the orchestra clearly adored him – and they together gave a fantastic Dvorak 6th. I would go see him anytime. Terrific conductor!

    • Concertgoer says:

      He is indeed good in Dvořák, surprisingly perhaps. It was Blomstedt who finally won me over to Dvořák 7, where I shouldn’t have needed any convincing.

      • Bruce says:

        Dvorak #7 was definitely an acquired taste for me too. Even performing it a few times (under different conductors) didn’t convince me. Sawallisch’s recording with Philadelphia helped though. Funny, since I fell in love immediately and permanently with #8.

  • Edgar Self says:

    I ‘ve ve not had much luck with Stenhammer piano concertos or Berwald symphonies, but Blomstedt might convince me. Nielsen also, apart from the violin concerto.

    I saw Blomstedt conduct only once with San Francisco Symphony in Chicago: Claudio Arrau, Beethoven foourth concerto, 1985 Maybe Nielsen’s “Inextinguisshable:. Schubert couldn’t finish his sympphonies, and Nielsen couldn’t put his out.

    Schubert’s 7th in E is a Weingartner orchestration of the Grand Duo piano four-hander, in’t it? Schubert apparently never heard any of his mature orchestral music performed, which might have produced revisions, especially of the 9th.

    I’ve read that Blomstedt admires Furtwaengler, is vegetarian, Addventist, and keeps the Sabbath, admirable things that seem to agree with him.

    I want to hear the entire interview in time. It’s rare to hear two conductors in conversation without coming to blows.. Monteux, Stokowski, some others were actie into their 90s, Haitink almost, though not in such projects. The label Querstand is new to me.

    • Julien says:

      “Schubert’s 7th in E is a Weingartner orchestration of the Grand Duo piano four-hander, in’t it?”

      Well, it isn’t. It’s a full work, in 4 movements. Shcubert wrote the 1st violine part to the end, orchestrated a few bars (the slow introduction and the very beginning of the first allegro), and then noted down a few indications on orchestration or harmony. I’ve read somewhere that Brahms saw (or even possessed) the manuscript and contemplated an orchestration of his own, but finally gave up. It’s a great pity,since a Schubert/Brahms symphony would have found its way in the concert programmes. Some musicologist finally did it. It’s a really beautiful work, you can find it in Marriner’s recording of all the 10 symphonies (including, then, the fragments of a 10th symhony).

      • Bruce says:

        I’m pretty sure Abbado’s set with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe includes the Grand Duo as well.

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      Concerning the Stenhammar Second Piano Concerto, try (if you haven’t already) the Janos Solyom recording. I was not familiar with him before finding this recording some years ago and right from the opening chords was immediately taken by his colourful, deeply burnished tone and sweeping brilliance. The first three movements of the work are all very distinctive and beautiful. See, in particular, how the effervescent scherzo (worthy of Saint Saens) merges without a break into a truly marvellous adagio theme . For my taste, the last movement the work itself is the weak link, with the quality of the material not quite matching the attempt at rhetoric and energy. If it weren’t for this, I would really wonder why the concerto is not played more often. The first concerto is fine but not as strong. It is also very long.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I admire, love and own many of his great recordings: terrific Neilsen, Sibelius, Mahler 2nd and so much more. But ho-hum: Schubert and Gade? New recordings are going to have to be spectacularly good in performance and sound to make collectors rush out and get them. So much fine Schubert already, and a superb set of Gade on Bis, who needs this? Pet projects for conductors I guess.