Herbert Blomstedt: Why I gave up the baton

Herbert Blomstedt: Why I gave up the baton


norman lebrecht

December 31, 2021

The venerable conductor, 94 years old, now relies on his hands.

He explains why in an interview with Markus Thiel:

‘I once had a concert with the Vienna Philharmonic in Salzburg. And after a break from rehearsals I forgot my baton in the conductor’s room. Then you stand in front of a Bruckner symphony and think to yourself: run back quickly? Or ask someone to do it? So I went on. Such orchestras do not need a beat or a metronome, but a musician. And since then I have done without the baton.’

Asked what he will do on his 95th birthday, next July 11:

‘The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic have competed for it. The request from the Gewandhausorchester came a little earlier, so the Viennese are on my 100th. As you can see, I am optimistic here too. On July 11th, that is a Monday, there will be a special thanksgiving service in the Thomaskirche. No sermon, the music will speak.’ 


  • gimel says:

    “Such orchestras do not need a beat”

    Because they certainly won’t get it from Blomstedt either.

    Watch ANY youtube video of him, he is ALWAYS behind the beat (except maybe the first beat ; )).

    He is on the podium mainly as an inspirational presence.

    • sam says:

      Compare Bernstein, who always manages to be one beat ahead of the orchestra, even when he was old.

      I don’t know how Bernstein does it, try doing it with a recording you know well, try conducting it one beat ahead of the orchestra, it is neigh impossible, you succumb to the music and beat along with the playing, but Bernstein somehow always manages to think one beat ahead of the playing.


      • P. Lee says:

        That’s the part that freaks me out – one beat ahead of time. One almost needs to be a schizophrenic to be able to do that, or even worse, to follow it. I one asked a schoolmate of mine who played for the HK Phil. how conductors and the orchestra members always seem to manage to finish on the same beat, and he just said, “Oh, they’ll do it.”

      • Joseph says:

        Just like playing piano, you read a few bars ahead, not note by note.

    • Concertgoer says:

      You have no idea.

    • BRUCEB says:

      ““Such orchestras do not need a beat”

      Because they certainly won’t get it from Blomstedt either. ”

      Then it’s just as well they don’t need it 🙂

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    I saw him two weeks ago in concert for Brahms, probably the music he’s the best with. it was fantastic he was in good shape. But he’s right to say good bye at a good moment for him. It was the same thing three years ago with Haitink.

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Ok I read the article too fastly. Sorry. Good if he’s continues his career and feels good.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Maestro Blomstedt,

    We will be delighted to celebrate your 100th birthday with the Wiener Phil, as well as every year in between and after.

  • John Borstlap says:

    At his venerable age, you have to save your energies.

    He is a wonderful conductor and a vegetarian (probably the two things are connected and gave him his long fruitful life).

    In my dog years I worked at a music management, where B was having lunch at the office after a meeting. By saying next to nothing, he dominated the table.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    As someone who has played in the back row his entire life (tuba, bass trombone and percussion), I generally find it easier to pick up cues and catch the tempo from conductors who aren’t using a baton. That’s just me.

  • Jeff Werthan says:

    Had the pleasure of playing under the Maestro many years ago. Wonderful conductor, and a mensch to boot.

  • At a conducting course in Southern California in the 1980’s, he demonstrated conducting the brass chorale at the beginning of Brahms I/4 with his eyebrows.