Herbert Blomstedt, 95, learns a new symphony

Herbert Blomstedt, 95, learns a new symphony


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2022

We hear that the veteran Swedish conductor has just conducted Franz Berwald’s second symphony ‘Capricieuse’ for the first time in his life.

He has performed Berwald’s other three symphonies several times, but never the second, which was reconstructed after the original manuscript was lost.

Blomstedt performed its last night in Copenhagen with the DR Symphony Orchestra and will repeat it tonight. Then they will record the complete Berwald for commercial release.

Franz Berwald (1796-1868) is Sweden’s national composer.

photo: Søren Krabbe


  • Jean says:

    Franz Berwald was never appreciated high enough in Sweden during his lifetime.

    Talking about ”national composers”, the first ones that come to my mind are rather Stenhammar and Alfvén. Alfvén also had national themes in his works…

    • Michael Cattermole says:

      Wilhelm Peterson-Berger also springs to mind. A fine symphonist, his 2nd in particular deserves wider advocacy – it’s full of fantasy and heartfelt lyricism. His piano music too is a delight, and often evokes “national” themes, as do his symphonies.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      Hurray for Alfvén

  • MMcGrath says:

    What an inspiration this man is! So glad he’s back!

  • Meoff Jor says:

    Mate, don’t start publications with “Herbert Blomstedt, 95….”

    It scared me

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Blomstedt is an amazing man. He’s still learning well into his 90s when huge numbers the same age are languishing in aged care homes.

    • Tamino says:

      Kudos to him, but no offense to the „languishing“ elderly. Certainly he is exceptionally spirited and self disciplined. But luck and good genes play also a role, as well as financial wealth and a profession that lends itself like no other to being active until the highest age. Had he chosen the career of a horn player, forced retirement at least 25 years ago would have been the case.

  • E P says:

    His recent Brahms for Pentatone is the modern reference version for me, amazing what he still can do! We need him for 95 more years.

  • Herbie G says:

    Yes! Here’s to Blomstedt, Alfven, Berwald and Peterson-Berger – all masters. And may I add Stenhammar to the roll of honour? As a teenager in the previous millennium, in my local record shop, I saw a LP of his Serenade for Orchestra, with Kubelik conducting the Stockholm Philharmonic. I’d never heard of Stenhammar but his dates (1871 – 1927) and the fact that it was in a key (F major) suggested that it wasn’t likely to be the rebarbative scribblings of an avant-garde iconoclast; being at bargain price, I took a chance and shelled out a good proportion of my pocket-money. From the moment the needle descended on the groove, I was hooked for life. I couldn’t understand how his Nordic contemporaries, Sibelius and Nielsen, have so completely overshadowed him.

    There’s another mystery that someone might be able to explain. Heliodor LPs were DGG bargain-price reissues, – first as mono originals but later, with the silver band at the top, mono but dreadfully re-cast as ‘electronic stereo’. These included the phenomenal Markevitch recordings of Berwald’s ‘Singuliere’ and E flat symphonies.

    Surprisingly this undated Stenhammar serenade recording is in genuine stereo and not, as far as I know, a re-issue; I have never seen a full-price version. I am therefore surprised that DGG would make a recording of such a prestigious conductor and orchestra and not release it initially as a full-price issue. The recording sounds fine to me – no technical or musical flaws. Could it have been released as a full-price issue in Sweden only, and could it be that DGG decided that it would be of little interest anywhere else, at least at full price?

    • Shalom Rackovsky says:

      The Stenhammar Serenade and the Berwald symphonies are absolute masterpieces, in my opinion. [I emphasize, as always when evaluating compositions, performers or performances, that your mileage may differ. This is an entirely subjective area of human discourse.] I believe that they should be far more widely known.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Thank you for this information.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      That is one of the best ever works, performance and recording: Stockholm/Kubelik. The magic of first hearing it at the age of about fourteen, has never left me. It’s an amazing one-off (in my opinion), as other recordings don’t bring out that exceptional atmosfere, even tho well played.

      I’d have to disagree about Sibelius and Nielsen; their range is far greater, but my love for the Serenade remains deep and personal.

  • Gustav says:

    He’s currently recording a Berwald cycle with the Gewandhaus.

  • Igor Tomaszewski says:

    I was present at the concert with some friends and our conclusion was that Blomstedts grand gesture to Berwald must have been for the sake of completion (of his ongoing recorded cycle), because the world would not have missed much if this well crafted but ultimately tame music had remained unreconstructed.

    After the concert I exchanged a few words with Maestro Blomstedt and praised especially his way with the Adagio (which indeed was pretty and solemn) to which he added; “And the finale is so effective in it’s own way – right?” to which I felt an urge to answer him;
    “Yes effective despite its thematic shallowness” to which I had a feeling that Blomstedt reluctantly would have agreed.