The 2023 U.S. tour of the world-renowned and beloved conductor Herbert Blomstedt, who celebrated his 95th birthday in 2022, was coming to an end. The tour had included five weeks of rehearsals and concerts with several first-class orchestras and various programs in U.S. metropolises such as New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
Now, starting March 6, the final week would include three concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at their home base, Chicago Symphony Hall — evening events on March 9 and March 11, and an afternoon concert on March 12. Leading out were two Seventh-day Adventists, Herbert Blomstedt and Andrei Ioniţă, together on the stage of a top orchestra.
“This is Adventist history!” Blomstedt said enthusiastically.
The Language of Music
For Blomstedt, with whom I have had the privilege of being a friend for a long time, the cheers of the audience are not the decisive value for the conductor and not the ultimate driving force of his now almost 70 years of work on the conductor’s podium.
He sees himself in the service of a mission, namely the “Music Mission.” Blomstedt does not understand this in a functional, superficial way. Music for him is not a means to some hidden end or goal. Music is the unique form of a special human possibility of expression, which God, as the Creator of the world and humanity, has opened up to us.
Music is similar to the “proclamation with words of faith,” but it is not the same thing. Understood in this way, music is neither a complement nor a competitor to the proclamation with words, but a “language” of its own, which touches people deep inside. Music speaks to us toward life and possibly God, even “without words” (cf. Ps. 19:1-5).
A Musician and a Believer
It is not surprising that Blomstedt is a Christian believer. Coming from a Seventh-day Adventist pastor’s family, he has been a committed Adventist all his life. He is a seeker, who has found within faith that which serves humanity and life at the deepest level, what gives fullness of meaning and hope.
Blomstedt lives his Adventist faith in permanent curiosity and openness, as a person who remains mentally and spiritually on the search — in the field of religion as well as in the sphere of music. As a seeker, he is interested in images and symbols of “God and the world.” He wants to track them down, understand, and interpret them. For himself, he does this in the Bible; for his audience, he does this in the scores of the great composers of all times, from the Baroque to the modern.
Living His Faith
In this respect, being an Adventist is the inner foundation of his musical vocation; this vocation is service for man, service in favor of life, as Johann Sebastian Bach formulated: “Soli Deo Gloria” — glory to God alone.
Blomstedt says he is grateful for the fact that this has become possible in the top echelon of the conducting elite and with the world’s best orchestras — even if this is also due to his will, his diligence, his musical expertise, and his particularly appreciated way of dealing with orchestral musicians. Blomstedt does not flaunt his Adventism, but he lives the faith, as he openly admits in all interviews where he is asked about it.
And so, he likes to encourage young Adventist musicians to set their professional goals broadly, to persevere in their journey, and to do so with the values of faith, hope, love, and, thus, philanthropy. In this regard, he was very committed and extremely pleased that a year ago, he suggested Andrei Ioniţă, a young soloist, for the performance of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in Chicago, and Ioniţă was chosen. Like Blomstedt, he is a Seventh-day Adventist.
Remarkable Age Difference
The joint performances of the two Adventist musicians were remarkable for several reasons. Ioniţă was making his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut. Blomstedt, on the other hand, has made regular podium appearances with the orchestra since 1988.
Also, as critics pointed out, it is impossible not to mention their striking age difference, where “the young meets the old,” as the Chicago Tribune put it.
Blomstedt is now in his 96th year. Ioniţă, someone I know from personal and musical encounters since he began studying at Berlin University of the Arts in 2012, is now 29. After winning major competitions, including the gold medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2015, he is considered one of the greatest cello artists of his generation.
With 66 years between the two, the age range could hardly be bigger. In their performances, the “old” and “young” meet to do something together that requires the highest skill, the most intensive preparation, and the greatest commitment in equal measure: classical music in live performances with a world-class orchestra.
“It’s just a number!” Blomstedt said, speaking of his age. And despite this astonishing fact, the performances worked without a hitch and convincingly, according to the public and critics present.
It is a model we could use as an incentive — the young and the old — committed to a project that is greater than themselves.
In the case of the Chicago performances of Blomstedt and Ioniţă, it worked very well.
Klaus Schmitz is a retired pastor and active chaplain at Waldfriede Adventist Hospital in Berlin, and an avid listener of Chicago concerts.