November 16, 2022

Adventist Conductor Awarded the Federal Cross of Merit

Herbert Blomstedt received an important recognition for the second time.

Adventistische Pressedienst, and Adventist Review
[Photo: Paul Yates]

Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt, who turned 95 this year, was awarded the Grand Cross of Merit with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his life’s work on November 10 at the Leipzig Concert Hall.

According to the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk on its TV program MDR-Aktuell, Saxony minister-president Michael Kretschmer presented the award and paid tribute to Blomstedt. “Maestro Blomstedt,” he said, “we are all full of admiration for your vitality and mental elasticity, for your strength without stubbornness.” 

In a message distributed in advance, Kretschmer described Blomstedt as a “bridge builder in the best sense of the word.” He stands for the unifying bridge function of culture in Europe and the whole world, he said. In 2003, Blomstedt received the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Blomstedt said he is delighted to be honored with such an award by a country in which he has lived for a long time and where he was head of two major orchestras, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the Staatskappelle Dresden. Despite a recent fall, which forced him to conduct sitting down, Blomstedt said he felt “as fit as ever.” According to the MDR report, “music is his source of strength.”

An Experienced Conductor

Blomstedt was born on July 11, 1927, in the United States, in the home of an Adventist pastor and his wife. When he was two, the family moved back to their native Sweden. He received his first musical education at the Royal Conservatory in Stockholm and at Uppsala University. Later he studied conducting at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, contemporary music in Darmstadt, Germany, as well as Renaissance and Baroque music at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland. He worked under Igor Markevitch in Salzburg, Austria, and Leonard Bernstein in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, United States.

In February 1954, Blomstedt made his conducting debut with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Later, as chief conductor, he conducted major Scandinavian orchestras such as the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the latter until 1983. From 1975 to 1985 he was chief conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden. For the next ten years he served as music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. From 1996 to 1998 he was chief conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg. From 1998 to 2005 he conducted the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. To this day, he regularly conducts concerts of various major orchestras in the United States, Japan, and Europe. He currently conducts concerts at the Leipzig Concert Hall and, in cooperation with the Staatskapelle, was a guest at the Frauenkirche in Dresden.

Numerous Awards

Herbert Blomstedt is an elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and holds several honorary doctorates. He has remained associated with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, of which he was the 18th Kapellmeister as honorary conductor. He has also received this award of honorary conductor from six other orchestras: the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra; the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Japan; the Danish and Swedish Radio Symphony orchestras; the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; and the Staatskapelle Dresden, which had already honored him with the Golden Badge of Honour in 2007.

In 2013, freelance author Ursula Weigert wrote a biography of Herbert Blomstedt titled Mein Leben – ein großer Gesang (My Life, a Great Song). It is not commercially available, as it was written for Blomstedt’s friends.

His Vitality Is a Gift

In an interview with the New York Times in February 2017, Blomstedt talked about the secret of how he handles such a workload at his age. “It’s a gift,” Blomstedt said. When asked about the seventh-day Sabbath as his day of rest, he explained why he did not rehearse on Saturday (Sabbath) but performed with the orchestras on that day. 

“I thought of my father [who was a pastor]: he prepared his sermon very thoroughly during the week,” Blomstedt said. “On Fridays at sunset, he closed his books and spent time with his family; but on the Sabbath, he preached the sermon. I love rehearsing, working with the orchestra. But on the Sabbath, we don’t practice anymore — we just play what we’ve rehearsed together. And that is a blessing for all of us,” Blomstedt said.

Blomstedt created a prize to honor the memory of his wife, Waltraud, who died in 2003. Since 2008, Friedensau Adventist University near Magdeburg has been awarding the “Waltraud and Herbert Blomstedt Prize.” Friedensau students are honored on the basis of excellent bachelor’s or master’s theses in the fields of theology and Christian social work, or as a result of an outstanding artistic achievement in the field of music.

The original version of this story was posted by Adventistische Pressedienst.