DHerbert Blomstedt’s appearances are becoming rarer. After two falls during rehearsals, the conductor had to cancel a performance with the Berlin Staatskapelle in June, as well as concerts with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, his last position as chief conductor. They were planned to celebrate Blomstedt’s ninety-fifth birthday.
A man has now appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker who uses a walker to the door onto the stage and is led from there to the conductor’s podium by concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley. Blomstedt comes onto the podium together with the orchestra musicians, he listens to the tuning of the instruments while sitting on a chair, the conductor had climbed the platform on which the chair is standing by swinging.
This is also how the departure from the stage takes place: everyone leaves together, no special applause for the conductor, who apparently wants to spare the audience the unreasonable demand for long ascents and exits – and probably also the display of his physical ailments. Even the great applause right after the last note doesn’t help: soon the podium is empty again. Accepting applause can be more tiring than making music.
While Blomstedt may now find it difficult to walk, little has changed in terms of mobility of the upper body. Sitting on his chair, as always, he sets the music in bright vibrations, likes to form his hands into shovels, now and then pointing with his index finger to a group of instruments and to the passage that it has to play.
In addition, there is now (sitting on the chair makes it possible) the lifting of the feet in particularly energetic places. A lift, so to speak. For example in the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s seventh symphony, which he takes at a youthfully rapid pace. Franz Schubert’s third symphony came to an end no less rapidly in the high-spirited tarantella dance, which he drives on with tight, precise movements.
Attentive, mindful orchestra
The fact that the tempos become slower as a conductor grows older: Blomstedt’s performance does not confirm this observation. But there is an increase in the attention and attentiveness of the orchestra musicians, who claim the infirmities of an old man.
Blomstedt is a long way from the extreme example of Kurt Masur, who conducted in a wheelchair, and yet the attentiveness that his presence demands turns a work that is often underestimated into a gem. At the age of eighteen, Schubert composed his third symphony within a few days for an amateur ensemble, in which he played the violist himself.
It can hardly be said that the event had an impact on the demands placed on the participants. At the latest, the wildly whirling final movement calls for technically experienced musicians. Nevertheless, the piece is still played more by school orchestras than by the large professional orchestras. Brahms did not want to edit the work for the first Schubert complete edition at Breitkopf & Härtel, but what an enchanting luminosity the symphony develops in Blomstedt’s hands!
Clarity prevails right from the start: the opening tutti chord begins with mild emphasis, the ascending scales in the strings fizzle out like little clouds in the blue sky. And then the hour of the woodwinds comes, sounding like birdsong: Kilian Herold as a guest from the SWR Symphony Orchestra with a forest-dark clarinet tone and a rousing mood to play, Herman van Kogelenberg on the solo flute, also as a guest from the Munich Philharmonic, and finally the oboist Albrecht Mayer , who plays the first movement’s bouncy secondary theme with ravishing ease.
The orchestra doesn’t seem to have rushed over this program (the solo horn also had to help out), whoever isn’t there is missing out on a great moment of chamber music playing in a symphonic combination. In Blomstedt’s work, the simplicity of the Allegretto (there is no slow movement in the true sense of the word) has nothing of the naïve touch, but breathes classical beauty. The dance floor tone of the middle section appears as an expression of a pleasant joie de vivre and remains free of illustrative exaggeration. The small cast (only eight first violins) makes a decisive contribution to the clarity of the sound. It subsides when the podium fills up for Beethoven’s seventh symphony. A life-oriented, this-worldly piece, too.
Blomstedt enjoys the richness of the sound, once again proving himself to be a conductor of the orchestral cantabile and the pressureless legato and, with a blue and yellow ribbon on his lapel, conveys a decisive message in tense times: that of believing in the true, beautiful and good.