Herbert Blomstedt

Herbert Blomstedt awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2016

The Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of €100,000 during a concert at the DR Concert Hall on Thursday 7 April. The concert was broadcast live on the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s P2 radio channel, live streamed via its website and later broadcast on the DRK television channel, on 17 April and 8 May.


Beethoven Symphony No 8

Mahler Symphony No 1


Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Hebert Blomstedt, conductor


Steen Frederiksen, a member of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s board, presented the prize and gave a personal speech that included the following testimonial

‘The 2016 Léonie Sonning Music Prize of €100,000 is awarded to Herbert Blomstedt in recognition of a life’s work in service of the orchestral repertoire. As one of the world’s great conductors, Blomstedt has fought with humanity for the inner, lasting values of music so that we may, in his own words, sense its substance, simplicity, transparency and harmony.’

The day after the prize concert, a master-class for young Nordic conductors was held at the DR Concert Hall with Blomstedt and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. Magnus Fryklund conducted Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, Christian Øland conducted the first movement of Sibelius’s Symphony No 2 and Håkon Nystedt conducted the last movement of Brahms’s Symphony No 4.

To mark the awarding of the prize, a DVD was released on which Blomstedt and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra play Schubert’s Symphony No 8, Unfinished, and Bruckner’s Symphony No 7, at a concert at Roskilde Cathedral in 2007. The DVD also includes an 80-minute interview with Blomstedt.


herbert blomstedt in denmark

Blomstedt first conducted the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in 1955, and was the ensemble’s chief conductor from 1967-77. He recorded the complete symphonies and concertos of Carl Nielsen with the orchestra for EMI. Carl Nielsen’s music holds a particular meaning for Blomstedt, and in the 1980s he made a second recording of the composer’s symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony for the Decca label, recordings which have since achieved the status of benchmarks. Blomstedt has also supported Nielsen-themed research, and in 2002 donated his fee for a concert with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra to support the publication of the composer’s letters in book form.

The daily press wrote the following about the prize concert at the DR Concert House

It is unbelievable how, again and again, this conductor makes the great symphonic works fall into place as if my magic. The music grew organically, without any hint of the self-referential gusto into which Mahler can lead some conductors. The approach worked. Everyone from the orchestra’s distinguished principal oboe to the clarinets and the horn section to percussion and strings were bound by the same vision, where a rural Austrian waltz, fanfares, veiled grief and sharp phrasing lead to comfort and victory. With an air of aristocracy and minimal movement of his old hands, Blomstedt opened up the universe of the first movement. But those hands were also full of dynamism, capable of conjuring explosive freshness. Most of all, there was human warmth the sort of which only Blomstedt can find: conquer the music from within, so that the listener misses nothing but feels everything fall into place.

(Thomas Michelsen, Politiken, 9 April 2016)

In a way, Blomstedt’s technique has become more graceful over the years. He doesn’t strike out with big blows anymore, controlling all with small gestures.  But he still takes full responsibility, as when everyone in the orchestra has to hold on at the same time. The musicians see a left arm put straight into the air, with no hint of insecurity or hesitation – and therefore deeply reassuring for all. Blomstedt has never been particularly demonstrative on the podium. This stately conductor is a stranger to unnecessary display. His manner off the podium therefore makes an even bigger impression, like when he steps down and shakes hands with virtually everyone around him. Or when he gives a speech of thanks as he did on Thursday night. The devout Seventh-Day Adventist revealed himself as both modest and humorous. Even a packed concert hall including the Prince Consort could barely lure him back to accept the last ovations. But it was the orchestra that really deserved them. And the strongest moment in his speech was a good ten seconds of world-slowing and all-consuming silence. Herbert Blomstedt can distinguish between the unimportant and the important, and can really cut to the bone. Life is the world’s best teacher.

(Søren Schauser, Berlingske Tidende, 9 April 2016)

Photos from the concert

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