Herbert Blomstedt and the Sabbath

Michael Steinberg 

Herbert Blomstedt's religious faith has been as firm a theme in his life as music - both are matters of inheritance as well as conviction. Yet, though he observes the Sabbath as of sundown Friday, he conducts concerts on Friday nights.

In this apparent contradiction lies his musical Philosophy: "A concert for me is a holy moment. Music, for me, is much more than pleasure or structure or beauty. It is all this, but it is also much more. It is all that is most holy in human kind. It is creativeness. Martin Luther said that next to theology, music is God's greatest gift.

"I remember how a clergyman once said to me after a concert of Sibelius and Beethoven, 'I have not been so close to God for twenty years.' A concert is a time for communication with the orchestra and with the audience, but also with a third force that cannot name, but it is present. For this clergyman it was God; for others it could have another name. That doesn't matter. I myself cannot call it other than The Holy.

"The preparation for this event is hard work, enormous work, intense work. There is not only the rehearsal, there is also my private, quiet study of the score. This is work I may not do on the Sabbath, but to deny my services for a concert would be a complete negation of everything that my life as a musician is about.

"All this I already saw in my father's life. During the week, he did the work of the parish and of the church - visited the sick, studied, prepared his sermon. On the Sabbath he closed his books and left all that, but for sure, he led the service and delivered his sermon!"

E,xcerpted from an article by Michael Steinberg which originally appeared in Symphony Magazine in 1985. It was reprinted with permission of both the author and Symphony Magazine in the Summer 1986 issue of IAMA's Newsletters and in the Spring/Summer 1994 issue of IAMA's Notes. Herbert Blomstedt, a Seventh-day Adventist, was conductor of the San Francisco Symphony from l985 to 1995.