When Springfield-born Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt stepped onto the podium at Symphony Hall, he offered himself up as a simple servant of the music he was about to conduct. Standing on a firm foundation of experience, his humble love for the art was evident, and he showed that love by letting the music tell its own story.
Blomstedt’s career spans more than 60 years, and he maintains a very active touring schedule, including a scheduled stop at Tanglewood this summer, shortly after his 91st birthday. Thursday evening, he joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra for a triptych of later Mozart symphonies: Nos. 34, 36, “Linz,” and 41, “Jupiter,” all in the cheery key of C. (The latter two received their American premieres in Boston.)
On the stand in front of Blomstedt rested score books, which he never opened; he is known to conduct from memory frequently. Unlike his former Tanglewood teacher Leonard Bernstein, or so many modern maestros, he eschewed sweeping gestures. His conducting language was economical, made up of clean phrases, graceful accents, and harmonic clarity. With the violins flanking the podium and the basses behind the first violins, the balance of sound hovered at an ideal equilibrium. The music’s bones and sinews were laid bare, and with that, a precious sense of peace seemed to halo around the orchestra.
These symphonies’ orchestrations are compact in size, and for this concert, the BSO’s top-flight musicians were out in force to reflect Blomstedt’s direction with elegance. When the tempo was brisk, as in the opening movement of Symphony No. 36, the inner sense of calm never faltered, because nothing felt pushed. It was reverent without being bland. Sometimes that effect was detrimental; solos tended to announce themselves a little too quietly, bordering on timid. But more often, it was refreshing. The final movement of No. 36 simmered with urgency and tenacity, all the more noticeable because nothing like it had been heard thus far in the evening.
The gear shifted slightly after intermission. A cool vitality coursed through Symphony No. 41, propelling the stirring first movement, guiding the beautiful contours of the second, and driving a definitely danceable minuet. The complex contrapuntal warp and weft of the finale were astounding in their transparency.
Afterward, Blomstedt eased himself down from the podium, shaking the hand of each front row musician. One felt that had he the time, he would have shaken every hand on stage. Coming back out, he joined in the applause, taking the small black book from the music stand and slapping it against his hand: the most action his scores saw all night.
BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
At Symphony Hall, Thursday. Repeats Saturday with Blomstedt, and Tuesday with Moritz Gnann, conducting.Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.