Herbert Blomstedt
Herbert Blomstedt | Credit: Martin Lengemann

The news last month of San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen’s decision to depart at the end of the 2024–2025 season still reverberates, but the orchestra’s former leaders are making headlines, too.

The biggest, most significant story is that 96-year-old Herbert Blomstedt, the SF Symphony’s music director from 1985 to 1995 — hospitalized last December after a fall — was back on the podium earlier this month, apparently resuming his amazing, record-breaking career that has defied the challenges of age.

With his usual protection of privacy, Blomstedt announced nothing about his hospital treatment and recovery, so there had been no word since December — until Blomstedt returned to work conducting one of his favorite orchestras, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, on April 4, 5, and 7 in a program of Franz Schubert’s Symphonies No. 2 and 4 and Franz Berwald’s Elfenspiel.

Having canceled several concerts during his recovery, Blomstedt is scheduled to conduct the Philharmonie de Paris later this month and has performances scheduled all the way through a year from now, when he is due to lead a symphonic concert in Dresden’s Semperoper at the age of 97.

Edo de Waart
Edo de Waart | Credit: Jesse Willems

Also in the news is the announcement last week from Edo de Waart, 82, SF Symphony music director from 1977 to 1985, that he is retiring from conducting. His career began as an oboist with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra before he won the Dimitri Mitropoulos Conducting Competition in New York. He became assistant conductor to Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic and then Bernard Haitink at the Concertgebouw. De Waart started conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in 1967 and was that ensemble’s music director from 1973 to 1979.

After leaving San Francisco, he became music director of the Minnesota Orchestra (1986–1995) and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (1989–2004). In a globe-spanning late career, de Waart was also associated with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Michael Tilson Thomas, 79, SFS music director from 1995 to 2020, is constantly in the news, continuing his stellar conducting career even after being diagnosed three years ago with the brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme, which has a median survival rate of 14.6 months.

And two months ago, Seiji Ozawa, 88, SFS music director from 1970 to 1977, died after fighting major illnesses for over a decade.