Michael Tilson Thomas | Courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

Reading about former SF Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas’s busy post-pandemic career prompted a look at “Where Are They Now” for the orchestra’s surviving former music directors. They are:

Seiji Ozawa, 85, 1970–1976 with SF Symphony
Edo de Waart, turned 80 on June 1, 1977–1985
Herbert Blomstedt, 93, 1985–1995
Michael Tilson Thomas, 76, 1995 – 2020

Just for a more complete record in modern times, between Pierre Monteux’s pivotal tenancy (1936–1952) and Josef Krips taking charge (1963–1970), the orchestra was led by an amazing bevy of great guest conductors, including Leopold Stokowski, Georg Solti, Erich Leinsdorf, Karl Münchinger, George Szell, Bruno Walter, Ferenc Fricsay, and William Steinberg.

Seiji Ozawa
Seiji Ozawa in 2015 | Credit: The Associated Press

Seiji Ozawa:

Dealing with a series of serious health problems in recent years, the formerly athletic maestro (often seen playing tennis bare-chested in Golden Gate Park during his tenure here) has had  limited time on the podium. Last February, there was a retrospective of highlights compiled of his tremendous career.

After an extraordinarily long run with the Boston Symphony (1973 – 2002), Ozawa focused his attention on his work as music director of the Vienna State Opera, and frequent guest of the Vienna Philharmonic (which is the orchestra for the State Opera).

Previously guest-conducting all over the world, in recent years, Ozawa stayed in his native Japan, where he established and led the Saito Kinen Festival, which was renamed the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival in his honor in 2015 — the same year when he was a Kennedy Center honoree.

Last year, Decca Classics announced the release of a live recording from 2016–2017, marking Ozawa’s 85th birthday and Beethoven’s 250th, Ozawa leading the Saito Kinen Orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Leonore Overture No. 3.

The Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, canceled in 2020, is now scheduled for August and September, 2021, in Matsumoto City of Nagano Prefecture, conducted by Masaaki Suzuki and Charles Dutoit.

Edo de Waart
Edo De Waart | Credit: Jesse Willems

Edo de Waart:

In the season before the pandemic began, the peripatetic conductor started his new role as principal guest conductor of the San Diego Symphony and concluded his tenure as music director of the New Zealand Symphony, taking up the role of conductor laureate. He continues to hold the positions of conductor laureate of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and music director laureate of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

He will conduct the Chicago Symphony in its return to live concerts on June 10, 11, 12, and 13. De Waart also has several concerts scheduled this fall and winter in the Netherlands — and around the world.

Herbert Blomstedt and Swedish royalty
Sweden’s King and Queen attended Blomstedt’s concert on his 90th birthday in Berwaldhallen Concert Hall; with the conductor is his sister, Marita Perdoletti | Credit: Arne Hyckenberg

Herbert Blomstedt:

Called “the world’s oldest active conductor,” Blomstedt continued a busy international career into his 90s, but the American-born Swedish conductor seems to have cut back on his activities during the pandemic, just as all musicians have, regardless of age.

(As to age, beyond great conductors active in their 80s and even 90s in history, the title of oldest seems to belong to Ed Simons.)

On Feb. 2, 2020, Blomstedt conducted the SF Symphony in Davies Hall, with a program of Berwald’s Symphony No. 1 and Brahms’s Symphony No. 3. The next month, just as the country began to shut down, Blomstedt led the last live concert of the Chicago Symphony, at the end of his six-week tour of the United States.

He caught one of the last flights back to Switzerland and spent the rest of the year in isolation in his home in Lucerne. Some 20 of his scheduled concerts in Europe were canceled; he had been scheduled to conduct 90 concerts in 2020.

“I have used the extra time to study the new scores I am planning to perform next season, and the two seasons after that as well. I study every day as if I had a rehearsal the next morning,” Blomstedt said of his pandemic year. He is ready to resume his hectic schedule.

The conductor laureate of the San Francisco Symphony is also honorary conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, NHK Symphony, Swedish Radio Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and Staatskapelle Dresden.

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