Herbert Thorson Blomstedt is a leading conductor, especially famed for his early twentieth century symphonic repertory. He was born in the United States of Swedish parents who moved back to Sweden in 1929. His mother was a pianist who gave him his first music lessons. He took general education courses at the University of Uppsala and music studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. He went to Paris for conducting lessons with Igor Markevitch, inheriting something of that maestro's brisk, clear presentation of the music. He continued conducting studies with Jean Morel at the Juilliard School in New York and with Leonard Bernstein at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, where in 1953 he won the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize.
His professional conducting debut was the next year with the Stockholm Philharmonic. The same year, he was appointed music director with the Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra, a well-respected Swedish orchestra. In 1955, he took first prize in the Salzburg conducting competition. He remained in his position with Norrköpping through the 1961 season, following that with the post of first conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic (1962-1968) and frequently conducting the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra in Copenhagen. In 1967, he began a long tenure as music director of that orchestra until the end of the season in 1977.
In 1975, Blomstedt was invited by the musicians of the Dresden State Orchestra (Staatskapelle) to become their music director. In that position, he frequently recorded for Western companies as well as the East German state recording company, making especially notable recordings of symphonies of Nielsen and Berwald. During his ten years at the helm, he led the orchestra on well-received international tours.
He was appointed music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1985 and spent ten years in that position. His time there included a period when the orchestra had to be quickly rebuilt after many of its musicians were split off to form the San Francisco Performing Arts Orchestra, which plays for the opera and ballet. This reorganization took place with no appreciable drop in quality and soon the orchestra was recognized as better than ever. Blomstedt made several notable recordings with it on the London label and he remains conductor laureate of the orchestra.
In 1995, he took a two-year term as chief conductor of the NDR Symphony in Hamburg and in 1998 became music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He has guest conducted many of the world's leading orchestras and his recordings have won some of the leading prizes, including the French Grand Prix du Disque and Belgian Caecilia Prize for his San Francisco recording of Nielsen's Fourth and Fifth symphonies and a German Record Critics award for Best Recording of 1995 for Mahler's Symphony No 2. His Grammy Awards include Best Choral Recording for Orff's Carmina Burana and Brahms' German Requiem and Best Classical Engineered Recording for Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra.