“Uncomparable to anyone”, “someone who brought depth to his performances” and “a visionary”, The music world praises the conductor Bernard Haitink, who died yesterday, one of the greatest conductors the Netherlands has ever had.
Haitink (92) became known as conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, but started his career in 1954 with the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. “He was a special man. A man you will never forget once you have met him,” Roland Kieft, director of the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, told the broadcaster. NOS Radio 1 News.
“He walked into the studio, nodded kindly to everyone and whispered ‘so many memories,'” Kieft recalls one of his encounters with him. “It was a very emotional man.”
“Outside the box (the stage on which a conductor takes a seat, ed.) He was uncertain,” says NPO Radio 4 presenter Hans Haffmans. He interviewed the conductor several times and knew him well. “But on the box, he sublimated his intrinsic insecurity. He turned it into great deeds.”
Haitink often conducted pieces by the composers Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. He especially liked it because their music represented the conductor’s personality, Kieft believes. “With Mahler’s music it is the despair, but also the redemption that lies in it. With Bruckner it is in the visionary of the music, Haitink also had that in him.”
A look back at Haitink’s career:
Both Haffmans and Kieft reflect on the successes Haitink had with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He led it as chief conductor between 1961 and 1988. But they also emphasize the difficult time he sometimes had there and the struggle he had with the management.
Kieft: “He was in his early thirties when he got there, maybe he was even a little bit naive. He didn’t quite know how to adopt an attitude as chief conductor. He has suffered the necessary scars there and they are never fully healed.”
Haffmans: “He really had to conquer the orchestra. The orchestra said about him: ‘he doesn’t know anything yet, but he is a real conductor’. They really let themselves be won by him, and that bond has become very warm.”
Violinist Henk Rubingh experienced Haitink for a long time with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. “You could say that his simplicity allowed him to come up with the most beautiful and profound interpretations. You have conductors who are incredibly sweating, but he understood – perhaps also because he got older – the art of working with very calm and minute gestures to get what he wanted. The orchestra hung from his baton.”
It was often said about Haitink that he could be difficult, Kieft also acknowledges. “He called himself a difficult patient, he also knew that about himself. He was sometimes easy to unbalance. But he was not really seen that way by the musicians.”
Rubingh: “What typified him was that he gave us as much confidence as possible. People felt very supported and appreciated.”
According to Kieft, he could be especially difficult for the people around the orchestra, such as the Concertgebouw management. He once had a fight with the then orchestra director Piet Heuwekemeijer, who wanted the Concertgebouw Orchestra to also play chamber music in smaller compositions. Haitink disagreed. He eventually drew the longest straw and Heuwekemeijer resigned.
In a short response on Twitter, the Concertgebouw says it is mourning their “beloved conductor”. “He was one of the chefs who remained with us for a very long period. And during that period he was able to leave a huge mark on our orchestra,” says director David Bazen. “He has been instrumental to our playing culture and the development of our repertoire.”
Bazen also praises Haitink’s bond with the audience. He says that in the coming days it will be looked at how appropriate attention can be given to the death. In any case, there will be a concert in his honor.
After his successful time with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Haitink was a conductor in London and Chicago, among other places. Later in life, he temporarily returned to the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “His last concerts with the orchestra in 2018, just before his 90th birthday, had an amazing depth and beauty that he showed so often during his performances,” explains. director Jeff Alexander.
The Royal Opera House in London, where Haitink worked between 1987 and 2002, calls him “a real gentleman”. “His exceptional musicianship, calm authority and deep care and respect for his fellow artists inspired more than words can express.”
King Willem-Alexander also commemorates the conductor. “We remember Bernard Haitink with admiration and gratitude. His drive and musical finesse are unforgettable. As conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and many other orchestras, he exposed the souls of Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven and many other composers.”
Prime Minister – and classical music lover – Mark Rutte was also moved by the death of the conductor. He calls him “a special man who did not need grandiose movements to sovereignly lead many an orchestra to great heights”.