Bernard Haitink, one of the world’s most esteemed maestros, conducted his final concert at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw on Saturday.
In January, it was announced that the 90-year-old Dutch conductor would take a sabbatical. In a recent interview with de Volkskrant, Haitink suggested that this would most likely be retirement.
Haitink became chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1961, a position he held for 27 years. Additionally, he served as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1967-1979), the Glyndebourne Festival Opera (1978-1988), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1987-2002), the Staatskapelle Dresden (2002-2004), and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (2006-2010). When the Chicago Symphony offered him the position of music director he declined, citing his age, saying, “every conductor, including myself, has a sell-by date.” Instead, he described his role as that of a “caretaker.”
Haitink’s 65-year-long career is closing where it began in July, 1954—with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and a program featuring Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. On September, 6 he will conduct his final concert at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland.
Norman Lebrecht published a recollection by Chicago Symphony violist, Max Raimi. Here is an excerpt:
Because his technique was so unfussy and drew so little attention to itself, it was almost universally underestimated. With a minimum of motion, he could give you every single particle of information you needed. I always could play with confidence and freedom under his baton. I read once that he admonished student conductors, saying “Don’t distract the musicians–they are very busy!”
Here is NPO Radio 4’s recorded broadcast of Saturday’s concert. The program begins with five songs by Richard Strauss, featuring the Swedish soprano, Camilla Tilling.
Das Rosenband (“The Rose-Colored Ribbon”) is the first of Strauss’ 1897 4 Lieder, Op. 36. This is followed by Ich wollt ein Sträußlein binden (“I Would Have Made a Bouquet”) and Säusle, liebe Myrte! (“Whisper, dear Myrtle”) from the 1918 Sechs Lieder, Op. 68. Next comes Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland (“The Three Holy Kings”) from the 6 Lieder, Op. 56 from 1906. Concluding the set is the celestial Morgen! (“Tomorrow!”) from the 4 Lieder, Op. 27, which Strauss wrote in May, 1894 as a wedding present for his wife, Pauline.
Strauss’ songs seem to pause and look back with a lamenting nostalgia, as if trying to hold onto something fleeting and ephemeral. Amid these shimmering orchestral colors, the shifting sands of chromatic harmony, and moments of static timelessness, there is a sense of the door closing on Romanticism and the world of nature.
All of this aching beauty provides the perfect introduction for the second half of the program, Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E Major (beginning at 26:05). In a previous post, I offered a few thoughts on this majestic, mystical and sometimes terrifying piece. It’s music which unfolds gradually and inevitably, giving us a sense of solemn wonder at every moment. As the commentator Robert Simpson has pointed out, the first movement’s opening is only “delicately poised on E major” and this home key’s “reinstatement” emerges slowly over the course of the movement—a structure which gives us a sense of the unique symphonic experience this music offers. Richard Atkinson provides an excellent analysis of the haunting pedal point in the final moments of the first movement.
Five Great Haitink Recordings
- Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro k. 492, Glyndebourne Festival, 1999
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major Op. 92, Concertgebouw Orchestra (1985)
- Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (2017)
- Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie Op.64, Concertgebouw Orchestra (1985)
- Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5, Concertgebouw Orchestra