Bernard Haitink, the renowned Dutch conductor and violinist, has passed away. He was 92.
Haitink served as chief conductor of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from 1961 to 1988. Additionally, he was principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1967-1979), music director of the Glyndebourne Opera (1978-1988), music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from (1987-2002), chief conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden (2002-2004), principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1995-2004), and principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (2006–2010). Over the course of his career, Haitink made over 450 recordings.
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.”
The Chicago Symphony violist, Max Raimi, suggested that the power of Haitink’s conducting came from great economy:
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!”
In July of 1954, Bernard Haitink made his conducting debut with the Netherlands Radio Union Orchestra, the ensemble that later became the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Fittingly, it was with this ensemble that Haitink bid farewell to his native city of Amsterdam in June of 2019. His final concert came a few months later when he led the Vienna Philharmonic at the Lucerne Festival.
Strauss Songs and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony
Below is Haitink’s farewell concert with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. It begins with five songs by Richard Strauss, performed by 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.
Bruckner’s mighty Seventh Symphony occupied the second half of the program (beginning at 26:05). It is 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.
Debussy’s La Mer with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra:
Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, “Haffner” with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra:
- Bernard Haitink’s extensive discography
Featured Image: photograph by Todd Rosenberg Photography