Artist Profile: Bernard Haitink

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The renowned Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink (1929-2021) had a long and impressive career, including an extensive discography spanning over 60 years. As early as 1956 he made his first appearance with the prestigious Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest in Amsterdam, beginning a collaboration that in many ways became the essence of the conductor’s successful career. In 1959 he was appointed Principal Conductor of the orchestra, a post he shared with Eugen Jochum until 1963, before Haitink took over as Principal Conductor in his own right.

Together, Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, as it is known throughout the world, forged a unique collaboration over more than six decades, extensively documented on labels such as Philips and Decca during the golden age of vinyl, and later on CD. It was a combination that was ideal in many ways: the meticulous Haitink, with his flair for creating musically complete interpretations, and one of the most demanding orchestras in the world.

In 1988, Haitink stepped down as Principal Conductor to concentrate on his international career, although he returned to the Concertgebouw Orchestra as honorary conductor. London became Haitink’s new artistic home, a musical metropolis where he was already established after his time as Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra between 1967 and 1979 and of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival between 1978 and 1988. The next step in his career over the next 15 years was therefore the post of Music Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

He went on to lead two of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, the Staatskapelle Dresden (2002-2004) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (2006-2010). Throughout his long career, he has also worked closely with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic.

What distinguishes Bernard Haitink as a conductor is the seriousness and thoroughness with which he approaches music. He had an instinctive feel for the structure of a work. As a result, he has always been a guarantee of quality and thorough productions, whether in the concert hall, the opera house or the recording studio.

Few artists in the world of classical music have made as many high-quality recordings as Haitink. His strength as a conductor has always been the German-Austrian Romantic repertoire of composers such as Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, Mahler and Strauss, music he has often performed with depth and sincerity. His love of French and Russian music is also a recurring theme; the refined, mysterious sounds of Debussy and Ravel suited him perfectly. He interpreted the Symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich with epic grandeur, though perhaps not as passionately and idiomatically as some Russian conductors.

Haitink has never been a man of great emotion; in interviews he has often given the impression of being rather reserved and cautious about what he feels and thinks about music. He has usually avoided talking about the Symphonies of Gustav Mahler, which have been a “leitmotif” of his life, but what does that matter when he has repeatedly and magnificently interpreted them in such a memorable way, with his own typical mixture of seriousness and intensity.

Notable Recordings

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