“How will it be when I stop?” – Bernard Haitink asked himself this question shortly before his 90th birthday. A few months later, one of the world’s most sought-after and renowned conductors officially ended his career. Now the Dutchman Haitink, who has conducted the Vienna Philharmonic more than 100 times since 1972 and was made an honorary member in 2019, has died at the age of 92.
In 1956 the Dutchman stood for the first time in front of the venerable royal orchestra in the Concertgebouw, with which he was closely associated for more than 60 years. He was 27 years old and stepped in at short notice. He was so young that – it is said to this day – a woman in the audience hissed: “What a baby”. After all, the “baby” made such an impression that Haitink was appointed chief conductor of the orchestra just five years later.
“It was hell,” Haitink would later say. The young conductor had to assert himself against an encrusted structure and not very flexible older musicians. After all, he was to be the boss in Amsterdam for almost three decades.
Haitink never wanted to be a superstar at the desk. An orchestra has to be motivated and inspired, was his motto. He’s not a demigod in a tailcoat, and he never looked after a long, white, flowing mane of an artist. Perhaps he can best be described as a star conductor without any airs. “I’m a bit shy,” he once described himself.
His insecurity was almost famous. It was also a working principle. He did not approach a piece as an omniscient, not as someone who has done it all umpteen times. “Conducting shouldn’t be too easy.” Haitink worked on a piece again and again. Even when it came to his favorite composers such as Bruckner, Mahler, Brahms or Shostakovich. He combined intellect and feeling in a very unique way. “You have to think with your heart and feel with your head,” he once told the NRC Handelsblad.
Haitink grew up in Amsterdam with the music of Mahler and Bruckner. He first heard Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony as a child, he recalled. “Perhaps it is abnormal for an eight-year-old to be drawn so much to a long stretch, but it was.” The passion should not leave him.
After leaving Amsterdam in 1988, Haitink directed the Royal Opera in London for 14 years. He was musical director of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, chief conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the Vienna Philharmonic, he was also an honorary member of the Berlin Philharmonic and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. His guest appearances with the world’s leading orchestras were innumerable. (APA / Red)