Revered Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink dies aged 92

Haitink was revered for his readings of Beethoven, Mahler and Bruckner in a career spanning more than 60 years.
Haitink was revered for his readings of Beethoven, Mahler and Bruckner in a career spanning more than 60 years.PHOTO: NYTNS

LONDON (AFP, NYTIMES) - Bernard Haitink, widely considered one of the greatest conductors of his generation, has died in London at the age of 92, his management agency said.

The Dutch maestro, revered for his readings of Beethoven, Mahler and Bruckner in a career spanning more than 60 years, died at home in the presence of his family, the United Kingdom-based agency Askonas Holt said in a statement late on Thursday (Oct 21).

Haitink was known for his modesty despite his stardom, and a light touch as a conductor who did not overshadow the orchestras he directed. He was "not one of the glamour boys on the podium", Harold Schonberg, chief classical music critic for The New York Times, wrote in 1975 after Haitink's debut with the New York Philharmonic.

Bernard Haitink was born on March 4, 1929, into a well-off family in Amsterdam. His father, Willem Haitink, was a civil servant, and his mother, Anna Clara Verschaffelt, worked for the French cultural organization Alliance Française.

The younger Haitink played the violin before learning to conduct in the city, making his debut with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in 1954.

In 1956, he took the podium with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for the first time before rising to become its chief conductor in a relationship that would last more than two decades.

Haitink became the London Philharmonic Orchestra's principal conductor in 1967, a position he would hold for more than a decade.

He also had a long relationship with Britain's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where he served as musical director from 1987 to 2002.

As one of the most distinguished conductors in classical music, he led some of the world's greatest orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic.

Askonas Holt said Haitink made more than 450 recordings and was a "passionate mentor for future generations of conductors, generously offering his time to teaching and masterclasses".

Bernard Haitink conducts the Boston Symphony at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts on July 9, 2006. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Among many awards bestowed upon him in an illustrious career, he was a recipient of France's Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and was named Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion.

Haitink was married four times and had five children from his first marriage.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima paid tribute to Haitink "with admiration and gratitude" in a statement.

"As conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw orchestra and many other orchestras, he exposed the soul of Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven and many other composers. We sympathise with his wife and family during this sad time."