Dutch conductor Haitink modest despite stardom

LONDON • 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 last Thursday.

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.

Haitink was born on March 4, 1929, in Amsterdam. His father, Willem Haitink, was a civil servant and his mother, Anna Clara Verschaffelt, worked for the French organisation Alliance Francaise.

The younger Haitink played the violin before learning to conduct, 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 and rose to become its chief conductor in a relationship that lasted more than two decades.

He became the London Philharmonic Orchestra's principal conductor in 1967, a position he held 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.

He led some of the world's greatest orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, 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". He was also a recipient of many awards, including France's Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion.

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."

Haitink was married four times and had five children.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2021, with the headline 'Dutch conductor Haitink modest despite stardom '. Subscribe