Obituary: Legendary Conductor Bernard Haitink Dies at 92

By Francisco Salazar

On Oct. 21, 2021, conductor Bernard Haitink died at the age of 92.

The conductor died peacefully at home with his wife and family.

Born in Amsterdam, Haitink was the son of Willem Haitink, a civil servant who was to become director of the Amsterdam electricity board, and Anna Clara Verschaffelt, who worked for Alliance Française.

He went on to study violin and conducting, with Felix Hupka at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and later took conducting courses under Ferdinand Leitner from 1954 to 1955.

In 1954 he made his conducting debut with the Netherlands Radio Union Orchestra and became the second conductor of the orchestra in 1955. In 1957 became the chief conductor of the orchestra and in 1956 he made his debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, substituting for Carlo Maria Giulini. In 1959 he was named the first conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and became the principal conductor in 1961.

He would begin a long relationship with the orchestra recording many albums for Philips, Decca, and EMI Classics. Haitink remained with the orchestra for 27 years until 1988 and 1999, he was named the honorary conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

The conductor was also an advocate for his musicians and in December 2012, following his advocacy for the RFO in the wake of proposed budget cuts to the orchestra and Dutch music in general, Haitink accepted the title of patron of the RFO.

Haitink was also Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1967 to 1979 and the Music Director at Glyndebourne Opera from 1978 to 1988.

At the Royal Opera House, he was named Music Director from 1987 to 2002. He also held the position of Chief Conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden from 2002 to 2004, when he resigned over disputes with the Staatskapelle’s Intendant, Gerd Uecker, on the orchestra’s choice of successor. Haitink was also the principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1995 to 2004.

With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Haitink held the position of Principal Conductor from 2006 to 2010 and concluded his work with the orchestra with a series of concerts of the complete Beethoven symphonies. 

Throughout his career, Haitink was also invited to conduct the Orchestre National de France, the London Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Théâtre des Champs-Élysée, among others.

Toward the end of his career, Haitink led master classes in conducting for young conductors in Lucerne and in June 2015, the European Union Youth Orchestra announced the appointment of Haitink as its conductor laureate.

His final concerts were held alongside the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and Vienna Philharmonic from 2018 to 2019.

Haitink received many awards throughout his career including Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and Officer of the Order of the Crown, among others. He also won the Grammy Award, Gramophone Award, and Echo Klassik.

Haitink also made over 450 recordings including works by Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Mahler, Shostakovich, and Vaughan Williams. He also recorded the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas, and Wagner’s complete opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. He also published a book “Dirigieren ist ein Rätsel. ”

The conductor is survived by his five children and his wife Patricia Bloomfield.