Just in: Bernard Haitink says he won’t conduct Concertgebouw again

The veteran conductor, 85 today, has used his birthday to launch a fresh attack on the orchestra he led for close to three decades.

He tells the Dutch newspaper Het Parool that he has been ‘almost humiliated’ by the present management and ‘totally ignored’ during the orch’s 125th anniversary year. He singles out Jan Raes, CEO, and Joel Fried, artistic director, for particular criticism, saying they had ‘no contact’ with him and a lack of ‘interest in the (orchestra’s) tradition’. He wants to hand back the honorary title they gave him.

Apparently nothing has been done to mark the 60th anniversary this year of his debut with the orchestra. Read on here (in Dutch).

Down the years, Haitink has been frequently at odds with his national orchestra.

UPDATE: Here’s the orch’s response.

Haitink_LFO0046P-lowres

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  • What a shame! Great conductor and a great orchestra, wouldn’t it be good if even today of all days some one could make some phone calls and patch this up. I sang for over nine years with the Dutch Radio Choir and that involved working with both Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and what an absolute pleasure with both. Perhaps a King or former Queen could help?

  • This makes me very sad.

    When he comes to The Boston Symphony, the love-fest on stage is thick in the hall.

    We, the audience , love him, and the music made, the art made, with my orchestra is incredible.

    Through all the years I have been attending concerts, many concerts, he has taught me so much about music. Yes, even music I thought I would never ever want to hear again, because of over use during radio programs.

    I don’t know what happened with the Concertgebouw, but in Boston most of us always felt he should have been our permanent music director, all those years ago.

    I have to admit, he an Colin Davis were our choices after Steinberg.

    Now, even though I live so far away, I make sure I attend his concerts with the Boston Symphony. How could I not?

    Very sad.

  • As much as I like Haitink’s music making, I cannot fail to notice that he is very keen in conflicts with the management of the orchestras he conducts, as if they were his own. He did the same when the management had chosen Chailly as his successor instead of his protege (I think de Waart); he also then denied to conduct the orchestra for a period and infamously never ever, literally, talked to Chailly during the latter’s 18-year tenure there. However, he was very happy for his friend Mariss. When he was so happy conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden for some years in the late 90s early 00s, he again stood up against Luisi’s appointment there and threatened them with an ultimatum from Japan while on Tour that he would never ever conduct them again if they did so; apparently they did and he never returned. I mean, such behavior is over-the-top for such matters and do not concern him (different case than Vanska and MSO). Of course somebody will say that what they do now to him for these anniversaries is not polite, even ethical. I agree but some reason must exist… I cannot buy they forgot him…

    • Could be, but he is a great conductor, has done a lot for the Concertgebouw, and deserves more respect that this.

  • Good for Haitink. Bravo. His Phillips recording of the Brahms symphonies with the Boston Symphony Orchestra is a treasure.

  • One small correction in an otherwise very accurate rendition of the Dutch article: Haitink’s 60-year debut anniversary with the orchestra is not this year, but will be in 2016.

    • Correct, PJ. Bernard Haitink’s first major engagement, 60 years ago, was with what was then the Dutch Radio Union (NRU) Orchestra, now known as the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Mr Haitink has been a strong supporter and defender of this institution in the face of large government budget cuts and attempts at “consolidation.”

  • Although it saddens me that Maestro Haitink has once again split up with the RCO, I cannot help but thinking “ah, there we go again”. Rest assured that I think Mr. Haitink is the greatest Dutch conductor of the second half of the 20th century. Reading his biographies however, one learns that he is a very complex person who has fought with virtually every management he has worked with. The last chapters of his biography “Sound as handwriting” by Emiloe Wennekes and Jan Bank, are largely devoted to the bitter conflicts and the ungracious parting with the RCO in the 1980’s. A book that Haitink helped writing but just before the publishing date tried to ban. We’ll never know what happened this time, but we should not condemn the RCO’s management too eagerly. We only have word of mouth as our source. And I also expect the orchestra and their honorary conductor to make peace. Again. We know that their musical love is mutual, unconditional and deep. They are doomed to be perfect partners, so to say!

  • Sad news from Amsterdam, for sure. As Dutch expat now living in San Francisco, reading this news brings back many memories of attending concerts under Haitink in Amsterdam as a teenage kid in the late 1960s through the late 1970s, until I moved to Germany to study (witnessing Haitink in Munich and Berlin – the other Big Memory from Amsterdam: Kondrashin). When Haitink left in 1988, the Dutch magazine “Elsevier” had his picture on the cover, with the line “Te groot voor Nederland” – “too big for The Netherlands”. I remember not very flattering remarks by the then critic Hans Heg of the Volkskrant about Haitink’s recording series of Shostakovich symphonies with both the CO and London Philharmonic. Haitink took off on a huge international career at that time, far beyond the confines of his native land, and, so it seemed, this was not received well by everyone in the “Petit Royaume Sur Mer”, the “Litle Kingdom by the Sea”, as a current sharp tongued columnist likes to call the country. At any rate, looking at the current situation from afar, I think that both Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra management bear responsibility (to which extent, I cannot say – probably no one can). The relationship between the two has never been an easy one, and, I suspect, the latest spat reveals the presence of a long and difficult history (not to mention the personalities of the actors involved during that history). What is beyond dispute is, in my opinion, that the art of great music making suffers – again. There are no “winners” here. This latest conflict does not shine a good light on Amsterdam, in spite of the great history written by the Concertgebouw Orchestra, including, but not exclusively, during the tenure of Bernard Haitink as its music director. Who knows, maybe Haitink will swallow his outburst and return to the Concertgebouw Orchestra. That said, there are other top orchestras with which he works in a mutually rewarding relationship (Boston, Chicago, Berlin, to name three), and those orchestras and their audiences may well be the remaining ones who will witness the artistry of this great conductor during the time he will still be among the living. It would be Amsterdam’s painful loss if this circumstance would continue as the (unresolved) status quo. Sad indeed.

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