The rival that Haitink eclipsed

A new biography of the Dutch conductor Anton Kersjes suggests that he was running neck and neck with Bernard Haitink for public acclaim at the Concertgebouw in the 1960s.

Kersjes (1923-2004) founded his own orchestra, the Kunstmaandorckest, later known as the Amsterdam Philharmonic. He said of Haitink: ‘He stimulates me to work harder.’ He invested heavily on Dutch talent through a fund established with his wife, Margaret, who inherited a cocoa fortune.

It may be that great wealth took the edge of Kersjes’s ambition. He conducted less as he grew older and lost his fame.

Bernard Haitink, still conducting, will turn 90 next week.

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  • I have fond memories of this conductor. He conducted the standard repertoire, but also Bach, a great Dutch tradition.

  • I used to hear Anton Kersjes as a child, oh, at least two, three times a month, as he started his career as the conductor of the Tuschinsky Theatre Orchestra in Amstwerdam. This was a band that used to play a light music programme before the main cinematic feature. Kersjes’ talent and ambition to bring good music to the masses as they sat, captive audiences, waiting for the Marx Brothers, Fritz Lang or Cecil B deMille did advance him to the real concert hall. He was a gifted musician, but I never saw him as a serious rival to Bernard Haitink.

  • I was a member of the second violin section of the Amsterdam Philharmonic for a year in the 1970s. Maestro Kersjes was a cheerful conductor who loved Bruckner. (It’s so long ago that I can’t remember much else about him.)

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