Bernard Haitink: This will be my last concert

The venerable conductor has told the Volkskrant newspaper that he will conduct in Amsterdam for the last time this Saturday and for the last time ever in Lucerne in September.

At the start of the year Haitink, 90, said he was taking a sabbatical. Now, he says, it is his finale.

“Listen,” says Haitink in his London home. “I’m 90. And when I say I’m taking a sabbatical, it’s because I don’t want to say, I’m stopping. I don’t feel like all those official goodbyes, but the fact is that I will no longer conduct. “

The interview will be published in full on Friday.

Haitink first raised a baton with the Netherlands radio orchestra in 1954. He became chief conductor of the Concertgebouw in 1961, of the London Philharmonic in 1967, of Glyndebourne in 1978 and of Covent Garden in 1987.

Other chief conductor posts include the Dresden Staatskapelle (2002-4) and Chicago Symphony (2006-7).

For 65 years he has been the hardest-working and most reliable member of his vocation, unfailingly well-prepared, frequently inspirational. He will be universally missed.

Share your Haitink memories below.

UPDATE: The Haitink highlights reel

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  • Londonpro says:

    The best, in all regards. Many wonderful memories of Bruckner, Strauss – we may not see his like again.

    • The View from America says:

      … and Liszt, too. His Liszt tone poem series on Philips helped raise the profile of that body of work big-time.

    • Tamino says:

      Surely an exceptional conductor and musician. I’m not sure at which point the sportive spirit of winning, competition, taking the lead, seeped into the arts in general and classical music in particular, making people’s minds spout funny little opinionated statements about ‘best’ and ‘winners’. Strange world that is these days.
      Is it that reassuring feeling you need, after you spent 200 $ on a ticket, that you have just consumed ‘the best’?

  • Simon Hall says:

    He will be missed, but he’s left us with plenty of wonderful recordings. I also doubt we will see his like again unfortunately. We live in strange times…

  • Tribonian says:

    He will be greatly missed. I only had the chance to hear him perform live once, conducting Parsifal at the ROH about 10 years ago in a mediocre production with an outstanding cast (Petra Lang, John Tomlinson, Willard White…). His conducting was magnificent – a perfect combination of clarity, attention to detail and telling the story through the music.

    Let’s all hope he enjoys a very long and very happy retirement.

    • Pedro says:

      I was there too. Magnificent! He is the best living conductor. I will be in Amsterdam next Saturday and in Salzburg in late August.

    • Douglas Bateman says:

      I remember it well. In his hands, act 2 which can be so difficult was positively electrifying. I can think of very few who had such a grasp of the vast spans of Wagner

  • Yakov says:

    I attended several concerts of his in London back in the 1960s and early 70s. He was nothing special then.

    • sofar says:

      As I know – Haitink has never visited Israel, although he would be very welcome by the Israeli public…
      I wonder why is it, while many great conductors conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • RICHARD CRAIG says:

    all i can say is that i count myself very fortunate that i saw him live,and (my 1st ring at covent garden) and have never been dissapointed he will be much missed.so much depth and humanity in his performances

  • Jean says:

    I saw him live in Berlin a month ago for bruckner 7. Wonderful performance. I was hoping to see him again at the Philharmonie. Happy retirement and thank you for all the marvellous musical experiences.

    • Thomasina says:

      You are so lucky. I watched the live streaming in Canada and I remember that I got a little sad when he closed the score at the end of applause without getting on the podium…I wish a happy retirement for him.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    A Bernard Haitink concert has always been a special event, for musicians and concert-goers alike. Personally, he has given me 50 years of musical joy and I will greatly miss his music-making.

  • ilio says:

    Sad that he’s retiring, but he has a rich legacy of conducting and making recordings. I am glad that i got to hear him conduct a wonderful Die Meistersinger at Covent Garden and an unforgettable Mahler 9 with the the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Concertgebouw.

  • Emanuele Passerini says:

    his Decca recordings of Shostakovich symphonies were crucial for me to know and fall in love with this composer, then I moved to other recordings… but I’ll be always grateful to him!

  • norman lebrecht says:

    There is something quite inimitable about anonymous Dutch abuse.

    • Thomas says:

      Yes, and there’s nothing inimitable about the usual sycophancy and canonization you would expect on this site.
      Haitink’s concerts in the mid 1990’s changed my life but during the last decade, seeing him conduct yet another attempt at a symphony by Mahler was about as exciting as watching paint dry.

      • Karl says:

        I heard him conduct Mahler’s 1st a couple of years ago in Boston. To be honest is was pretty turgid.

      • Benedict Lea says:

        Why did you attend the concerts? You are presumably not a paid critic ; why on earth would you subject yourself to something so terrible? It makes no sense.
        I wish Maestro Haitink all the best for his retirement and will never forget the many sublime performances I was able to play with him over the last 30 years.

      • sonata says:

        Well, one must admit that his repertoire in his last year was not adventurous, but his performances were always at least honest, classic in the best way. Just look at Karajan’s repertoire in his last years, he would play Bach second suite or Brahms’s first dizains of times….It’s good to have some discordant voices, but I think that’s not a good fight, and i am sure Thomas appreciates the guy.

  • Amos says:

    Earlier this year in a blog post here I indicated why I never appreciated BH’s conducting. That said, caustic remarks on the occasion of a professional opting to retire after a long and largely well-received career is unseemly.

  • Edo says:

    A Bruckner 9 with the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 2009: the greatest concert I ever attended.

  • ML says:

    His concerts with the CSO really opened my ears to how refined orchestral ensemble could be: Beethoven #6, Schubert #5 & #9, Mendelssohn, Mahler #2, #5, #6, & #7. And the list goes on and on.

  • Stephen R Gould says:

    Greatest sound I have ever heard emerge from an orchestra was at ROH under Haitink at the end of Gotterdammerung.

    I’ve seen him a number of times over the years and I think I have more Haitink recordings than I have of any other conductor. Quite simply, the best.

  • Barry says:

    My one time seeing him live was with the VPO at Carnegie Hall. They played Bruckner’s eighth. I still remember the performance fondly.

    I wasn’t a huge fan initially, but Haitink has grown on me over the years to the point where I consider him arguably the greatest living conductor (between him and the former Met conductor).

  • Schoenberglover says:

    I’ve only attended Haitink’s concerts in recent years but everyone performance was nothing short of special, including the Bruckner 4 with LSO back in March. For me he has this unique sound in which the music seems to embrace you in a good-natured way & you always know that his interpretations are the music itself, not based on his ego or the interventionist approach some conductors take nowadays. Happy retirement Maestro!

  • mario says:

    I will miss him a lot.
    My first chance to see him was in two concerts, during the first visit of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to Buenos Aires in 1967 she share the conducting with Roberto Benci ¿? (with a awful Schumann symphony) but his interpretation of Tchaikowsky’s Six and Mahler’s Ninth were superb.
    His last visit to the teatro Colón was in 1992. He revindicate Schumann 2nd symphony and Shostakovitch’s six was incredible. The last chord was marked with the baton and a jump ¡¡!! “alla Bernstein”. I treasure many of his recordings. ♪♫

    • mario says:

      misprint: RCO and Haitink visited Argentina for the first time in 1971, no 1967. The second time was in 1985. Sorry, my memory failed!

  • Axl says:

    Dear Mr. Haitink! Many many thanks for your incredible concerts of your unbelievable career! We will truly missed you and your fantastic music making! But I understand that this is the best decision for you and your situation! The way how you make music – It lives forever. You are a truly legend and my absolutely No.1 favorite conductor!
    All the best for you!

  • Herr Doktor says:

    Thank you, Maestro Haitink, for YEARS of great concerts here in Boston. What stand out amongst the many fond memories are a spellbinding Bruckner 7, an excellent Beethoven 7, an over-the-top Brahms 1, a remarkably moving Brahms 3, an incredibly life-affirming and wonderful Dvorak 8 at Tanglewood, and the world premiere of John Harbison’s Requiem.

    With one exception, a Haitink/BSO concert was a nearly sure thing. At the minimum, it was an engaged, alive performance. And at the maximum, it was music-making at the highest level.

    We will greatly miss you!!! Please have a happy, healthy, and enjoyable retirement.

  • Jon H says:

    He never wanted to interfere with the music, and yet his contribution was noticeable. What I’ll miss most is the sound he would get from the strings. I think a highlight for me was a live recording of Bruckner 9 with Bavarian Radio (around 2008) – I couldn’t explain how I’d want that symphony to go, but it was exactly right, as though he had gone into my head.

    • He had a special grasp of Bruckner’s Ninth, as if he might have written it himself. Eloquent in the strings, as you say. And nobody made the Te Deum shine the way Haitink did, music we don’t hear often enough. (Okay, maybe Karajan.)

  • msc says:

    He certainly could be a bit dull at times but maintained a conistently high standard if musicianship. I regret that he overrecorded a few things yet we needed more of his wise Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert. I would have liked from him a Parsifal, Meistersinger, and Lohengrin, a Gerontius, more Britten, and more twentieth century music in general. I hope there will be more archive recordings from his opera years in London.

  • David Sanders says:

    He was principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony from 2006-2010. He helped heal a very divided orchestra.

  • giovani says:

    you are deaf

  • Douglas Bateman says:

    I believe he was the greatest conductor of his generation, but even more importantly, a musician of supreme integrity and humility. So often when he led an orchestra I was left with the feeling of the music playing itself without any outside intervention.

  • Andreas B. says:

    From 1994 until 2000, Bernard Haitink also lead the European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) as Music Director.

    One of the most inspirational and deeply moving experiences of my musical life was playing Mahler 7 under his baton with this orchestra in 1999.

    His ability to connect with young musicians, through his respectful and humble approach and his selfless service to the work, serves as a great example for generations of musicians.

    Thank you, Maestro!
    And all the best for the future, of course!

  • Frank says:

    Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3 . . . Ashkenazy / COA / Haitink. Was, is and will always be my favourite album.

  • Frank says:

    It’s Thomas the Troll Engine

  • JohnG says:

    And how about the Vaughan Williams cycle on EMI? Most of the readings superb, and showing that Haitink’s blend of patience and spiritual insight often works just as well in the non-German classics (others have spoken of his Shostakovich). The recording of the Sinfonia Antartica I think particularly made those sit up who had previously underrated the piece. I remember seeing BH and the LPO in the Vaughan Williams 5th Symphony at the Festival Hall around the time they recorded it for EMI: a cherishable live counterpart now to be found on the LPO’s own label coupled with an earlier live Sinfonia Antartica.

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    I heard him many times. It is appropriate that my last concert with him was the Mahler 9th. A great conductor, who will be missed.

  • Derek says:

    If you thought this, why did you go to the concerts and deprive someone who apreciates what you can’t the opportunity to experience great music making. Your lack of respect is disgraceful towards this great musician

    • Thomas says:

      It’s called being critical, you should try it sometimes. I don’t care about a musician’s reputation. I appreciate great music making, I just didn’t hear it during most of Haitink’s concerts. Believe it or not, not everything the man touched turned into gold. Your lack of a critical ear is digraceful towards this musician.

      • Alan says:

        And what exactly qualifies you to be critical of Haitink? What have you achieved? What are your qualifications? You’re giving an opinion. That’s all. You are not qualified to be critical. And you have the typical passive/aggressive response of someone on the other side of an argument because he wants to be rather than because he knows what he’s on about.

        Saw Haitink do Bruckner 8 with the Vienna Phil and Bruckner 5 with the Munich orchestra in recent years in Salzburg. Both glorious experiences.

        • Thomas says:

          And what, pray tell, qualifies you to praise Haitink? What are your qualifications. Which orchestras have you conducted? You’re giving an opinion. That’s all. You are not qualified to praise a conductor.
          So, I have to be ‘qualified’ to be critical, but you don’t have to be qualified to admire someone (“glorious experiences”).

          Following that reasoning, no one on this site has the right to express an opinion, including mr. Lebrecht. You don’t have to be a professional football player to say that Brazil has a better team than Iceland, and you don’t have to be music director of the Gewandhaus to say you don’t care for certain conductors.

          You like something, I don’t. Get over it.

    • Benedict Lea says:

      Very good question

  • Harold Stover says:

    He is Conductor Emeritus of the Boston Symphony in honor of his years of guest conducting. Like Herr Doktor, I have many memories of his deeply expressive performances at Symphony Hall.

  • Gavin Ramsay says:

    One of my earliest operatic experiences was Haitink conducting Gotterdamerung at the ROH. Anne Evans was brunnhilde i think, going up the burning spiral staircase at the end. unforgetable. And his recent concerts of Bruckner and Shostakovich were some of the greatest concerts i’ve ever been to. A salute to a giant of the podium!

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    This music lover extends grateful thanks for the career and life of Bernard Haitink. To be 90 and ‘retiring’ is surely a tremendous feat in itself. All the best, Maestro Haitink.

  • Ira says:

    A wonderful “honest” musician who always gave his best. I cherish memories of concerts and rehearsals which he allowed me to attend. A well-deserved retirement. Veel Plezier mijnheer Haitink.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Thank you, maestro, for your years of dedicated music-making.
    I will never forget, to my last breath, the Mahler 7 you gifted us with in San Francisco (on tour with the astonishing Concertgebouw Orchestra).
    And your first Bruckner 9 recording, also with the Concertgebouw, helped me through a very bad time nearly 50 years ago. I still have that LP, with its lovely ancient Egyptian art on the cover.
    Enjoy your life of retirement! Best wishes and good luck!

  • J David Richmond says:

    I believe Gunther Schuller once commented (and I am paraphrasing, as I don’t have his book in front of me) that people were out for glitz and glamour, and snobbishly scorned the most excellent work of, e.g., a Bernard Haitink, who made marvelous music but wasn’t flashy.

  • Max Raimi says:

    A couple of observations about one of my all time favorite conductors; I had the priviledge of working with him quite a bit during his tenure of Guest Principal Conductor of the Chicago Symphony:

    Because his technique was so unfussy and drew so little attention to itself, it was almost universally underestimated. With a minimum of motion, he could give you every single particle of information you needed. I always could play with confidence and freedom under his baton. I read once that he admonished student conductors, saying “Don’t distract the musicians–they are very busy playing the music!”

    No matter how familiar he was with the music he was performing, he never become jaded. There was not a shred of artifice or mannerism in his interpretations. He let the music stand on its own considerable merits, unlike a number of conductors who seem to grow bored even by the greatest masterpieces and need to artificially inseminate them with eccentric interpretive touches. Maazel and Tilson Thomas are excellent examples of this, at least in my view.

    I still treasure the memory of a conversation I once had with Maestro Haitink. On a Chicago Symphony European tour a bit more than a decade ago, he threw a party for the orchestra at a winery just outside of Vienna. It is relevant to the story to mention that one of the programs featured Shostakovich’s last symphonies. I arrived a little late, and it turned out the only seat still available was at the “adult table”, right next to Haitink!

    I was nervous; I don’t dine with great conductors very often. So I drank a goodly quantity of wine a bit too quickly. As a result, I found myself saying to him, “Maestro, I find it so meaningful that we are playing Shostakovich’s final symphony with you. I think of it as the last of its kind, the last traditionally structured symphony–sonata allegro first movement, slow movement, scherzo, finale–in our repertoire. Just as you are the last of your kind, the last conductor we see who has a living memory of the world our repertoire came from, Europe before Hitler blew it all apart.”

    Through my wine haze, I realized that I had basically called our revered host a fossil. But before I could regret it, his eyes lit up and told me stories about his life as a boy in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation. His father was an electrical engineer, responsible for Amsterdam’s electrical plant. He was pressured by the Dutch resistance to shut the city down, but if he had, he would have had to answer to the Germans. He was in an impossible double bind, and it broke him; Maestro Haitink lost his father shortly after the war.

    Then he said something absolutely extraordinary; the most amazing part of which is that he seemed to believe what he was saying: “You know, I was nothing special back in my school days. There were so many of my peers that were much more talented than I was. But they were all Jewish boys, and they were murdered. I was all that was left–that is why I enjoyed the career I have had.”

    • Amos says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful and informative comments. Recently a rather contentious back and worth in these pages dealt with another well know conductor leading a VPO concert in standard repertoire pieces. Watching the video I noticed that the conductor not only had the score on the podium but at times appeared to focus on it. Would you be willing to share your view on conductors who conduct standard rep pieces with the score?

      • Max Raimi says:

        I have played wonderful and terrible concerts both with conductors who use a score and those who conduct from memory; I guess I am agnostic on this issue. Barenboim pretty much memorizes everything; Muti always has a score. Both of them manage quite well.

        • Amos says:

          Thank you for taking the time to reply. I recall a conductor, whose work I generally admire greatly, saying it was fine to use a score as long as your nose wasn’t pressed to it.

  • George Mathew says:

    He stands in that remarkable tradition of self-effacing Dutch conductors, Eduard van Beinum, Hans Vonk and Edo de Waart, who always located their identity in musical searching rather than self.

  • Martha Alto says:

    We loved singing with you over the years with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Haitink! I will miss you, as will my fellow members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Wishing you well!

  • Willem Philips says:

    Maestro Haitink is a literate, educated, sometimes colorful and well spoken man who was in master classes a fine mentor to many generations of future conductors. He is loved by performing musicians around the world, notably in Chicago where he what is an interim music co-director with Boulez in the post-Barenboim era. The musicians enjoyed a warm, cordial relationship and while they played well, their performances like character despite being imbued with beautiful sound.

    With that said, I have seen him both live and heard him in halls around Europe and the UK countless times and in recordings, but I fear that the overwhelming majority of his interpretations simply failed to ignite or incandesce, making him, in the aggregate, at best a barely adequate, if in fact adequate conductor and never at any time a truly great one. His performances were a literal, perfunctory with note values properly expressed, but I fail to have recollected more than one recorded performance (with the exception of his Strauss ASZ) that had a personal interpretive stamp on it. His performances and records were never on any shortlist of preferred ones of mine with the exception of the aforementioned interpretation, which, so emasculated of its bombast and over-ebullient character, that it became a piece of great elegance, pruned of its excesses.

    I’m sorry to say this as I do think he has been a stellar human being and mentor, as previously mentioned, but in my book he will never ascend the list of the true greats of our era when we look back in 100 years.

    There are some who have followed in his footsteps, notably Masur and Blomstedt, but at 91 the latter has indeed metamorphosed into a finer musician and interpreter than I had ever anticipated.

    That said, I wish Marstro Haitink a happy, long retirement, many years of joy and pleasure with his family and friends.

  • Yaron David says:

    My first Beethoven violin concerto recodind was his, with Henryk Szering. Love it until today

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