Bernard Haitink: The final moment

Bernard Haitink: The final moment


norman lebrecht

September 07, 2019

This was Bernard Haitink last night in Lucerne, receiving the final applause of his career.

His wife waits to help him off the stage.

photo: private/slippedisc

And here are the final moments of music making:

One of the flutes can be seen with tears in her eyes.


  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Just like Alfred Brendel over a decade ago, he chose the best possible orchestra to say his farewell, combining tradition with intensity and virtuosity. The location is good too, preferable to Musikverein with its superb acoustics but very noisy audience.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    It says a lot that Bernard Haitink chose to end his career with 3 performances of Bruckner’s 7th symphony, a symphony that to me brings a message of deep gratitude, profound connectedness, and hope. Those who did not get to hear Haitink live never could appreciate what it is that he did that was so special. We were spoiled here in Boston as he was a regular visitor and there were many great performances over the years. I particularly treasure a Brahms 1 and 3, Dvorak 8, Mahler 3, Beethoven 7, and Bruckner 7 among many other excellent Haitink concerts I attended. I also met Maestro Haitink on two occasions and he was nothing but gracious. Thank you, Maestro Haitink, for the great music and great memories. May you enjoy your remaining years in health and happiness.

    • Esther Cavett says:

      ==a symphony that to me brings a message of deep gratitude, profound connectedness, and hope.

      Yes, a very good point

    • Alan says:

      A Bruckner 8 in Salzburg about five years ago was an absolute highlight of my concert going life. In any genre of music. Glad I got to see him live

      • Bernard says:

        I heard him in Bruckner 8 with the London Philharmonic back in 1973 at the Festival Hall & came away impressed with the stamina of both Haitink & the players in this monumental symphony. Already then he had an established reputation as a fine interpreter of both Buckner & Mahler. His recordings of the Brahms Symphonies with the Concertgebouw are also very special.

      • Mike says:

        Remember going to hear him do 8 with the LPO at the Free Trade Hall back in 1975. One of those performances that stays with you for a lifetime. Haas edition- didn’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar. You felt the whole audience exhale at the big climax in the slow movement. Horns and Tuben in the Coda beyond words to describe.

        • Frank says:

          Mike I was there too! It was my introduction to the LPO, Haitink and Bruckner and it absolutely blew me away. I had never heard anything like that. 44 years later and I still love Bruckner and Haitink too of course. Such a self-effacing conductor of incredible talent.

    • Joel stein says:

      Don’t forget the final act of Gotterdammerung in Boston and at Tanglewood

    • Skippy says:

      Why on earth would someone give this comment a thumbs down?

      • CJ says:

        Sometimes, it happens by mistake (it happened to me once and I didn’t know how to correct it!).
        It’s the only reason I can see in this case.
        Thank you Maestro Haitink!

      • sam says:

        Why are there are so many thought police on this site?

        Even Kim Jong Un doesn’t demand 100% of the vote for the sake of appearance of free will.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      What wonderful words, Herr Doktor. The 7th is my favorite completed Bruckner symphony (I love the 9th even more, but without any of the conjectural finales). I’m hoping the Lucerne Festival will issue the entire performance in a dvd, or at least get it onto Youtube. A Mahler 3 with Haitink in Boston must have been something to behold. Maybe that’ll appear someday as well.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        Barry, I’m not the biggest Mahler fan in the world. But Haitink’s reading of M3 made even me really enjoy the both the performance and the work itself. What Haitink in general did so well was put across a keen sense of the work’s architecture so that performances brought a clear sense of line, and everything was properly in proportion both to itself and to the work in total. That’s not easy to do, and particularly difficult in a work that’s a sprawling pile-on like Mahler 3. But he did it and it worked, and that was the finest most enjoyable performance of that symphony I’ll likely ever hear.

        And when I think of additional Haitink performances that were special, I accidentally omitted the world premiere of John Harbison’s Requiem, which was given a tremendous performance by Haitink in Boston. I wanted to go hear the work again in the cycle of performances but had to leave town on business and couldn’t. And there was a great performance of Brahm’s 2nd piano concerto with Emmanuel Ax also.

        I probably heard Haitink live in Boston in over 2 dozen programs/concerts over the years. There was only one clunker in the entire group, and as it is, shortly after that performance Haitink had bypass surgery, so I suspect the lackluster performance was because he was sick. He never once dialed it in. And the respect the orchestra had for him was obvious, they PLAYED for him and always made music together, often great.

        And finally, I generally agree with your Bruckner comments. I don’t know if I can say which symphony is my favorite, because I literally love every one of them like almost no other music. Clearly, the 9th is the most astonishing piece of music Bruckner ever wrote (and like you, I only want to hear it in 3 movements). But I may listen to the 9th the least often because I can only take it in when I’m in the right place of mind for it, because let’s face it, it’s completely consuming and profoundly unsettling music even while being visionary. I listen far more often to 5 (perhaps the most life-affirming piece of music Bruckner wrote, and beyond Bruckner in the entire repertory), 1 (if you’ve never heard Jochum/BPO/DG, you must, and will quickly appreciate that the 1st symphony is a misunderstood masterpiece that is given one of the greatest performances of any work ever in the Jochum/Berlin/DG recording), 6, and 8.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The great thing about Haitink is the ‘innerlich’ approach and no-nonsense conducting, he wanted the music speaking for itself. Expression but no showmanship. Sometimes people complained about the result being ‘too neat’, lacking Schwung, and ‘playing safe’. But often ‘taking risks’ is a means of boosting ego presence of the conductor instead of serving the music.

      • Ruben Greenberg says:

        John: Haitink had, among so many qualities, a great sense of the architecture of a score. I never found him flegmatic in the least; always felt that there was great fullness and intensity there plus the ability to create a sense of event. Going to a Haitink concert was always for me a special and memorable event.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Agreed. And also his recordings are great. I especially love his Lied vd Erde with Janet Baker, pulverizingly beautiful.

    • Novagerio says:

      And who on Earth would dislike Herr Doktor’s comment and why exactly???

    • Monsoon says:

      Bruckner 7 is a bit too on the nose for a final concert.

      I’d go out tongue-in-cheek with the Mahler 7.

  • Olassus says:

    Astonishing that most of the crowd remained on their asses. Perhaps they didn’t know.

  • Pedro says:

    It was a great concert of course but the orchestra sounded a little tired, having played six performances in eight days in three different locations. A very moving occasion for me but the applause was less enthusiastic than in both Salzburg concerts and, from what I have read, in the London one. Audiences in Lucerne are much more formal than in Salzburg. I feel very sad with Haitink’s departure from the concert scene but I was lucky to have been able to attend dozens of his concerts, in London, Paris, Brussels, Hamburg, Milan, Munich, Vienna, Berlin and Amsterdam, apart from Salzburg and Lucerne. A final note to congratulate the young Italian first flute who played for the last time with the orchestra in Lucerne. She was outstandingly fine and very moved at the end of the concert. During the performance, she couldn’t turn her eyes from the conductor, even when she wasn’t playing. I think that she only accepted to play two more concerts with the VPO after the end of her contract because Haitink was the conductor.

  • Niles says:

    Maybe there is something to the notion that conducting aids in longevity.

  • sam says:

    I regret that Haitink didn’t also do a last tour of the US with orchestras he spent most significant time with in the States — Boston, Chicago — and at Carnegie Hall…

    I feel when it really matters, the legendary conductors still don’t think about the US as well…

  • Philip Evans says:

    I had the privilege of seeing maestro Haitink conduct Mahler 7 with the RCO the in Pasadena, CA in the 1980s. I will never forget that experience. He is without peer.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Wasn’t the last piece Karajan conducted also Bruckner VII ?

  • AlanK says:

    The Mahler 7 on that 1982 Tour with the RCO will always linger in my memory. His Mahler 9th and Bruckner 8 with the CSO are also on my list of the greatest performances I have attended. Will have to rely on those memories and of course his recordings to keep his legacy going on a personal level.

  • Craig says:

    I also with tears in my eyes. Thank you slipped disc for these emotional moments which otherwise would go unnoticed by most of the world

  • jivadas says:

    A magnificent moment of a magnificent conductor’s realization of an Anton.Bruckner-climax. I once had the boxed set of the Haitink Bruckner.Symphonies, and learned them as a child learns music, by frequent hearing. The Symphonies are long, but always full of interest. Sometimes they will move you to tears; less often, make you lsmile; always they will teach you much about melody. xØx jd