Death of dominant Dutch musician, 81

Death of dominant Dutch musician, 81


norman lebrecht

February 15, 2020

The Dutch conductor and pianist Reinbert de Leeuw, a leading force in contemporary music, has died at 81.

In 1974, De Leeuw founded the Schönberg Ensemble to perform atonal and 12-tone works, becoming a national authority on modernism. He recorded for Philips, notably the works of John Cage, Ligeti and Claude Viviver and conducted the operas of Louis Andriessen.

He worked often with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Hague’s Residentie Orchestra other national ensembles. Some referred to him as ‘the Dutch Boulez’ such were his powers of patronage in Dutch music. Like Boulez, however, his influence waned in the 21st century.

Press release from the US Nonesuch label:

De Leeuw was the conductor on all of the recordings Nonesuch Records has made of composer Louis Andriessen’s music; all but one of these were with Asko | Schönberg, the new-music ensemble of which he was a founder and the chief conductor. De Leeuw also led the ensemble in the 1994 Nonesuch recording of Steve Reich‘s Tehillim.

“As a conductor, musician and composer, he has left an indelible mark on Dutch musical life,” the ensemble said in a statement, translated from the Dutch. “We cherish his musical knowledge and enthusiasm with pride and gratitude. He was uncompromising with a big heart, enthusiastic and always looking for meaning. Until the very last concert, he inspired us with that unconditional love for music. We miss him enormously.”

Reinbert de Leeuw led performances of Louis Andriessen’s work on eight Nonesuch recordings, most recently Theatre of the World (2017), a multi-media piece recorded live during the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s world premiere performances. De Leeuw led the Asko | Schönberg, or its antecedent Schönberg Ensemble, in Nonesuch recordings of three previous Andriessen stage works (La Commedia, 2014; Writing to Vermeer, 2006; Rosa: The Death of a Composer, 2000), three pieces for large ensemble (De Staat, 1991; De Tijd, 1993; De Materie, 1996), and a 1994 album of De Stijl and M is for Man, Music, Mozart. All of these recordings can be heard below.


  • Adam Stern says:

    I’m already anticipating the “eulogy” from one of Mr. de Leeuw’s staunchest critics, a frequent contributor to this forum…

    • John Borstlap says:

      This time, I will restrain myself, to prevent an avelanche of angry phone calles, emails, letters with suspicious concent, etc. There is a picture of this man which is very different from the window dressing, but why disturb people’s preferred dreams?

  • Couperin says:

    Had the pleasure of performing under him as a student at Juilliard and later on as a freelancer in NYC. Awesome musician. Great ears and very persuasive as to the character and feeling in the music. I think of him more as a “Dutch Eotvos” than a Boulez. He was super intelligent but also the kind of guy you could have a beer and cigarette with after a rehearsal/concert. RIP Maestro!

  • Max Grimm says:

    Reinbert de Leeuw gave an NPO Radio 4 interview two or so weeks ago, about a Claude Vivier program he was to conduct later this month (

  • Greg Bottini says:

    And in addition to his championing of Dutch contemporary music, he was an important interpreter – some say the most important – of Erik Satie’s piano music.
    He will be missed.
    Thank you, Maestro De Leeuw.

  • yujafan says:

    I once had the pleasure of attending a concert of modern Dutch compositions (including his own) for which de Leeuw was the conductor. He prefaced each work with some brief remarks to the audience, often funny and always perceptive. It gave me a window into how he thought about music, the spacial and sonic awareness of his ear. I regret that it was just a single encounter and wish there had been more. His recordings are always interesting, never easily dismissed – indeed, his Satie interpretations are among the very finest in a field crowded with froth.