Tributes to a late Dutch master

Tributes to a late Dutch master


norman lebrecht

February 15, 2020

Barbara Hannigan:

The great Reinbert de Leeuw passed away this afternoon. I didn’t know what to post. How to honour my Friend, Mentor, Lodestar? So many unforgettable moments in the past 20 years, but this trip was particularly special. He will always be in my heart, and remains a guide and inspiration for generations of musicians and composers.


Pierre Audi, former head of Dutch National Opera:

« I want to thank you for the love and urgency you put into your art. You cannot be imitated but your example can remind us that notes on a page are worthless without the sacrifices and vision of the one who needs to turn those notes into the sound of someone’s boundless fantasy or often bleeding soul. »

Luckily Reinbert heard me speak those words to him on the occasion of his receiving the Oeuvre Prize from the Prins Bernhard Fonds a few months ago. The Prize which honoured a lifetime dedicated to outstanding and pioneering musical interpretations. An Œuvre that has earned its place in the History of Music.

Luckily also, Barbara Hannigan and Reinbert offered spontaneously to perform for me on my official farewell to Dutch National Opera on September 30th 2018. What an unforgettable surprise moment and a moving blessing that was.

Thank you Reinbert for 32 years of intense friendship and collaboration.

RIP dearest Reinbert

Sonya Knussen:

In the 90s my Dad was in Holland a lot and so we spent tons of time there together. Reinbert and Oldie were so sympatico. I have so many memories rushing around my head but here are the things that you should know today:

Reinbert used to help me order really lovely chocolates that came with coffee at the restaurant next door to the Concertgebouw. I didn’t like coffee then so in Dutch he’d order the chocolates but without the coffee with a caring and loving smile on his face.

I literally watched Reinbert, Bob Spano and my Dad sing, shout and grunt their version of Stockhausen’s Gruppen in our Stockbridge living room when they prepared for the first Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra rehearsals of the piece that took place in the west barn. I’ve never seen three such serious people have so much fun!

Galina Ustvolskaya:

Reinbert de Leeuw — the great pianist and conductor — passed away today. He was Ustvolskaya’s ever favorite performer, she was always happy when he played her music.
Reinbert saw her scores (Octet) for the first time in 1989, it was “the complete shock”. He was so intrigued, fascinated — “My God, who’s writing this? Noone was writing music like that. Noone. And that is totally unique.”
Her scores always were very clear for him. “I had no doubt of what she wanted to express. This urgency of her message is so overwhelming.”


We received the sad news that conductor, pianist and composer Reinbert de Leeuw has passed away. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.


  • Bill says:

    Sad news. He provided my introduction to Gürrelieder through this wonderful film by Carine Bijlsma:

    • Gerard says:

      To do the Gurrelieder was a dream of his. I was at the performance in the now demolished Anton Philipszaal-Den Haag, to be replaced by a combined concerthall/conservatory, it was a magnificent and ecstatic performance. Just as he could be ecstatic in Messiaen (Turangalila!) and Vivier (a passion of his). He was to conduct a Vivier program at the Concertgebouw at the end of february, but when i saw he would be replaced by another conductor i feared for the worse. He truly will be missed, he changed the musical landscape in the Netherlands.

  • JB says:

    I don’t think it was Ustvolskaya herself who said that. She passed away in 2006.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Like Matthias Pintscher today, he was a modern music specialist that one trusted. If he championed a composer then that composer or piece was worth hearing. He was not a stranger to audiences in Australia, at least those who were interested in a bit more challenging modern repertoire.

  • Bloom says:

    RIP. What a wonderful album ”Vienna. Fin de siecle” is!

  • Mac says:

    The death of Reinbert de Leeuw has touched me. I didn’t know him that well and didn’t belong to his inner circles. Nevertheless the few times I worked under him in my 20ties left profound impressions. In particular when he invited me to play in the production of ‘Grupen’ by Stockhausen – that we performed in Concertgebouw Amsterdam – a performance I still cherish as one of the highlights in my life. With his death a particular book is closed: which does hurt. For sure he was a man with as many shortcomings as being a stable constructive positive force in musical life. He died too young as I’m sure he had it in him to carry on for decades his true passion to perform music well.

  • Sasha Valeri Millwood says:

    Despite not having any Satie in my repertoire, de Leeuw’s 2-CD album of Satie’s early pianoforte music has been a seminal influence on my own development as a pianist, sensitising me to some of the delicate intricacies of pacing, dynamics, and accentuation.

    Last summer (i.e.: in 2019), I was fortunate (after repeated visits to the bookmarked listing on the box-office website) to obtain a front-row ticket for his sold-out recital of Satie songs, pianoforte solos, and /Socrate/ at Snape Maltings (with the soprano Barbara Hannigan). At that recital, I was awed by how de Leeuw could make a sequence of block chords sounds so lyrical and fragile, and how he could incite such introspection without resorting to excessive rubato or vulgar sentimentality. Admittedly, there were a few instances of slight clumsiness in that some notes were hit by accident in the /Ogives/ (the first item in the programme), but the dynamics and balance were *never* clumsy. And my copy of the Aldeburgh Festival programme is annotated profusely with various further observations about his remarkable balance, pedalling, and interpretation.

    Now, upon reading the other tributes, I learn that de Leeuw was by no means confined to Satie, and that he has an illustrious record of performing a diverse gamut of twentieth-century music, including some of my favourite composers. In particular, I had not realised that he was a valued interpreter of Ustvolskaya, although I will certainly be seeking more information about this facet of his work. I absolutely concur with his assessment of Ustvolskaya’s /Octet/ as “totally unique”.