Sadness: Bernard Haitink has died

Sadness: Bernard Haitink has died


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2021

We have been informed in the past hour that the conductor Bernard Haitink died peacefully at home today at the age of 92. His wife and family were with him.

Haitink was the last of the great record conductors with more than 450 releases to his credit.

He was chief conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years, also leading the London Philharmonic, Glyndebourne, the Royal Opera House, Staatskapelle Dresden and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

An assiduous man with an exceptional ear, he raised every ensemble that he headed to the highest world standard. Although he retired in frail health two years ago he continued to attend concerts to the last and was delighted to surprise some Concertgebouw musicians when they appeared this month at the Wigmore Hall.

He could be tart but was never unkind. To watch him with a youth orchestra was an object lesson in the transmission of knowledge, purpose and morality. I learned much of what I know about conducting watching him in concert from the choir seats of the Royal Festival Hall.

Bernard will be missed the world over.

UPDATE: Musicians share musical memories

Tribute: Watching Carlos Kleiber with Bernard Haitink


  • Novagerio says:

    R.I.P. Bernard, en bedankt voor de muziek.

  • Been Here Before says:

    Rest in Peace! A great conductor whom I have heard many times in Boston and London, concerts which I will never forget.

    Thank you Maestro for all the moments of beauty and joy you brought into our lives!

  • Max Raimi says:

    Saddened to learn of Bernard Haitink’s death. I have covered a few aspects of this extraordinary musician in an earlier essay (, but there is one point I did not make.

    There are awkward moments from time to time in rehearsal when a musician fails to play to the standards expected, which in an ensemble like the Chicago Symphony is quite high. We all screw up sometimes, and sometimes these transgressions are embarrassingly public, especially for principal players. If too much is made of it in the high-pressure environment of our orchestra, I have seen the musician’s confidence compromised; it may lead to the same passage not coming off in the performance.

    Haitink had a unique way of dealing with this. He would play the passage again, but make no mention of the failing we had just heard. He would perhaps say something along the lines of “Could we try that again, and perhaps we can get just a little more of a dolce quality?” He preserved the dignity and confidence of the musician who had just come up short, and quite possibly made the future performance just a bit more secure and successful. It was at once kind, humane, and shrewd.

    I am so grateful to have worked with Maestro Haitink.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    R.I.P. Very sad loss, but a very long and successful life and a peaceful death. One cannot really ask for more.

  • giampi says:

    A great musician, classical music this evening is very very sad

  • Evan Tucker says:

    I sat in the audience for a conducting masterclass he did for RCM. I went up afterward to get his autograph. I was so nervous that I don’t exactly know what I said to him. As I left I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Haitink’s. Apparently I had accidentally taken Haitink’s pen. He said to me with a wry smile “no no no, that I keep.”

  • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

    While not a surprise, this news is still immensely sad.

    Bernard Haitink did many great things in many places around the world, but his contribution to British musical life is inestimable, not least for his role in saving the ROH orchestra and chorus when things in Floral Street got seriously rocky in the late 1990s.

    His emotional connection with this country went back a long way. I remember hearing him talk movingly about how, as a boy in occupied Amsterdam, he had listened (on an illicit radio) to the broadcast of Henry Wood’s final Prom in 1944. (Decades later, he could still recall details of how HW had conducted Beethoven VII.) A link with the past has been severed.

    Requiescat, and condolences to his family.

  • MER says:

    I always found the sound he coaxed from orchestras to be the most exquisite.

  • CA says:

    Such an enormous loss. There will never be another great like him. Just such an incredible musician, now leaving a gaping hole in the music world, never to be completely filled. Unmatchable.

  • KP says:

    RIP. What an extraordinary life and legacy. Thank you for some of the most amazing musical nights of my life. I will never forget your Mahler 3 and 4 at the Proms in the last few years as well as that wonderful final Bruckner 7. Bruckner 8 at the Barbican in 2014…The list of these great moments is long. A great servant of the music: kind, humble and generous. Losing you feels personal.

  • Alex says:

    Another great one has left us. A legendary conductor with true integrity to the score. R.I.P. Maestro.

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    A great conductor!!!!!! When I was in college, he was my favorite conductor on records. After I moved to New York, I heard him many times. Highlights include a Pellas and the Mahler 4th with the BSO. I was also lucky to hear him conduct the Mahler 6th and the last two Brahms symphonies with the LSO in London. The last time I heard him was the Mahler 9th with the NY Phil. A tremendous performance.

  • Alank says:

    A sad day. Grateful for the magnificent performances he gave on visits to the US. Mahler 7 with the RCOA and Mahler 9 and Bruckner 8 with Chicago to cite just 3. But he was wonderful in so much of the repertoire ranging from Mozart to Ravel to Britten.

    RIP Maestro

  • Amos says:

    Always tasteful and kept the BSO in good shape as Principal Guest during the difficult transition from JL to AN.

  • Kenneth says:

    Rest in peace, Maestro.

  • Joe Tucker says:

    Always a gentlemen. Working for him as a stagehand was an honor. My Condolences to His family.

  • music theorist says:

    A truly great conductor. I don’t hesitate to say that his music making changed my life.

  • Nick Kalogeresis says:

    A sad day.

  • A.L. says:

    My deepest condolences. They don’t make them like him any longer.

  • Bone says:

    RIP Maestro. Plenty of driving time this weekend to listen and remember a wonderful musician.

  • ML says:

    Even though I had listened to music for 20 years by then, his concerts with the CSO really opened my ears and taught me how to listen to orchestras. R.I.P. Maestro Haitink. Thank you, thank you.

  • Steven says:

    A great conductor. Legendary recordings. When learning new repertoire as a student, I always went to his recordings first because I knew I would get a solid, no fuss, great sounding recording, which was always representative of the printed score. RIP Maestro.

    • Willem Philips says:

      You’ve said it in a nutshell. Haitink was quite literally faithful to the score, and was able to provide a solid, no fuss, interpretation in excellent sound, faithful to every note of the score. The problem is that this is not sufficient for more than learning a work in contemporary times. He was an educated, literate man, a great person, a fine teacher and a wonderful human being. Yet his recorded performances failed routinely to ignite and incandesce. Others were far more successful than he in achieving the latter with the same faith to the score and the composer.

  • Jack says:

    R.I.P. Maestro Haitink.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    Thank you, Maestro Haitink, for decades of great concerts here in Boston. We were so fortunate to have you wanting to work with our beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra all these years. Your visits to Boston were never anything less than wonderful, always among the highlights of the concert season. Your Bruckner 7 was a truly great performance.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • nimitta says:

      That Bruckner 7 was magnificent! And one of the highlights of my concert-going life was the Brahms 1 that concluded the BSO’s 2014-15 season.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        I totally concur on that Brahms 1! Haitink seemed like he was ON FIRE for that performance. It had an intensity that one did not associate with Bernard Haitink. But what a performance!

  • Scott Colebank says:

    The only time I ever saw Maestro Haitink conduct was when he led the Concertgebouw Orchestra in a series of concerts at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa in the 1980s. One of the concerts I attended featured a revelatory reading of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, the first time I heard that work live. But I also remember a photo (which is tucked away in the jacket of one of his many Philips LPs I have that he recorded) that was published in the local newspaper at the time of the concerts, showing the conductor playing a pinball machine while smoking a pipe at his hotel. A man of varied interests who will be missed.

  • Stephen Gould says:

    Greatest conductor in my lifetime. I will never forget the sounds he got out of the ROH orchestra in his 80s Ring Cycle

  • David J Hyslop says:

    Met him once when he was conducting the Boston Symphony . Heard him conduct many times. A great artist period.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Obviously, as someone who’s very much a Mahler enthusiast, B. Haitink had a huge influence upon me. But his recordings of Debussy and Ravel with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw are clearly on the same high level. I thought his Shostakovich was a bit on the tame side, but who cares what I think! Haitink was a major ‘heavy’, and remained a dignified gentleman throughout his career. Rare. Very rare.

  • Ms.Melody says:

    One of the few remaining great conductors is no more. It is a sad day for classical music indeed. RIP Maestro, and thank you for decades of great music making.

  • Rabengeraun says:

    Very sad news. One of the true greats and an exceptionally modest man.
    RIP Maestro Haitink

  • James Weiss says:

    I feel absolutely heartbroken. RIP.

  • Matthew DeNero says:

    Hats off to a true legend.

  • J Barcelo says:

    One of the masters; they don’t make ’em like that anymore. As a dedicated record collector, Haitink’s recordings were an essential and beautiful addition to the catalog and my shelves. The symphonies of Mahler, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, the Liszt tone poems…his legacy is stunning. Rest in Peace, maestro. A life well lived! Now let’s get that massive Haitink complete Philips set of disks out!

  • Dave says:

    I will never forget how incredible the experience was in the European Union Youth Orchestra with Bernard steering us through Shostakovich 4 and, his party piece, Bruckner 7. There was never any doubt where we had to play, where we had to breathe and he barely spoke in rehearsals. It was all so clear and easy to follow. Wish there were more like him.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    This makes me very sad. Some of the best concerts I have ever played have been under his baton. An excellent conductor and musician is gone. RIP, maestro.

  • R. Brite says:

    I was privileged to see and hear him many times, at the Proms and in Paris, and invariably came away filled with joy. He was a legend, and an invaluable mentor to so many. RIP, Maestro.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    RIP Bernard Haitink. There weren’t many better exponents of this elusive craft. With BH- you got the music clearly & honestly laid out- according to the composers intentions. None of the headline grabbing gimmicks of some international maestri (that is not to say he could be an immensely colourful & exciting conductor both in the concert hall & opera pit). A sad loss to the music world & a devoted servant to it. Cherishing the recordings & all too few live performances of his which I attended

  • Gustavo says:

    Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen.

    Rest in Peace, Maestro!

  • Stephen McElroy says:

    As these titans leave us, one by one, I can not help feeling the loss of an entire era, of a way of life, of living, of feeling, of thinking, of being. Of taking time to see and hear the details. It seems almost churlish to mourn the passing of a man who created and enjoyed the very best era the cultural world has ever known, one in which great artists were revered, admired, cherished and valued. One in which recordings were not only works of magic in themselves, but earned artists a living and facilitated the participatory, long-form listening experience that so few have time or patience to enjoy today. Yet the whole music world will mourn his passing, as we should when a great man leaves the room one last time.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    I can’t remember the details, but the first time he conducted the Vienna Phil he was so overwhelmed by the sound that he said stopped and said, ‘Please, Gentlemen, I am only a Dutchman’. If anyone can flesh this anecdote out I’d be very grateful.

  • Rob says:

    Bruckner 7 desert island choice is Bernard’s first recording with the Concertgebouw.

  • Jean says:

    Somehow feels like a whole episode in the history of classical music has just ended…..

  • True North says:

    Just before receiving this news, I ordered a copy of the maestro’s box set of Shostakovich symphonies. I’m especially keen for it to arrive now.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    Like so many, I am deeply saddened by this news. As a teenager his recordings of the Symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler in particular were constant companions and have remained so. I learned so much from these interpretations. I will never forget Promming in the gallery of the Royal Albert Hall in the late 70s and looking down on him conducting the LPO in Mahler 2. This was the first of many concert encounters with him.
    Strange that he died on the day which marked the 100th anniversary of Malcolm Arnold’s birth. The two were brought together in 1976 when Haitink took the LPO to America in November of that year and Arnold was commissioned to write a piece for that tour and his Philharmonic Concerto was the result. RIP Maestro and thank you for everything you shared with us. I thought Simon Rattle’s words which appeared in The Guardian were so apt and extremely moving. Condolences to his family at this sad time.

  • Bill Blake says:

    So many memorable performances in Boston and at Tanglewood….Haitink was a mensch.

  • Kelly says:

    Working with and for Maestro Haitink was one of the wonderful experiences in my life. This was a man who exemplified patience, compassion and respect. These qualities are not to be taken for granted from a conductor and especially from a Music Director.

    Maestro Haitink, through continuous positive reinforcement, enhanced my confidence and gave me some much needed self appreciation during a timely juncture in my career.

    An esteemed Music Director has to be more than a great conductor. He needs to be a leader. To be a leader one must exhibit dignity and prove inherent integrity. Maestro Haitink was both a great leader and a great conductor.

    My deepest condolences to Patricia and the entire family. The Maestro will always be in my thoughts. He was simply the best.

  • Adi Jehangir says:

    Bernard Haitink, truly one of the greats. First heard him in 1991 and several times till 2016, all unforgettable .

  • Gustavo says:

    He died on Sir Georg Solti’s birthday.

  • Jobim75 says:

    A giant in the classical music world. The wise and cautious conductor of the end of his career should not make us forget the powerful maestro of the 70’s, whose physical commitment in live concerts was total. Heard him conduct Mahler 4 at philarmonie de Paris, one of his last concerts there.
    Was moved, not so much by the music itself – too much Mahler at Paris philarmonie the last years- but by the music making, the economy of means of a great maestro who could still share the quintessence of his art.
    I wish he had conducted more French orchestras, he had a special affinity for french music. He should have been approached by National or Paris Orchestra after Bychkov or Masur left. We missed an opportunity here and hired mediocre people; because a man like him would have been perfect for these orchestras.
    His 70 s Brahms cycle with the Concertgebouw has the warm colours af the hall, un lustre et une patine uniques de vieux cuivres – excuse my English…
    I wonder what his relationship was with Karajan or Bernstein- if any and I never got the last word about why he left or was pushed out from Concertgebouw, I heard it involved Harnoncourt but I am curious about slipperdisc readers or of course Norman explanations about this. RIP Bernard, you were a musical companion of 30 years. Thank you.

  • Frankster says:

    A long time ago, I was flopping around Europe and couldn’t believe I found someone selling a ticket to the sold-out Concertgebouw before the concert. The conductor was some local guy I had never heard of. I remembered that name and watched his career bloom. Later, he was a regular at the LA Phil. where I lived. The same brilliance as the first time. He had a nice career and was always among the top I have ever heard.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Even though he was 92, news of Haitink’s death took my breath away. I met him once backstage at Carnegie Hall to have him sign his recording of the Bruckner Third with the Vienna Phil for my son. And my daughter thought him to be the finest conductor she ever saw in performance as his gestures impressed her. Neither children are musicians but he made a lasting impression on them for which I am grateful to him.
    I am particularly fond of his late Chicago recordings, his Dresden recordings and his Boston Debussy and Ravel recordings. And his Amsterdam Bruckner and Mahler are unsurpassed.
    What a wonderful human being he was.
    I hope that it is not inappropriate to reflect that we still have the venerable Herbert Blomstedt who shares many of Haitink’s musical characteristics.

  • Grant says:

    Without a doubt the greatest conductor I have played for.
    He had the qualities most prized by musicians – the ability to show what he wanted rather than talk it and a total servitude to the music that transcended ego. The latter is so rare and so immediately recognisable. He will be greatly missed.