Renowned Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink has died, aged 92

22 October 2021, 08:40 | Updated: 22 October 2021, 09:22

Renowned Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink has died, aged 92
Renowned Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink has died, aged 92. Picture: Alamy

The remarkable Dutch conductor was one of the world’s greatest, and continued conducting well into his 90s.

The great Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink has died aged 92 years old. Music management company Askonas Holt, who represented Haitink, confirmed that he died peacefully at home with his wife and family.

Born in the Netherlands on March 4, 1929, Haitink was raised by his parents Willem and Anna Clara, before studying the violin and conducting at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.

Well-respected by both orchestras and audiences alike, Bernard’s life in music has been defined by his distinguished technique and an illustrious conducting career spanning more than 60 years.

From the Royal Opera House and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to the Staatskapelle Dresden, Bernard’s commitment to music has led him to collaborate with some of the world’s best-loved classical artists.

Haitink once told The Guardian: “Every conductor, including myself, has a sell-by-date” – but into his 90s, he continued to prove he was as admired on the stage in recent years as he was in his heyday.

Read more: 10 facts about great conductor Bernard Haitink

Bernard Haitnik
Bernard Haitnik. Picture: Getty

Bernard Haitink’s career as a conductor

After conducting his very first concert on 19 July, 1954 with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Haitink's career became a series of musical successes.

His lucky break came in 1956, after he debuted with one of the most exceptional ensembles in the world – the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, while stepping in for Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini.

Just three years later, he landed the prestigious role of first conductor for the same orchestra, following the sudden death of Eduard van Beinum.

Haitink became joint principal conductor of the orchestra, alongside German conductor Eugen Jochum, for several years until becoming sole principal conductor in 1963 – but by the ‘70s, he was ready for a change of scenery.

Bernard Haitink rehearses for a concert in Germany
Bernard Haitink rehearses for a concert in Germany. Picture: Getty

Taking the bold decision to move to England, Haitink continued his musical journey in London.

It was here he would become principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as music director of Glyndebourne Opera House and the Royal Opera House – where he made his show-stopping debut with Don Giovanni in 1977.

From Wagner and Strauss to Mozart and Britten, Bernard specialised in works written by some of the greatest classical composers, as well as conducting several performances with The Royal Ballet.

In 2002, he became chief conductor of the Royal Staatskapelle Dresden – one of the world’s oldest and highest ranked orchestras – before serving as principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra until 2004.

Since then, the musical maestro has led several master classes in conducting and in 2015, he was appointed conductor laureate of the European Union Youth Orchestra.

Bernard Haitink conducts Shostakovich Symphony no. 10 - video 1975

A diverse catalogue of music

Over the course of his career, Haitink has made recordings with labels including Philips, Decca, Columbia Records and EMI Classics.

Notable achievements include his work with the London Symphony Orchestra – with which he recorded Beethoven and Brahms’ symphony cycles – as well as the complete orchestral works of Debussy, Elgar’s two symphonies and Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

He also impressed audiences with a flawless performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at a concert in Paris in 2012.

Haitink’s many accolades include the national award for Honorary Companion of Honour (2002), two Grammy Awards (2003, 2008) and Gramophone’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2015).

Bernard Haitink: Beethoven Symphony No. 9 - Ode to joy

Haitink was made an honorary knight in 1977 and an honorary Companion of Honour in 2002. He was awarded two Grammy Awards and in 2015 was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Gramophone Awards.

Haitink is survived by his fourth wife, viola player Patricia Bloomfield, and five children from his first marriage.