October 22, 2021
Critics argued his choice of repertoire was narrow, but the late conductor’s interpretations of mainstream symphonies are justly revered for their sincerity and solidity
Bernard Haitink’s direct, refined conducting made him a true master
• Bernard Haitink obituary
It’s just over two years since, at the age of 90, Bernard Haitink made his final appearance in London, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the Proms in two of the composers closest to his heart throughout his 65-year career on the podium, Beethoven and Bruckner. The virtues of those performances, their clarity and insight, and their utter lack of anything showy, epitomised Haitink’s strengths as an interpreter, which guaranteed his place in the pantheon of 20th-century conductors.
British audiences were especially privileged for more than half a century to have had so many opportunities to appreciate Haitink’s gifts in the concert hall and opera house, beginning with his period as the principal conductor of the London Philharmonic from 1967 to 1979, then through his musical directorships at Glyndebourne (1977-88) and at the Royal Opera House (1987-2002), and finally in the relationship he established in his later years with the London Symphony Orchestra. He’d been part of my personal concert-going life in London from the 1970s, when he was one of a group of outstanding conductors – along with Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Georg Solti among others – who frequently worked in the capital; all of them would have been exceptional in any era, and I doubt any of us realised then how lucky we were to be able to hear them so regularly.
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