Bernard Haitink

Conductor Emeritus, Boston Symphony Orchestra
Honorary Conductor, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Honorary Member, Berlin Philharmonic
Honorary Member, Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Honorary Member, Vienna Philharmonic

Credit: Todd Rosenberg


Bernard Haitink was born and trained in Amsterdam. His conducting career began in 1954 at the Netherlands Radio, where he took part in their intensive conductors’ courses, and where in 1957 he became the Chief Conductor of the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. He went on to become Chief Conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years. He is now Patron of the Radio Philharmonic, and Honorary Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

He also held positions as Music Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and as Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He is an honorary member of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and in 2019 was made an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic.

This season Bernard Haitink returns to the Chicago Symphony, the Royal Concertgebouw, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestras. The London Symphony Orchestra marks his birthday in March with a series of concerts, and he also conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Orchestra Mozart, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, with whom he performed his first public concert.

Bernard Haitink has received many awards and honours in recognition of his services to music, including Musical America’s Musician of the Year and the Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been made a Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, and an honorary Companion of Honour in the UK, and received honorary doctorates from the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Music.

After the 2018/19 season, during which he celebrates his 90th birthday and a 65 year conducting career, Bernard Haitink will take a sabbatical.


From The Green Room

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    17 Mar 17 Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Boston Symphony Hall

    “A perennial BSO guest with the title of conductor emeritus, Haitink has led a conducting career of more than 60 years, and Thursday night, his manner was deliberate and subtle, with no gesture wasted as he let the music speak for itself.

    Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is an adrenaline rush, with no slow movement to cut the momentum… Energy coursed through the infectious tripping dance that makes up the first movement, which was punctuated by crackling silences. Strong accents propelled the second-movement Allegretto’s earworm theme as it deepened, gathering in instruments. The mercurial third movement scherzo swerved through keys and moods as easily as blinking, and the droning strings in the sparser trio section highlighted a thrilling suspension of harmonic activity. Though a score was on the podium in front of the conductor, he barely touched it, at home as he was in the music. He led the headlong hurtle into the finale with luminous confidence, standing unperturbed in the eye of a cyclone of sound, which continued after the music was over for three ovations.”

    Zoë Madonna, Boston Globe, 17 March 2017

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    22 Aug 16 Lucerne Festival Orchestra
    Lucerne Festival

    “At the weekend, Haitink, a robust 87, celebrated 50 years’ involvement with the annual “Swiss Proms” and conducted the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in a staggeringly assured performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, an epic adventure in Romanticism that was a perfect showcase for this large orchestra made up of Europe’s finest players.

    The Eighth, a piece of tension and reconciliation, requires Herculean strength from the conductor, and he marshalled the players with precision and dexterity. The quality of the musicianship was extraordinary – with such traditionally unsung heroes as the second violins having their moment within Bruckner’s large complex tapestry of ideas. The range of emotions explicit in the work was well caught and, at journey’s end, you felt your spirit soar as Haitink guided the audience to a musical summit, as if he was leading you to the top viewing platform at Mont Blanc. The elderly Haitink must have summoned an extraordinary whoosh of adrenaline from somewhere, and the result was unforgettable.”

    Ben Lawrence, The Telegraph, 22 August 2016

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    29 Apr 16 Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Chicago Symphony Center

    “The miracle of Bernard Haitink is that, as the eminent Dutch conductor advances in age, his conducting appears to become younger.

    So it was on Thursday night at Symphony Center, where the former principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra returned to the CSO subscription series to lead works by a composer long associated with him, Richard Strauss, and another composer, Mozart, whose name is not often linked with his but whose music he also approaches with great sympathy.

    Haitink, who turned 87 in March, exudes precisely the sort of unforced command and mellow authority needed to make a convincing statement of Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony, and he did so eloquently Thursday.

    … For too long Strauss’ final symphonic poem was derided as being inferior to its predecessors, but, over the years, more frequent performances under discerning conductors have shown us there is much more to the Alpine Symphony than proto-Hollywood bombast and splashy sonic effects.

    Haitink is one of those conductors. His achievement was to reveal the work in its full symphonic dimensions, making clear his belief in the merits of a piece Strauss himself greatly esteemed. Physical excitement and atmosphere were present but they never took precedence over grandeur and nobility of musical argument. Rarely has Strauss’ symphonic thinking been realized with this degree of insight and feeling.”

    John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 29 April 2016

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    10 Apr 15 Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Chicago Symphony Hall

    “Haitink’s long experience with the Mahler symphonies, which goes back to his 27 distinguished years as chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, combined with the taut corporate musculature of a great Mahler orchestra to present a difficult piece in the best possible light.

    The strengths of Thursday’s performance spoke to the still-remarkable orchestral command of Haitink, who turned 86 last month. Not since the onset of his tenure as CSO principal conductor in 2006 has his music-making felt so alive, so fully engaged.

    Haitink was best where Mahler is best, in the three central movements – two ‘night musics’ surrounding a phantasmal scherzo. He secured playing of great delicacy and subtlety that threw the audacious originality of Mahler’s scoring into high relief. The cowbells and birdcalls of the first ‘Night Music’, sounding as if from across a distant alpine meadow, were as full of atmosphere as the gentle serenade of guitar and mandolin in the second.

    As for the scherzo – a sinister cross between a waltz and a landler – his steady hand and refusal to exaggerate allowed the music to speak for itself. The movement is filled with grotesqueries that go bump in the night, from the rude honks of the bassoon to the mighty thwacks of pizzicato double basses, and the CSO musicians had a ball with each and every delicious effect.

    The funereal tread with which the symphony opens gives no hint of the blaze of strident optimism that closes the fifth and final movement. Haitink is a master of integrating Mahler’s wild mood-swings, although I wondered why he shifted the dynamic scale of the first movement upwards so that passages marked merely as double fortes emerged as very loud triple fortes, making some of the more extroverted pages feel literally overblown with respect to the otherwise admirable brass playing. Perhaps his eschewing the CSO’s usual orchestral risers had something to do with the insistent extra loudness. The hushed digressions of the development came across as welcome aural balm.”

    John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 10 April 2015

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    24 Oct 14 London Symphony Orchestra
    Barbican Centre, London

    “The names of Anton Bruckner and Bernard Haitink are, to many, linked indissolubly. And certainly the imperturbable Dutch conductor has a sure hand when it comes to sculpting the Austrian composer’s ‘cathedrals of sound’, as they are often described. With the members of the London Symphony Orchestra straining every sinew, this Bruckner Eight, given in the composer’s own more densely scored revised version (as edited by Leopold Nowak), was delivered with exceptional intensity and blazing integrity.

    … What Haitink presents us with is not so much emotional vicissitudes as sublimated passion. And such is his authority — especially in a performance as powerful as this — that one has little option but to accept the overwhelming surges of self-confidence as the essence of the work. Indisputable too is the superb craftsmanship of Haitink’s conducting: the way he builds up the mighty edifice of sound, brick by brick, layer by layer.

    Personally I don’t hear this music as religious affirmation and I doubt that Haitink does either. Rather it can be heard as a celebration of the wonder of existence. And for the privilege of experiencing this towering masterpiece in the hands of one of the great conductors of the day, one can only be profoundly thankful.”

    ★★★★★ Barry Millington, Evening Standard, 24 October 2014

    “One of the essential arts of Bruckner conducting is to know when to take a breath and when to press on while avoiding wilfulness in either direction. This is a crucial requirement in the deeply troubled C minor Eighth Symphony, which is very long and constructed out of multiple paragraphs.

    Experience suggests that this flexible art comes with age and long familiarity. It is an art that Bernard Haitink now possesses more than any other living conductor. It was magnificently present throughout this performance of the Eighth, in the now customary Nowak edition, with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was quite simply a privilege to hear such Brucknerian mastery at work.

    Haitink also understands that none of Bruckner’s symphonies is worse served by all the stock cliches about sonic cathedrals and religious glory than the Eighth. Bruckner’s last completed symphony is a work of doubt as much as certainty. Its constant symphonic striving, often through long periods of minor-key anxiety and darkness, advances towards a summation that it longs for but which it never quite manages to attain convincingly or for long. Haitink allowed all the painful honesty of this work to unfold from the first bars to the last, but it was never more truthful than in the long and hesitant descent from the climax of the slow movement that, characteristically, is gone as soon as it arrives.

    As always with Haitink, orchestral textures were scrupulously balanced, which made the roles of the timpani, a permanent force for disturbance in this work, and the harps, equally importantly a force for consolation, come through with great expressive clarity. It is one of music’s enduring mysteries how one conductor can get an orchestra to play out of their skins with a minimum of histrionic fuss, while another can’t get close with any amount of flailing. All one can say is that Haitink has this secret, and that the LSO played like lions for him. And so they should.”

    ★★★★★ Martin Kettle, The Guardian, 24 October 2014

Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award

Few conductors have enjoyed such a rich and varied recording career as Bernard Haitink. In fact, it is unlikely there will ever again be a similar achievement. For well over 50 years, Haitink has made recordings, mostly for Philips, but also for EMI and Decca.

There is a complete discography of his 26 year tenure as Music Director with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He has recorded the Bruckner Symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Ring Cycle with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Mahler Symphonies three times in Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam, Strauss operas with the Staatskapelle, Dresden, and a thorough recording documentation of his period as Chief Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and as Music Director at Glyndebourne.

Even now as the global record industry wanes, and major orchestras develop their own record labels, we can still listen to his many recordings with the Chicago Symphony, Staatskapelle Dresden and of course with LSO Live.

So we salute Bernard Haitink’s glorious career, so well documented in his enormous wealth of recordings.


Bernard Haitink received many wonderful tributes on the night from fellow musicians, orchestras and record labels. For a full list please follow this link.