Bernard Haitink, Conductor Who Let Music Speak for Itself, Dies at 92

, Bernard Haitink, Conductor Who Let Music Speak for Itself, Dies at 92, The Habari News New York
, Bernard Haitink, Conductor Who Let Music Speak for Itself, Dies at 92, The Habari News New York

Bernard Johan Herman Haitink was born on March 4, 1929, into a well-off family in Amsterdam. His father, Willem Haitink, was a civil servant, and his mother, Anna Clara Verschaffelt, worked for the French cultural organization Alliance Française. Neither were musicians. The family lived under Nazi occupation during World War II, and Willem was imprisoned for three months in a concentration camp.

Mr. Haitink referred to his youth as his “lazy days.”

“I wasn’t stupid,” he explained, “but I just wasn’t there. Half the time we were taught under our desks because of air raids. But even when things became normal, I wasn’t interested. Maybe this is why now, when I am over 70, that people always ask me why I work so hard.”

He began playing the violin at age 9 and later studied at the Amsterdam Conservatory. He joined the second violin section of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra but was insecure about his abilities as a violinist. After taking a conducting course, he was appointed conductor of the orchestra in 1955 at age 26.

, Bernard Haitink, Conductor Who Let Music Speak for Itself, Dies at 92, The Habari News New York

Mr. Haitink, who once said that “every conductor, including myself, has a sell-by date,” officially retired during his 90th year after an acclaimed farewell tour of European summer festivals. Reviewing his concert with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall in London on that tour, the critic Erica Jeal wrote that the “last word had to be from Bruckner.”

“Haitink, as ever, emphasized beauty over structure,” she wrote, “yet did not allow the music’s sense of shape to slacken for a moment.”

His extensive recordings include, for the Philips label, the complete symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Schumann; the complete symphonies of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, for EMI; the complete symphonies of Shostakovich, for Decca; Debussy orchestral works, also for Philips; and Beethoven and Brahms symphony cycles for the London Symphony Orchestra’s LSO Live label.