Last summer, at the age of ninety, Bernard Haitink retired from conducting. Luckily, I witnessed his last rehearsals and performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto №4 with Emanuel Ax, and Bruckner’s Symphony №7, both brilliantly played by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival.
Haitink’s demeanor is one of understatement, but through his calm and assured leadership, musicians were emboldened to play with intensity and great commitment. If ever there was an example for the “less is more” approach, Bernard Haitink would be it. But he also endeared himself to every orchestra he conducted through his gentle and unassuming nature. They played for him because he didn’t get in their way and because they loved him. An unstoppable combination!
Haitink excelled in many corners of the repertoire, from Debussy to Mahler, Brahms to Wagner, and one of his many specialties were the symphonies of Shostakovich. His recordings of all fifteen symphonies were the first that I owned and they still hold a special place in my heart.
This performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony №15 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra from 2014 is a great example of Haitink’s uncanny ability to always get the best out of an orchestra, even the world’s best.