Almost no other guest conductor has had ties with the Berliner Philharmoniker for longer or has appeared with them more regularly than Bernard Haitink. In March 1964, just months after Hans Scharounʼs Philharmonie opened, the Dutchman conducted the orchestra for the first time. He was then 35 years old and had been head of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam for three years.
An inconspicuous beginning
His debut was overshadowed by another philharmonic event: Claudio Arrau was performing a cycle of all five Beethoven piano concertos. On the nights that Haitink conducted, the concertos Nos. 1 and 5 were on the programme. The focus of the reviews was of course the pianist, and the young conductor was only mentioned with a few, if favourable, words: they all agreed his conducting was open-minded, attentive and sensitive. Only the Berlin Tagesspiegel prophesied: “He could have it in him to become a real Beethoven conductor, something the modern concert hall so desperately needs.”
The critic was right: Within a few years, Bernard Haitink had developed into a specialist in the works of the First Viennese School. But not only that: Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler came to be regular features of his repertoire. In addition, Haydn and Mozart appeared from time to time on the programmes of his guest performances with the orchestra, as did the occasional representative of Modernism, such as Ravel, Stravinsky or Bartók. He accompanied the orchestra on several concert tours and also on many occasions to the Salzburg Easter Festival. The first time, in 1991, just two years after the death of Herbert von Karajan, he conducted the festivalʼs production of Mozartʼs Le nozze di Figaro.
“I love the open approach the Berliners have to music,” Bernard Haitink, who celebrates his 85th birthday in March, said a few years ago in the publication Die Berliner Philharmoniker - das magazin. “When they play with conductors they like, they bring an extra special something to their playing.” The mutual liking between orchestra and conductor was clear, and from 2004, their working together has taken on an extra intensity: Since then, the Dutchman has been coming to the Berliner Philharmoniker two times per season. And he never fails to surprise Berlin audiences. There was even a small première at his most recent appearance in October 2012 when Haitink conducted Richard Wagnerʼs Siegried Idyll and the Wesendonck Lieder with the orchestra for the first time. And he had last conducted Beethovenʼs Eroica 23 years previously. “Music like a force of nature, free from showmanship by the performers,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung afterwards. The programme of his upcoming concert – Mozart's Piano Concerto “Jenamy” and Bruckner's Fourth Symphony – was incidentally performed previously by Haitink together with the Philharmoniker in 1996.