The Perennial: Bernard Haitink

For the second time this season with the Berliner Philharmoniker

Bernard Haitink
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)

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. The conductor, who made a considerable contribution to the renaissance of Gustav Mahler in the 1960s, performed the composer’s symphonies regularly with the Philharmoniker since the end of the 1980s. He accompanied the orchestra on several concert tours and also on many occasions to the Salzburg Easter Festival. The first time, in 1991, he conducted the festivalʼs production of Mozartʼs Le nozze di Figaro.

Venice and the Philharmoniker – just a little bit different

“There is the saying about Venice that all the cities are the same, but Venice is just a little bit different,” said Bernard Haitink in an interview with the Digital Concert Hall. “One could say it about the Berliner Philharmoniker.” The mutual liking between orchestra and conductor is clear, and from 2004, their collaboration has taken on an extra intensity: since then, the Dutchman has made guest appearances with the Berliner Philharmoniker two times per season. Just a few weeks ago, he conducted a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. He now returns to conduct the Philharmoniker – standing in for an indisposed Zubin Mehta. The programme includes Anton Webern’s Passacaglia, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel” with Leonidas Kavakos as the soloist, and Antonín Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony, a work which Haitink last conducted with the orchestra in 2004.