Bernard Haitink, 1929-2021

Bernard Haitink, regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the post-war era, with posts at the Royal Concertgebouw and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, died Oct. 21 at his home in London. He was 92. 

CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti said in a statement, "The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, I and the entire CSOA family mourn the passing of Maestro Bernard Haitink, one of the greatest conductors, artists and musicians, who has given so much to the history of musical interpretation. His loss leaves an immense void in the world of music, and his extraordinary collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will long remain in the history of this great institution."

Jeff Alexander, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, said, “The entire Chicago Symphony Orchestra family is so grateful for the relationship we had with Bernard Haitink. His concerts over the years, especially in his role as principal conductor, as well as his camaraderie with and love for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will remain in our memories and in our hearts forever. His final concerts with the CSO in October 2018, just shy of his 90th birthday, were filled with the wonderful depth and beauty that he so often brought to his performances. We send our condolences to his family.”

James Smelser, chairman of the CSO Members' Committee, added, “The Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra mourn the loss of Maestro Bernard Haitink, who had a significant influence on our Orchestra, both personally and musically. Together, we were able to make the most wonderful music possible, and we will forever remember our connection to Maestro Haitink. Our paths crossed at a very important time in the Orchestra's history, and we are forever grateful for our time together.  With deepest sympathy, we send our love and condolences to the family of Maestro Haitink in this difficult time.” 

During his storied career, Maestro Haitink achieved many milestones. He led his first professional concert in 1954, and in 1961, he was named principal conductor of the famed Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

He had a long association with the CSO, making his debut in 1976 and returning for engagements in 1997 and early 2006. Beginning in 2006-07, Mr. Haitink became the CSO's principal conductor, as the search for a successor to Daniel Barenboim, who stepped down as music director after the 2005-06 season. 

His management, Askonas Holt, released this statement: "With great sorrow, we announce the death today of Bernard Haitink, the distinguished Dutch conductor. Mr. Haitink died peacefully at home with his wife and family.

"Bernard Haitink was one of the most celebrated conductors of his generation. He was chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years. As well as holding music director positions at the Royal Opera/Covent Garden and at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Mr. Haitink was principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Among many titles bestowed, Mr. Haitink was conductor emeritus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conductor laureate of the European Union Youth Orchestra and honorary member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic, with which he performed his last concert in September 2019.
"Bernard Haitink received many awards and honors in recognition of his services to music. He was Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and an Honorary Companion of Honour in the United Kingdom.
"His legacy will be his unrivaled interpretations of the great symphonic and operatic masterpieces. We remember Mr. Haitink not only as a legendary musician who made over 450 recordings, but also as a passionate mentor for future generations of conductors, generously offering his time to teaching and master classes."

In Chicago, he led his first concerts as principal conductor on Oct. 19, 20 and 21, 2006, in Mahler’s Third Symphony with mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, the women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), and the Chicago Children’s Choir (prepared by Josephine Lee). In April 2007, the work became the initial release on CSO Resound, the CSO’s new, in-house recording label. During his tenure, he recorded eight discs with the orchestra on CSO Resound. One of them, Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

As principal conductor, Mr. Haitink led many subscription weeks, in addition to concerts at the Ravinia Festival; in Carnegie Hall, and on tour to Europe and Asia, including the CSO’s first concerts in China. His last concerts with the CSO were in October 2018, leading Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2, with Paul Lewis as soloist. The Chicago Tribune called it "an authoritative performance. ... This was a serious, clear-eyed, often majestic account that benefited greatly from the conductor’s refusal to overstate his case." (For a complete list of his CSO performance history, please click here.)

In June 2019, he announced his retirement from the podium. He conducted his last concert in Amsterdam, the city where he started his career with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. After his final Amsterdam concert on June 15 with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, he led concerts that summer with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Lucerne, the Vienna Philharmonic at the BBC Proms, and the Salzburg and Lucerne festivals, and then officially retired Sept. 6.

Additional releases featuring Maestro Haitink on CSO Resound were Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, Mahler’s First and Sixth symphonies, Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben and Webern’s Im Sommerwind, Mahler’s Second Symphony, and Poulenc’s Gloria and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe).