Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Haitink at 80.

The great Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink marks his 80th birthday today with a concert in his home city of Amsterdam. I could have written that Haitink 'celebrates his 80th birthday today,' but 'celebrates' might be too strong of a word, as Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein makes clear in a recent profile:
Bernard Haitink hates birthdays. Especially his own.

"If there existed a society for the abolishment of birthdays, I would at least want to be vice president," the maestro recently said, furrowing his dour Dutch brow.

In fact, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's principal conductor will be treating Wednesday, when he turns 80, just like any other day. Haitink will begin his ninth decade in his native Amsterdam, rehearsing and conducting Beethoven and Bruckner with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the great ensemble most indelibly associated with him during his 55-year career.

"I thought that was the way to do it, because I have had such a long and close relationship with that orchestra," said Haitink, who directed the Concertgebouw for 21 seasons, roughly two decades before the CSO chose him to head the transition team that would secure the orchestra's artistic fortunes between the directorships of Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti.

Haitink shows no signs of slowing down. CSO musicians report that the vigor he displayed on the podium during the orchestra's recent Far East tour was undimmed from Yokohama to Beijing...
On his always-excellent classical music blog On An Overgrown Path, Bob Shingleton notes today that he has more Haitink LP's in his collection than recordings of any other conductor. I can make a similar claim, though all of my Haitink recordings are on CD. (To my regret, LP's had largely left the retail market by the time I got interested in music.) Though Bernard Haitink is one of my favorite conductors, I've heard him live on only one occasion, when he appeared at Carnegie Hall with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in May 2008. Nonetheless, I hope to hear him again this coming May when he is scheduled to lead the CSO in two more concerts in New York.

I like what the aforementioned post from On An Overgrown Path has to say about Haitink as "the ultimate musician's musician," a modest man who "resoundingly disproves the rule that you need an odious personality to be a great conductor." Boston classical music blogger Justin Locke has a bit more on this theme in a post explaining why musicians enjoy playing for Haitink. As a non-musician who admires and appreciates Haitink's conducting, I'm pleased that the maestro commands sincere respect from the musicians that he works with. If you'd like to sample some of his work, one place to start may be the free downloads of some Haitink recordings that will be available next week from the Dutch network Radio 4. For my part, I hope that Bernard Haitink enjoys many more happy, productive and rewarding years. AMDG.


At 3/05/2009 9:29 AM, Blogger Laura Brown said...

Seeing Haitink conduct Shostakovich's 4th at the Proms last year was one of the highlights of my concert-going career.

It's strange to imagine, but children being born today will probably think the same way about CDs as you and I do about LPs. I was listening to an interview with David Byrne on the radio last night and he said the last big CD shop in Manhattan had closed just a few weeks ago.

At 3/05/2009 10:44 AM, Blogger justin said...

well thanks for including my post in your blog. just fyi, my blog has migrated to here

new and improved! best, justin locke

At 3/05/2009 11:09 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


I would say the same about my experience hearing Haitink conduct Shostakovich's 4th at Carnegie Hall - it was definitely one of the best concerts I've attended.

I imagine that Byrne was talking about the Virgin Megastore at Times Square, which did indeed close recently. My suspicion is that, even if the CD market is declining, it will be a long time before it goes away completely - there are still enough people who prefer CDs to digital downloads, and I think that we've seen some creative adaptation to a changing market on the part of orchestras (e.g., new labels produced by orchestras themselves, as the CSO, LSO, LPO and RCO have all done).

Ultimately, I think I prefer CDs to digital downloads for the same reason that I prefer real books to new technologies like Kindle. There is something about the sensory experience of having a book or a CD in your hands, particularly if it's one that you've just purchased. Where CDs are concerned, I also care about liner notes and cover art, which you don't get with downloads (and PDF files don't count, at least in my view).

Hopefully there are enough people out there who share my views to keep the CD industry going for at least a few more decades, even at a reduced level.

At 3/05/2009 11:11 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thanks for the updated link - I've corrected the link in my post so that it goes to your new blog. Keep up the good work!


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