Farewell, Bernard Haitink KBE (1929–2021)

Wonderful musician, lovely man. So many memories…

(1) The most earth-shatteringly powerful yet gentle and moving Pelléas et Mélisande (1976) – sadly he never recorded it, but I love his Debussy recordings.

(2) Taking over Don Giovanni from John Pritchard halfway through a run. In his one orchestral rehearsal he spent ten minutes re-balancing the opening chord of the Overture; after that, the orchestra made a completely different sound for him throughout the whole opera.

(3) During a run of Don Giovanni at the National Theatre, Bernard got more than usually excited and knocked 17 minutes off the running time (causing me to miss the offstage band graveyard cue!).

(4) Batons – he tailored his own very lightweight batons from bamboo and balsa wood, and would keep several on his music stand. If he got over-excited he might break three or four in the course of an evening. I used to keep the broken ones as souvenirs.

(5) Signature – he used to sign his own scores ‘Haitink’. How famous (or modest) do you have to be to sign yourself by your surname?

(6) His little house down the lane towards Glynde, done up in pine and Dutch tiles. He would commute by bike (or in his unassuming Saab if the weather was bad).

(7) Pit layouts… Other conductors: ‘I want the front desks on boxes HERE and HERE… woodwind in two rows HERE… trombones HERE…’ Haitink: ‘you know what I like, you do it.’

(8) Orchestral material – what to use for The Magic Flute – expensive Bärenreiter Urtext parts, or our crappy old Kalmus? ‘The music is not in the notes…’

(9) To the orchestra, who were overdoing a crescendo: ‘Don’t make a drama out of a crisis!’

(10) One sunny morning I am walking down the old Covered Way at Glyndebourne, happily whistling the slow movement of Dvořák 7, like you do. 30 yards in front of me, there is Bernard walking down the steps ahead of me. Without turning round, he raises a hand – ‘Good morning Jonathan!’ He had recognised my whistle.

(11) Working in Vienna for recording sessions with Bernstein at the Musikverein, I had arrived with the ‘Lenny circus’ – black limos, security guards, a bevy of personal assistants, the whole works… Creeping out of a side door was a slight figure in a big fur coat – Bernard Haitink. ‘Hello, Jonathan, what are you doing here?’ I felt quite apologetic…

(12) When I left Glyndebourne in 1984 – ‘Jonathan, there’s something for you on my piano.’ Expecting something routine like having to photocopy some music for him, I discover instead a neat parcel with an envelope containing a touching farewell message. Apparently he had sat down with Jane Glover to discuss what I would like as a leaving present – not ‘JB the obliging opera librarian’ but ‘JB the musical human being’… It was a facsimile of the manuscript score of Mahler 9. Treasured forever.

Rest in peace, Bernard. Gentle hero, extraordinary musician, always my inspiration.

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