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Farewell, Bernard Haitink KBE (1929–2021)

October 22, 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.

Better late…

May 10, 2010

 In past years I have tried to chronicle the blooming of the Canary Bird Rose as a sign that spring is on the way (it’s generally one of the first to flower).  But this year it was very late indeed…

Unfortunately the one outside my front door has been pruned back so hard that there is no chance of it flowering at all this year;  but the big one in the middle of the Green was suddenly profusely in bloom when I got back from a long weekend away last Tuesday, 4 May.

This is about three weeks later than in 2008!

Meanwhile I have just walked through the Rose Garden in Greenwich Park (very chilly! — swathed in scarf and gloves);  not a bloom in sight, except for a pretty ‘wild’ rose and a bush of what I would have sworn was Canary Bird but they call Rosa Hibernica

Garden Opera: Don Pasquale

August 27, 2008

Another August Bank Holiday, another Garden Opera performance in the magical setting of the Observatory Garden in Greenwich… (so it must be a year since I started this blog!  Hey!  Happy birthday to me!)

Alas, no idyllic weather this time, but at least the rain held off.  The audience was enthusiastic but not a full ‘house’ – where were the Burghers of Blackheath?  Not all in Tuscany, surely?  Perhaps put off by the weather, or by the relatively unfamiliar opera on offer?

Donizetti is mostly known for his prolific output of bel canto operas on serious or historical subjects, but he was also a dab hand at comedy, managing to combine swift-flowing action with hilarious patter songs, gentle lyricism and (as my friend Diana noted) some eyebrow-raising sudden key-changes.

Ernesto, the tenor lead, has probably the hardest task in Don Pasquale, having to play the soulful romantic while all about him are embroiled in comedy.  Alexander Anderson-Hall rose bravely to the challenge, having to work hard at times but to fine effect.  He could also ‘do’ the comedy when required.

Catherine May, as Norina, was a treasure – huge expressive eyes conveying every nuance of surprise, horror, complicity, teasing, play-acting and genuine affection.  And she could do the high notes too!

James McOran-Campbell, charismatic as ever (and with a green corduroy three-piece suit to die for), made Dr Malatesta into an untypically youthful but convincing and very funny conspirator.  Last but not least, as the eponymous Don Pasquale Deryck Hamon was a hoot – all arms and legs in confusion, infuriatingly pompous, ridiculous when trying to be ‘with it’, yet winning our sympathy for his plight.  And he had the low notes…

Bernie Lafontaine provided deft orchestrations for his hard-working six-piece band, which once again sounded convincingly like a whole orchestra.

Stage direction was by Duncan Macfarland (of the Royal Opera House) who updated the action to the ‘late 1970s’, explaining that it was a time when 1960s counter-culture collided head-on with the bourgeois values of middle England, thus enabling him to retain the conflicts of the original while playing down the now-unacceptable social stereotypes of Donizetti’s day.  (This did mean losing the bite of the final ‘moral’, in which ‘When an old man wants to marry, he’ll only make a fool of himself’ became something harmless about ‘losing a guidebook’…)

Designers Neil Irish (sets) and Dulcie Best (costumes) rose to the challenge brilliantly.  (more…)

Merry Christmas Card!

December 13, 2007

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Here’s my 2007 Christmas Card!

It’s the first two pages of the (39-page) score of my Christmas carol arrangements for ten wind players – we’re still arguing about whether the word is ‘Decet’ or Dectet’ – which received their triumphant premiere play-through last night, to the accompaniment of mulled wine and mince pies.

There are eight movements:

1 – The Mediaeval One (Gaudete)
2 – The Basque one (Atoz, atoz)
3 – The French one (Il est né, le divin enfant)
4 – The Old English one (The Coventry Carol)
5 – The One About The Holly (from Cornwall)
6 – The Other French one (Nous voici dans la ville)
7 – The Other Mediaeval One (The Boar’s Head Carol)
8 – The Very Traditional One (Dies natalis tibi felicitatis)

No. 8 is actually a joke – it was Grahame (the 1st flute)’s birthday…

Now my challenge is to find a way to (a) convert the score into a sound file, and (b) put it on here for your delight!

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Hello world again

August 24, 2007

The link to my old site (www.jonathanburton.co.uk) has now been redirected to this one — thanks, Eddie.

Hello to myself

August 23, 2007

Well, it’s getting there.  Phew.

Hello world!

August 23, 2007

Welcome to my new website.  My old site at www.jonathanburton.co.uk is still there but hasn’t been updated for a while; feel free to browse it while I get this one up and running!