Bernard Haitink was born and educated in Amsterdam. His conducting career began at the Netherlands Radio, where he took part in their intensive conductors’ courses, and where in 1957 he became the Chief Conductor of the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. He went on to become Chief Conductor
of the Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years. He is now Patron of the Radio Philharmonic and Honorary Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
He has also held positions as Music Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He is an honorary member of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and in 2019 was made an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic.
Bernard Haitink has received many awards and honours in recognition of his services to music, including Musical America’s Musician of the Year and the Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, and an honorary Companion of Honour in the UK, and has received honorary doctorates from the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Music.
The links between Bernard Haitink and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra have withstood the test of time, even when his career was taking him all over the world. One fine example of this was Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust in 1998, later issued on CD. When in 2010 the Dutch government was proposing to abolish all radio ensembles, including the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernard Haitink immediately got in touch with the management of the orchestra, asking what he could do. The result was an open letter in which he berated the government’s policy, resulting in the decision to abolish the ensembles being partially reversed, thanks in part to this initiative. As a gesture of its thanks and to confirm the old ties, the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra offered to make Haitink its Patron, and plans were set in motion for him to make a return to the orchestra. His 60th anniversary as a conductor was celebrated with the orchestra in 2014 (Mahler Symphony no. 4) in the NTR Saturday Matinee Series in the Concertgebouw, and he returned in 2016 (Bruckner Symphony no. 9), 2018 (Brahms German Requiem) and finally on 15 June 2019, when he gave his very last concert in Amsterdam, with Bruckner Symphony no. 7.
How close to his heart both the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Radio Choir were, was evident in 2017 when he gave the awards speech for the prestigious Concertgebouw Prize, awarded to both ensembles at a gala concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Yet again he reaffirmed the huge value of these ensembles, combined with an urgent appeal to the Dutch government to exclude them from any future cuts!