The Dutch conductor and violinist, Bernard Johan Herman Haitink, was born in Amsterdam, the son of Willem Haitink and Anna Haitink. His interest in music was first stimulated when as a child he was taken to hear a concert given by the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam under Willem Mengelberg. At the age of 9 he started to have violin lessons, which he continued at the Amsterdam Conservatory, where he also studied conducting with Felix Hupka.
Bernard Haitink joined the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra as a violinist but in 1954 and 1955 attended the annual courses for conductors organised by the Netherlands Radio Union, at which he studied with Ferdinand Leitner. This experience led directly to his appointment in 1955 as second conductor with the Union, sharing responsibility for four radio orchestras. Haitink first attracted attention when on November 7, 1956 he substituted for Carlo Maria Giulini in a performance of Cherubiniís Requiem with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, as a result of which he was invited to be a guest conductor at some of the orchestraís regular concerts. Having become Principal Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in the following year (1957), he made his American debut in 1958, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and first appeared in Britain in 1959, on a tour with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, with whom he made his first recording during the same year.
Following the unexpected death of the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdamís Chief Conductor Eduard van Beinum, also in 1959, Bernard Haitink was named First Conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam on September 1, 1959. Haitink and Eugen Jochum were appointed joint Chief Conductors of the orchestra in 1961. This arrangement lasted until 1963, when Haitink assumed full responsibility for the orchestra. Haitink made many recordings for the Philips label, and later Decca and EMI Classics, and toured widely with the orchestra. In the early 1980ís, Haitink threatened to resign his Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam post in protest at threatened reductions to its subsidy from the Dutch government, which could potentially have led to the dismissal of 23 musicians from the orchestra. The financial situation was eventually settled, and Haitink remained as chief conductor until 1988. In 1999, he was named the honorary conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra - the first time that such a title had been awarded in the history of the orchestra.
Outside of the Netherlands, Bernard Haitink became in 1963 a guest conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra; appointed Chief Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1967; between 1970 and 1979 he was in addition its Artistic Director. Haitink made his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1972, conducting Mozartís Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and returned to lead Die Zauberflöte in 1973 and Igor Stravinskyís The Rakeís Progress in 1975. Two years later (1978) he succeeded Sir John Pritchard as the Festivalís chief conductor, a post that he retained until 1988. While at Glyndebourne Haitink conducted a repertoire that included L.v. Beethovenís Fidelio, Richard Straussís Arabella, Prokofievís The Love for Three Oranges and Benjamin Brittenís A Midsummer Nightís Dream, in addition to the principal Mozart operas.
Having first appeared with the Royal Opera Company at Covent Garden in 1977 conducting Don Giovanni, and at the Metropolitan Opera in 1982 with Fidelio, Bernard Haitink maintained his association with Covent Garden, conducting performances of Verdiís Un ballo in maschera, Janáčekís Jenůfa and Wagnerís Lohengrin and Parsifal, and was appointed the companyís Chief Conductor in 1987. Although he suffered terribly during the traumas of the closure and rebuilding of the Royal Opera House between 1997 and 1999, arguably it was his principled stand that prevented the Covent Garden orchestra from being disbanded during this period. While in command at the Royal Opera, both before and after the closure, Haitink conducted memorable accounts of the major elements of the traditional operatic repertoire, such as Wagnerís Der Ring des Nibelungen, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tristan und Isolde, Verdiís Don Carlo and Falstaff, Mozartís Le nozze di Figaro, Borodinís Prince Igor, Tchaikovskyís The Queen of Spades and B. Brittenís Peter Grimes. He also took the orchestra out of the opera house and led it in several notable symphony concerts. He held the position until 2002, was praised for his musicianship, but received criticism for the degree of attachment to the entire organisation.
In addition to his operatic work in London, Bernard Haitink maintained an active concert schedule: between 1994 and 1999 he was Chief Conductor of the European Union Youth Orchestra. He served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1995 to 2004, when he took on the new title of conductor emeritus. From 2002 to 2004, he was Chief Conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle. His original contract with Dresden was through 2006, but Haitink resigned in 2004 over disputes with the Dresden Staatskapelle's Intendant, Gerd Uecker, on the orchestra's choice of successor. In April 2006, after an acclaimed two-week engagement in March 2006 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra appointed Bernard Haitink to the newly created position of Principal Conductor, effective as of the 2006-2007 season. The duration of the contract is four years. Haitink had declined an offer from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to be music director, citing his age. With respect to this contract, Haitink stated that "every conductor, including myself, has a sell-by date." He concluded his Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal conductorship in June 2010, with a series of concerts of the complete L.v. Beethoven symphonies and the orchestra awarding to him the Theodore Thomas Medallion. Haitink has also regularly appeared as a guest conductor with major orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Philharmoniker, and l'Orchestre National de France.
Bernard Haitink formally stated in a 2004 article that he would no longer conduct opera, but he made exceptions in 2007, directing three performances of Parsifal in Zürich in March and April and five of Pelléas et Mélisande in Paris (Théâtre des Champs-Élysées) in June. He stated in 2004 that he did not plan to conduct again at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. However, an April 2007 announcement stated that Haitink would return to the Royal Opera in December 2007, with the same Zürich production of Parsifal, and he fulfilled this engagement. He has also chis long associations with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester. Haitink is an honorary member of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Bernard Haitinkís reserved exterior is deceptive when it comes to making music: in works with which he identifies deeply, such as the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, he is able to deliver performances of great power and passion; and he is without question one of the finest conductors of the symphonies of Bruckner, possessing complete command of their individual musical architecture. His recording career, particularly in its early days, coincided with the constant growth of the record industry during the 1960ís and 1970ís, and he is thus extremely well represented in the record catalogues, having made many records, initially for the Dutch company Philips, and subsequently for both Decca and for EMI Classics. He has made many recordings for other labels, including Columbia Records, LSO Live, KCO Live, and CSO Resound. Several notable concert performances with the Orchestre National de Radio France have also been released on the French Naïve label. Haitink has recorded a wide variety of repertoire, with the complete symphonies of L.v. Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Gustav Mahler for Philips. the complete Dmitri Shostakovich symphonies for Decca and the complete Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies for EMI, and, and the complete piano concertos of L.v. Beethoven and J. Brahms with Claudio Arrau notable among his recordings. He has also recorded numerous individual works and many other concerto accompaniments. In the early 2000ís, he recorded the complete L.v. Beethoven and Johannes Brahms symphony cycles with the London Symphony Orchestra live in concert; the releases were part of the orchestra's influential venture into self-produced recordings on the "LSO Live" label. The L.v. Beethoven cycle in particular won several awards. Haitinkís recorded operatic repertoire is equally wide-ranging, with again an emphasis upon many heavyweight works, such as the three Mozart/da Ponte operas, Fidelio, Wagnerís Tannhäuser and complete opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Straussís Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, and Debussyís Pelléas et Mélisande.
Among the many honours Haitink has received during his long career are: Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) (UK, 1977); the Erasmus Prize in Holland in 1991; Honorary medal for Arts and Science of the Order of the House of Orange-Nassau, conferred upon him in 2000 by the Queen of The Netherlands for his achievements in the arts; in 2002 he was made a Companion of Honour (CH) by Her Majesty the Queen of England; Award Vereniging van Schouwburg- en Concertgebouwdirecties (Netherlands, 2007); Musical America named Haitink its 2007 Musician of the Year; Grammy Award (USA, 2008).
Bernard Haitink has been such a ubiquitous figure in European and American musical life that it has been easy to take him for granted; this is to do him a major injustice. As his extensive recorded repertoire demonstrates, he stands in the direct line of the great European conductors of earlier generations such as Richter, Nikisch, Felix Weingartner and Willem Mengelberg.
Bernard Haitink has five children from his first marriage to Marjolein Snijder. He and his fourth wife, the former Patricia Bloomfield, a barrister and past viola player in the Covent Garden Opera orchestra, reside in Lucerne, Switzerland.