Thursday, 5 September 2019

Bernard Haitink's valedictory 90th Prom, Royal Albert Hall

Bernard Haitink's farewell to the Proms  -photo credit Peter Le Tissier

Bernard Haitink's 90th Prom and his official farewell to London, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with Emmanuel Ax in Beethoven Piano Concerto no 4 op 58 and Bruckner Symphony no 7. Haitink did the same programme in Salzburg on Saturday (still avalable here on Takt1).  On Friday, he conducted it again from Lucerne Festival (audio only link on NPO Radio 4)   The programmes might be identical but the emotional experience was so strong it din't matter in the least.. I've been listening over and over this week, can't bear to stop. Words aren't sufficient to express the intense feelings Haitink's farewell awakes.  For many of us there never was a time when Haitink wasn't a presence in our listening lives. Some of us can remember when he was young !  My heart tore, as he walked off the Royal Albert Hall stage, gently accompanied by the Leader of the Wiener Philharmoniker.  There went a giant, though he looked so old and frail.

And yet the musicianship was as powerful, and personal as ever.  Such fluidity and poise, such elegance and emotional depth.  Bruckner shone : as if infused by the composer's faith in life as much as in God.  Such freedom of spirit and energy !  Please read Colin Stuart Clarke's review here on Robert Hugill's blog, it's beautifull written).

Haitink conducts favourite pieces over and over again, always looking for some new insight, some new way of engaging with the composer and the work. That's what true artists do. As Mahler said "The music lies not only in the notes". The differences might be imperceptible, but every performance is individual. Just as we all change day by day without hardly being aware, performance is a form of connecting to life and to the creative power that is music. Earlier this year, in Munich, Haitink was so unwell that he only conducted the second half of the programme, Beethoven 9, which he could probably conduct in his sleep, but Haitink does not do autopilot..  Tired as he looked, once the music got going,  it seemed to invigorate  him with renewed energy : the flow of the music like the flow of life through one's veins.  (Please read more about that here).

In March at the Barbican London, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, with which he has been associated for decades, in two concerts - Mozart Piano Concerto no 22 with Till Fellner, and Bruckner Symphony no 4. (Please read my review here) and  Dvořák Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 (B.108),with Isabelle Faust and Gustav Mahler Symphony no 4. (Please read more about that here). This last Prom at the Royal Albert Hall was valedictory - his 90th Proms appearance, probably a record of some kind for a non BBC conductor.  Memories of past Haitink Proms flooded back, indelibly etched in the memory.  Please scroll down to the label "Haitink" below for other performances).  He's conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam 1500 times, and many times the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic orchestra, where he began conducting way back in 1954, to which he returned when he could.  And of course, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Lucerne, Salzburg and so much else !  In London, we've been extraordinarily lucky to have had him as Chief of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1967-79), a frequent and much loved guest at the London Symphony Orchestra, with the Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra from 1978, (where he was spotted in the audience this summer) and at the Royal Opera House. I remember the world's slowest Parsifal - but it worked, since the Grail Comminity is semi comatose part of the time.  the world will not be quite the same without Haitink's understated brilliance and depth.

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