Previously published on September 20
The Enigmatic Maestro
A portrait by John Bridcut of one of the world’s most admired conductors, filmed during the lead-up to his retirement at the age of 90.
Saturday 26th September, 7.30pm
BBC Two & iPlayer
“The secret of conducting is that you embrace the orchestra without suffocating them – and that is what I’ve tried to achieve my whole life.”
I enjoyed his LSO Barbican concert on Saturday on Sky Arts channel. Superb performances of Mozart and Bruckner, but he did look very frail.
I remember reading an article about Bernard Haitink quite a while ago, when he said something like “If you have to talk and explain you have lost it”. At that time I was playing with an orchestra whose conductor constantly stopped and talked. Once we timed him during a rehearsal of a movement from a Brahms Symphony and he talked altogether for 40 minutes!
I had the pleasure of bumping into Maestro Haitink at a supermarket in Sloane Street some years ago. I introduced myself and asked him if I could pose a quick question that had been puzzling me for decades.
He was courteous in the extreme.
“Maestro I have often wondered why you have never performed Sibelius?”
The reply came
“Ah yes Sibelius. I have always loved this music and play his works at home with great pleasure. But you know I have never felt I have had the opportunites to study in the detail the scores.”
I too watched him on the wonderful Sky Arts programme which by the way puts the BBC to shame.
The Mozart concerto, a favourite of mine, was delectable and the Bruckner magisterial. What I most liked was to watch his eyes cue the music and his baton wrist being so flexible on the beat.
He was the epitome of offering a truly superb orchestra guidance as to how best to play this music.
In interview when asked about repertoire he’d not recorded, or by contrast – like the Vaughan Williams – pieces that had ‘just come my way’, he’d reverse the phrase to say: ‘it never came my way’. No last six Mozart Symphonies, for example, I believe only a live ‘Prague’. Thanks for your Sibelius comment: another puzzle for me!
I thought the Bridcut film was extremely well put together, watching again from 1m05s, where he speaks about the German occupation, I found it really moving and revealing of this modest man.