Born: March 4, 1929;

Died: October 21, 2021.

BERNARD Haitink, who has died aged 92, was recognised as one of the pre-eminent conductors of the last 50 years. Much of his career was spent in Britain, where he conducted the London Philharmonic and as served as music director of Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera. With Haitink on the podium there were no histrionics, just a desire to produce great music.

“Bernard was a constant presence and inspiration to all of his fellow musicians”, recalls Sir Simon Rattle, who played the piano at rehearsals for Glyndebourne’s The Rake’s Progress in 1975, with Haitink on the podium, and with designs by David Hockney. “He was one of the rare giants of our time, and even rarer and more precious, a giant full of humility.”

Scotland benefited from many visits by Haitink, even from his days as a student. He was in Edinburgh for the second Festival in 1948 on a holiday from Amsterdam; he attended a Concertgebouw concert in the Usher Hall, and his first-ever opera, Don Giovanni, in the Kings Theatre.

In 1963 he returned to Edinburgh, no longer a hard-up student but in charge of the Concertgebouw in Mahler’s Symphony No 1, which, The Times considered, “was realised with tremendous élan by Mr Haitink and his players”.

Haitink graced no fewer than 14 Festivals, often playing Bruckner, a composer he championed throughout his career. Of special note was the 1977 Festival, when the music of Beethoven was highlighted. Haitink and his Dutch orchestra gave memorable concerts, especially of the Emperor Concerto played by the noted Italian-born pianist, Maurizio Pollini.

At the 1999 Festival Haitink conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Third Symphony at the Usher Hall; it was, wrote the Herald’s Michael Tumelty, “a magnificent performance, suffused from start to close with the qualities which mark Bernard Haitink’s greatness – his inimitable breadth and depth of emotional command, unhurried, flawlessly structured in its vast shapes and its tiniest detail, conceived and delivered with consummate maturity of style”.

Haitink enthusiasts also remember the Royal Opera visit to Edinburgh's Festival Theatre in 1998 with a magnificent Luc Bondy production of Verdi's epic, Don Carlos.

Bernard Johan Herman Haitink was born in Amsterdam in 1929, the third child of Willem Haitink, an administrator, and Anna (née Verschaffelt). His mother’s Jewish ancestry remained a secret during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, though Willem was sentenced to four months in a concentration camp after the protest bombing of a pro-Nazi bookshop. In a recent poignant TV interview Haitink recalled those turbulent years and quietly admitted, “I ate [tulip] bulbs to stay alive.”

He listened illicitly to music broadcasts from the BBC and joined the Amsterdam Conservatory to study violin and oboe. But he yearned to be a conductor and this was enhanced by his visit to Edinburgh and, later, the Salzburg Festival, where he attended concerts under Wilhelm Furtwängler.

His big break came in 1956 when Carlo Maria Giulini cancelled a performance of Cherubini’s Requiem. Haitink stepped in and established a real rapport with the Concertgebouw: three years later he became a principal conductor of the orchestra.

He made his debut with the London Philharmonic in 1962, conducting Bruckner’s third symphony, and after the Edinburgh concert the following year his international career began. From 1966 he was principal conductor of both the London Phil and the Concertgebouw but in 1991 he resigned from the latter over funding cuts.

He had avoided working in the opera house until 1972 when he was in charge of Mozart’s Seraglio at Glyndebourne, followed three years later by The Rake’s Progress, for which Rattle was the rehearsal pianist. His time at Glyndebourne proved most productive and happy and he conducted well-received productions of the Mozart and Britten operas and a Fidelio directed by Peter Hall.

He is said to have turned down the musical directorship at Covent Garden at least three times. Perhaps he was not keen to conduct some of their repertoire: certainly, he seldom conducted Verdi, and never Puccini or Bellini, after he finally took over the Royal Opera in 1987.

He was hailed for his Wagner (especially a Graham Vick production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Richard Strauss and Janacek, but there was discord in the company – not least over the closing down of the theatre for two years for refurbishment.

He was never keen to involve himself in the administration of company affairs but when he did he did so in a typically no-nonsense manner. In a television documentary on the Royal Opera House he was shown the controversial designs for Richard Jones’s 1994 Ring Cycle. He held his head in his hands and mumbled, “We can’t ignore everything the composer wanted.”

When he conducted a concert version of that Ring at the Proms he emerged on to an empty platform at the Albert Hall at the end and addressed the audience in a quiet and reasonable voice. He pleaded that during the ROH lockdown the orchestra, chorus and corps de ballet should not be sacked, as was being mooted by the ROH board. His plea was cheered to the rafters by the audience, and turned out to be successful.

He made many historic recordings, winning much praise for the standard repertoire. He also made outstanding recordings of the Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams and Bruckner symphonies and Britten’s Peter Grimes and Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage.

Haitink had five children from his first marriage to Marjolein Snijder. His fourth wife, Patricia Bloomfield, was a former viola player at the SNO and then at Covent Garden. She and his children survive him.