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Wagner long ago and not waited until he had a thorough command of a vast orchestral repertory before turning his mind to the stage .

Nor was his musical upbringing at all inclined to the stage. Born in 1929 into a well -off but non-musical family in Amsterdam, he did not take to music until he began studying the violin at the age of nine, when his paren t sent him to a player in the Concertgebouw, and it was not unnatural! _ that orchestra on which he was brought up, beginning with a performance of Bach's Matthew Passion , of which as a budding violinist he mostl y recalls the violin solo in 'Erbarme dich'. Mengelberg was, of course, the conductor and it was Mengelberg through whom he began to get to know the orchestral repertory, though any lasting influence must have been small when we consider Mengelberg 's eccentrically idiosyncratic interpretations, and Haitink 's soberly spiritual ones. Nevertheless it was a performance under Mengelberg of Tchaikovsky 's 'Pathetique ' that fired Haitink to think he might become a conductor.

Other early mentors were Eugen Jochum, in person at the Concertgebouw (and still admired by Haitink) , and on record Toscanini . They proved consolations during the harsh and uncertain years of the war and the occupation. His father had a brief but in terms of health disastrous spe ll in a concentration camp. Nazi officers were everywhere and they left the sensitive youth with a loathing of uniforms , and a love-hate attitude to German art. After the war, he decided on a musical career, studied a t Amsterdam Conservatory, joined the conducting seminar of Netherlands Radio, 1954-5, played the violin in the Radio orchestra, eventually became its assistant conductor, helped along the way by the encouragement of Ferdinand Leitner. He soon became principal conductor of the Netherlands Radio Orchestra, remaining in that post for five years , out of the limelight , learning his craft. His breakthrough came in 1956 when , at Yan Beinum's request, he deputised for Giulini , who was ill , in one ofCherubini's Requiems, after which he was invited to conduct the orchestra as guest. When Yan Beinum suddenly died , Haitink , not without some reluctance (he was no t yet 30) succeeded him as the orchestra 's chief in 1961. He gradually established his own reputation and further enhanced that of the orchestra , whom he brought to this country on tour last month. His beneficent effect on the London Philharmonic during their long association is too well-known to require further comment and of late his relationship with the Philharmonia has promised an equally fruitful partnership.

So much for the orchestral side of Haitink 's career. Where opera is concerned, he directed some performances of Der fliegende Hollander and Don Carlos in Holland in the early days that he would prefer to forge t. Then there was silence , until he began to work at Glyndebourne. However, there had been some earlier stirrings.

Indeed, his first interest in opera was fired by a visit to the Edinburgh Festi val in 1948 . He went there with a friend , determined to get into Don Gio vanni even though they had little money. They turned up at the stage door of the King 's Theatre and asked if, as students from Holland , they could get into the rehearsal. The doorman called out to a young man, who turned out to be Ian Hunter (now Haitink 's agen t) , and he agreed

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