Haitink has been well known for decades in Europe thanks to his long association with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. He is overdue for this kind of recognition, though, in the Americas. His recent associations with the Boston Symphony and Chicago Symphony have helped boost awareness of his accomplishments in that hemisphere of the world.
Haitink has never been known as a seeker of press attention. The music always comes first with this conductor and he is keenly aware of the dedication it requires. When Haitink appears on television it's because he's conducting a televised concert, not because he's the guest on a talk show. He often says in interviews that he tries to limit his engagements to leave more time for score study. He realized as a young man that conducting is an art one matures into. The increased understanding of great music that comes with life experience is, as Haitink puts it, 'well worth the price of losing one's youth.' He pays attention to the work of his colleagues and both learns from and advances their careers. He early recognized the the talent of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. His admiration for Carlos Kleiber led Haitink, after watching Kleiber rehearse, to remark to Simon Rattle that he still felt like 'a student in this art.' Haitink still maintains that his reputation for humility is oversold. 'One cannot be humble,' he says, 'and be a conductor.'
On the occasion of his 75th birthday in 2004 Haitink discussed his art with Martin Kettle of The Guardian (UK):
I think maybe conducting is not something for young people. I started far too young with a world-famous orchestra. I still have sleepless nights about it sometimes. How was it possible that I could do this and that without any musical or human experience? It is a miracle that I survived.Not such a miracle, Maestro. Congratulations. And thank you.