Reinbert de Leeuw (1938-2020)

We are saddened by the news of the passing of composer, pianist, conductor and initiator Reinbert de Leeuw.

From his time as a student until his death on February 14th, he remained closely connected to the Royal Conservatoire. His legacy is incomparable and vast.

A true pioneer, he tirelessly, wholeheartedly and in his very own way committed himself to a music profession in which the composer and his/her work were set at centre stage. His contributions to contemporary music and specifically to the Dutch Ensemble culture are of extreme historical value. His passing, it seems, regarded the end of an era. To those he inspired and leaves behind, the task for them is to continue his legacy.

(Former) colleagues and students share their personal memories of Reinbert de Leeuw and his indelible contribution to projects at the Royal Conservatoire below.

Henk van der Meulen, Principal


“In everything that Reinbert did as a pianist, composer and conductor he made it quite clear that when it came to quality there was no compromise and that a life as an artist meant that you have to be totally committed to all that concerns our discipline. Reinbert was the driving force behind the founding of the Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst, a fund to support the creative musical arts that ensured an unprecedented fertile climate for new music for more than 25 years. The discontinuing of the Fund and political indifference to sustaining ensembles and opportunities for composers to continue their work meant that Reinbert saw his ideals perish. During a presentation of the replacement fund, the Performing Arts Fund NL, in Het Muziekgebouw aan het IJ during which the latter Fund endeavoured to defend its disastrous policy to an audience full of musicians and composers, Reinbert, always rhetorical and well-informed, made an indelible impression in his scathing attack on the Fund’s committee. His life’s work was being destroyed, he said, and that is what it felt like.

His intense loyalty to the world of music and his distrust of uninvolved administrators and the weak-willed resonated in each of his passionately delivered sentences. Reinbert has stood on the barricades his whole life and has set us a great example.”

Martijn Padding - Composer and head of the Composition department of the Royal Conservatoire


“Dear Reinbert, the news of your passing has affected us deeply. Dutch music life has lost a father. There isn’t a place in this country that you haven’t touched with your music. No moment in your life has passed when you weren’t an impassioned servant to your muse. A life of music! I’m lost for words when I try to express the deep respect, gratitude and admiration that I feel for you and for all that you have done for us. You stood at the dawn of the Golden Age of New Music in the Netherlands and you have made it the generous musical land of our dreams. We have lowered the flag in your honour. Farewell!”

‘Componist des Vaderlands’ Calliope Tsoupaki to Reinbert de Leeuw


“Incredible but true, about 45 years ago I played my first concert under the direction of Reinbert. As a very young student at the Royal Conservatoire I was allowed to play one of the percussion parts in a work by Messiaen. Many more would follow. I have very warm memories of those concerts, usually in the Remonstrant Church, where a police station is now. The repertoire that we were allowed to study with him in those years was about composers such as Varèse, Stravinsky, Hindemith and Messiaen. It was also the time that he and some of my fellow students created works of the Second Viennese School, which would result in the establishment of the Schönberg Ensemble.

It was great to experience that period as a young percussionist. Reinbert did not behave like so many conductors that I knew from the symphonic world; he was very approachable, one with his musicians and enjoyed their company. During rehearsals, of course, he was demanding and could also be unmercifully harsh, but that was not the case before and after rehearsal.

For example, he likes to play a card game of ‘klaverjassen’ during tours, yet whilst during rehearsals he could understand the technical problems that some composers presented their performers, it was not the case during this card game. Even though I could say a hundred times that I didn't have the card he wanted, I should have played it! Logic that he could use as a conductor if a musician made a mistake; “Do not play during the silence between the notes…”

Wim Vos – Head of the ‘Nationale Master Orkestdirectie’ and ‘Hafabra directie’, former head of the Classical department.


"I will never forget the concerts and recordings of "Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum" by Olivier Messiaen with Nederlands Blazers Ensemble directed by Reinbert, this was one of the many productions that I was allowed to play with him in. His total mastery of the score, his unstoppable drive and his organic interpretation gave these performances a deeply emotional charge. What a musician!"

Ben van Dijk - Music teacher Classical Bass trombone and bass trombonist with the Rotterdam Philharmonic