The German conductor and composer, Neithard Bethke, the eighth of 10 children of a pastor family, was surrounded by music from his earliest childhood. His mother was a professional musician; she was piano pedagogue and at her times the youngest professor of her profession. She became his first piano teacher. Already at 7, he played the organ in the service in Wöhrden, at 13 years he was engaged there on a permanent basis. He studied church music, composition, piano and a conducting in Lübeck, Freiburg, Paris, Madrid and Hamburg.
Neither Betake was first active as a church musician in Wöhrden and in Lübeck. In 1969 he became cathedral organist in Ratzeburg. In the same year he created the Sommerakademie (summer academy) in Ratzeburg. In 1972 he was appointed as the director of church music and was thereby the youngest acting director of church music in Germany. In 1981 he became principal conductor of the renowned Deutschen Bachorchester consisting of first-class specialists, which had at that time its seat in Cologne and whose seat he shifted to Hamburg. Apart from all the activities in his Ratzeburg period, he retrieved the Abitur and Latin, studied at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel music science, history and theology, and in 1988 attained a doctorate in philosophy. His thesis is concerned with the life and the work of Kurt Thomas, who was a Thomaskantor for a short period.
Professor Doctor Neithard Bethke is the father and organiser of the Ratzeburger Dommusiken. However, his musical activity is not limited to the Ratzeburger Domkonzerte. Nearly annually international organ weeks take place in Ratzeburg in the summer, in which organists from all over the world are involved. Since 1969 he organises and leads the Ratzeburger Sommerakademie, with which renowned music pedagogues and artist accomplish master-classes for music students. Over 1,000 students have participated so far in these courses; some of them have become in the meantime renowned artists, lecturers and professors. Neithard Bethke has also taught in St. Petersburg, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sidney, Perth, Milan, and Santiago de Chile.
Neithard Bethke with his choir have given numerous guest concerts abroad. He was active as organist, harpsichordist and conductor in Belgium, England, Holland, Ireland, France, Italy, Iceland, in Estonia, Lettland, Litauen, Finland and Sweden, in Poland, Tschechien, Russia, Romania, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia; in Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Yugoslavia, Norway, Denmark, Liechtenstein; in other continents in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, North and South America, in Canada and China.
Neithard Bethke has made himself a name not only as a church musician but also as an opera conductor. Le Nozze di Figaro, La Traviata, Aida, Nabucco, La Bohéme, Carmen, Meistersinger, Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Freischütz belong among other things to his repertoire.
As a composer, Neithard Bethke is widely varied. So far he has composed 77 works, including 30 works for organ, 1 Mass, 3 oratorios, 8 Motets, 12 Cantatas, 12 other choral works, 4 Lieder cycles, 3 humorous choral works, 1 symphony, 6 other works for orchestras. He wrote music to texts of various authors: Jochen Klepper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hilde Domin, Uwe Steffen, Chines poetry, Erwin Lüddecke, and Eva Zeller. His works are characterised often by original instrumentation, e.g. clarinet, harp and alto voice.