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The Strange Career Of Legendary Conductor Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004 )

 Today would have been the 84th birthday of the great conductor Carlos Kleiber , the son of another great conductor , Austrian  Erich Kleiber (1890-1956) .  He was born in Berlin in 1930 when his father Erich was music director of the Berlin State opera ,but grew up in Buenos Aires  Argentina because  his father had  taken over  as chief conductor of the  remowned  Teatro Colon opera house there  after  leaving  Europe to  escape  the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria which he detested . 

     Carlos  showed  marked musical talent in his youth , but his father  was  opposed to his son  becoming a conductor initially , so  the younger Kleiber  studied Chemistry in Zurich . But  he managed to  work his way up  through the ranks of various German opera houses as a rehearsal pianist and  coach to singers , and  his career as a conductor  began after his father died in 1956 . 

    Carlos never  wanted to become music director of  a major opera house or  orchestra because he  wanted to be free to  conduct  on a free lance basis , without the onerous tasks of  dealing with  the administration of these organizations .  The great Herbert von karajan  wanted Kleiber to  be his successor  as  principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic ,  and although he  had great admiration for the elder maestro , he  declined  this great honor  and  Claudio Abbado, who cellebrated his 80th birthday last week , took over  in 1989  when Karajan  passed away at the age of 81 . 

     Kleiber was a regular with the opera companies of   Stuttgart and Dusseldorf  in Germany  , and later with the prestigious Bavarian State opera in Munich  ,  and his fame grew all over Europe  .  His first recording  , and one of the   commerical ones he made  was for Deutsche Grammophon records  in the early 1970s :   Carl Maria von Weber's renowned opera "Der Freischutrz  " (the free shooter) , with  the great  Dresden State orhestra  , then in East Germany  and a cast of leading German  opera singers , and  is still considered the finest recording of  the opera by many critics and fans .

    The only other  commercial recordings Kleiber made were  acclaimed ones of  the 5th and 7th symphonies  of Beethoven , the Brahms 4th  and  Schubert's "Unfinished  " symphony and  3rd ,  Verdi's La Traviata  and Die Fledermaus of Johann Strauss  with  the Bavarian State opera , and Wagner's Tristan & Isolde , again with the Dresden State opera  , all for  Deutsche Grammophon , and for EMI records, the Dvorak piano concerto with the great Russian pianist  Sviatoslav Richter .  There is a live recording on  Sony Classical  of  a Johann Strauss New Year's day concert with the Vienna Philharmonic .

     Kleiber became known as a quirky  personality  who  conducted rarely and only when  he found the rehearsal conditions right  . He demanded  much more  rehearsal time than  was normally granted for conductors  even though he was conducting works  which the orchestral musicians and opera singers had perfomed  numerous times  .  All the world's foremost orchestras and opera companies  vied for his  presence on the podium  , but  he was very particular about  when and where he would conduct  . 

     He also became notorious for cancelling  conducting engagements  if  he became displeased with anything  , such as  not having enough rehearsal time , not having the same musicians in the orchestra for every rehearsal and performance of a particular opera etc.  Each Kleiber performance became ot be a gala event .  He appeared  sporadicaly with the Bavarian State opera in Munich , the Vienna State opera, La Scala Milan ,  the Royla opera in London ,  finally making his long-awaited debut at the Metropolitna opera in  1088 , where he  conducted performances of  La Traviata, La Boheme,  and Der Rosenkavalier  in the course of three seasons .  He also  conducted the Chicago symphony  on a few occaisions . These were his only  appearances in America . 

     Unlike his father Erich ,  Carlos restricted himself to  a  very small  repertoire  of  orchestral works and operas .  His operatic repertoire consisted of  basically , such  repertoire staples as Carmen, La Traviata, Otello ,  La Boheme, Tristan &Isolde, which he conducted  with great acclaim at Bayreuth for several seasons , Der Rosenkavalier  and  on  a few occaisions  Elektra by Richard Strauss , plus  orchestral favorites by Beethoven, Schubert , and Brahms .  He was certainly familiar with a much wider  range of works, but for some reason he could not bring himself to  conduct a wider repertoire, which is our loss .

     Carlos Kleiber's performances were rneowned for  their brilliance and  apparent improvisatory freedom  and spontaneity  despite the lavish reharsal time he demanded , and  rarely received a negative  review ,unlike most  prominent conductors . 

    There are a number of pirated recordings on smaller  record labels of  his performances , but  they do not have the luxury of  the first-rate sonics of  Deutsche grammophon, and  some  of his performances can also  be seen on DVD , such as Der Rosenkavalier and Carmen .  Kleiber lived a quiet and modest life in his Munich home  with his Slovenian wife and two children  and pretty muhc avoided the limelight . 

    By the late 1990s  he conducted  less and less , finally succumbing to cancer in 2004 .  All in all, Kleiber  conducted  far fewer performances in his career than  most leading conductors , who are usually constantly on the road , or  preoccupied with  a particular  orchestra or opera house .  Orchestral musicians and  opera singers adored him  , but rarely had the chance to work with him .  There are several interesting documentaries about  this strange and fascinating maestro which you can se eon youtube .  Deutsche Grammophon recently issued a  box set of  all the recordings  he made for them .  Carlos Kleiber was a one of a kind maestro . 




Posted: Jul 03 2013, 04:13 PM by the horn | with no comments
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