Carlos Kleiber

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Carlos Kleiber.png

Carlos Kleiber (3 July 1930 – 13 July 2004) was a German conductor, widely regarded as one of the greatest of the 20th century.[1] He was raised in Buenos Aires but trained mostly in Germany, where he did the majority of his work.

Early life[edit]

Kleiber was born as Karl Ludwig Bonifacius Kleiber in Berlin, the son of the eminent Austrian conductor Erich Kleiber and American Ruth Goodrich, from Waterloo, Iowa.[2][3] In 1940, the Kleiber family emigrated to Buenos Aires and Karl was renamed Carlos. As a youth, he had an English governess and grew up in English boarding schools. He also composed, sang, and played piano and timpani. While his father noticed his son's musical talents, he nevertheless dissuaded Carlos from pursuing a musical career: "What a pity the boy is musically talented", wrote Erich to a friend.[4] Carlos first studied chemistry in Zurich, but soon decided to dedicate himself to music.

Early career[edit]

Carlos Kleiber was répétiteur at the Gärtnerplatztheater in Munich in 1951. He made his conducting debut with Millöcker's operetta Gasparone in Potsdam on Feb. 12, 1955. From 1958 to 1964 he was Kapellmeister at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf and Duisburg, and from 1964 to 1966 held the same post at Zurich Opera. Between 1966 and 1973 he was Erst Kapellmeister in Stuttgart, his last salaried job with line responsibility.

Munich as home base[edit]

In 1968 Kleiber began the longest and most fruitful professional relationship of his life, with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. (He lived in the Munich suburb of Grünwald, near the Bavaria Film studios.) For ten years, until 1978, he held a "guest" conducting contract with the company; for the following ten years, until 1988, he worked without any fixed contract. He conducted Wozzeck (in 1970), Der Rosenkavalier (from 1973), Die Fledermaus (from 1974), Otello (in the late 1970s), La traviata (from 1977) and La bohème. For ten years in the 1970s and 1980s, he famously conducted the company's New Year's Eve performances of Die Fledermaus, leaving at least four recordings of the operetta, perhaps his favorite piece of music.

He also led numerous concerts with the company's Bavarian State Orchestra, both in the Nationaltheater and on tour; this was, in effect, his orchestra, one he shared for twenty years with GMD Wolfgang Sawallisch. Among the live recordings from this partnership are Beethoven's 4th, 6th and 7th Symphonies. Kleiber's last concert with the Bavarian State Orchestra took place in Ravenna, Italy, on June 19, 1997.

Freelance work[edit]

Kleiber greatly restricted his conducting appearances as his fame grew:

Edinburgh and London[edit]

He made his British debut in 1966 at the Edinburgh Festival with Wozzeck, a work whose world premiere his father had conducted in 1925. His repertoire at the Royal Opera House included Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra, La bohème and Otello.[5] He also conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, but a 1981 concert with this orchestra was so badly reviewed that Kleiber swore never to conduct in London again, and he never did.


Kleiber made a successful Bayreuth debut in 1974 conducting Wagner's Tristan und Isolde; he led this opera again in 1975 and (for three performances only) in 1976, but did no further work at the festival.

Chicago and New York[edit]

Kleiber's American debut came in 1978 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,[6] where he again conducted in 1983, his only U.S. orchestra appearances.[7][8] He worked at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1988, 1989 and 1990; his debut was conducting La bohème with Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni.[9] He returned in 1989 to conduct La traviata and in 1990 for Otello[10] and Der Rosenkavalier.[11]

Berlin and Vienna[edit]

The celebrated Berlin-born conductor did not conduct the Berlin Philharmonic until 1982, a debut that was well received. He returned to the orchestra in the late 1980s. In 1989, following Herbert von Karajan's resignation from the orchestra, Kleiber was offered, but famously declined, the opportunity to succeed Karajan as chief conductor.[12] Kleiber enjoy fuller ties with the Vienna Philharmonic, partly through his occasional guest-conducting at the Vienna State Opera, where he led, among other operas, Tristan und Isolde in 1973, Carmen in 1978 and Der Rosenkavalier in March 1994, the latter two filmed and released on DVD. He also, again famously, conducted the New Year's Day concerts of the Vienna orchestra, in 1989 and 1992.


Carlos Kleiber (ka-ru-ro-su ku-ra-i-baa) was and still is positively adored in Japan; the word worshipped would not be far off the mark. His many appearances there included Nagoya, Osaka, Yokohama and of course Tokyo, where he last conducted in October 1994. Most of his engagements came in the context of tours by the Bavarian State Orchestra or the Vienna State Opera.

Later years[edit]

Kleiber in 1993 gave only two concerts, a Vienna Philharmonic subscription program of Mozart's 33rd Symphony and Strauss's Ein Heldenleben. 1994 saw his last opera work, conducting Der Rosenkavalier in Vienna (3 performances) and Tokyo (6 performances, with a top price above ¥60,000). He did not perform again until April 1996, for a private concert with his beloved Bavarian State Orchestra in Ingolstadt, home of car firm Audi; part of his payment consisted of a new Audi made to his specifications, the rest amounted to DM 100,000. The Ingolstadt program — Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, Mozart's 33rd and Brahms's 4th — was repeated in Munich's Herkulessaal the following October, for a total of only two Kleiber concerts that year; it was televised and would turn out to be the conductor's farewell to the public of his adopted home town. In 1997, Kleiber repeated the program in Ljubljana and, ending his partnership with the Bavarian State Orchestra, in Ravenna; he gave no concerts in 1998. Kleiber's five last concerts were all — incongruously given his history — with the competing Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; they consisted of Beethoven's 4th and 7th Symphonies and took place in early 1999 in sunny Las Palmas, Santa Cruz, Valencia and, on two evenings, Cagliari.


Kleiber performances were meticulously rehearsed yet seemed spontaneous and inspired. In the opinion of many of his colleagues and audiences, he was an eccentric genius whom some placed among the greatest conductors of all time despite the paucity of his appearances.[4][13][14][15][16] Nevertheless, Kleiber kept out of the public eye. He gave only one known interview in his lifetime, in 1960,[17][18][19] and for years it was thought that he gave none at all.[8][20][21] After he stopped conducting in the Bavarian State Opera's Nationaltheater in 1988, his appearances became very infrequent.

Honors and awards[edit]

Death and burial[edit]

Kleiber died a week before his death became public knowledge. One late ailment was prostate cancer. He is buried in the Slovenian village of Konjšica, near Litija, with his wife Stanislava Brezovar, a dancer. She had died seven months earlier, in late 2003[22]; Riccardo Muti recounted in the documentary I Am Lost To the World a phone conversation he had with his conducting colleague only hours after her death, noting the couple's closeness and the intensity of Kleiber's loss. They had a son, Marko, and a daughter, Lillian.


Posthumous evaluation[edit]

"His gifts—musical and dramatic insights, analytical abilities, technique, methods of explaining himself—make him the greatest conductor of our day. When I work with him, I feel that he knows why the composer wrote every note, treated every phrase, conceived of every bit of orchestral color in a particular way...If he were to become the permanent conductor of a major orchestra, he could turn it into the greatest ensemble in history."[23]

Plácido Domingo about his friend and colleague Carlos Kleiber, 1983
  • According to Dr. Charles Barber, biographer, friend and pen-pal of Kleiber, another factor contributed to his legendary and unusual career. "Uniquely, Carlos Kleiber combined the rigors of German analysis, form and discipline with the expressive vitality of Latin dance, pulse and joy. For nearly twenty years at the formative outset, a conductor baptized Karl gradually became Carlos. He never turned his back on that fascinating cultural biochemistry. It would shape everything he did."[2]
  • BBC Music Magazine announced in 2011 that Kleiber had been voted "the greatest conductor of all time"; some 100 current conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, Gustavo Dudamel, Valery Gergiev and Mariss Jansons, participated in the poll. Kleiber, who conducted just 96 concerts and around 400 operatic performances in his 74 years, was voted ahead of Leonard Bernstein and Claudio Abbado in second and third places. Susanna Mälkki, music director of the Ensemble intercontemporain and another of the conductors polled, commented, "Carlos Kleiber brought an incredible energy to music … Yes, he did have about five times as much time to rehearse as conductors do today, but he deserved it, because his vision was remarkable, he knew what he wanted, and his attention to detail was truly inspiring." Jeremy Pound, deputy editor of the publication, added: "Asking 100 of today's conducting greats to name their idols and inspirations was a fascinating experience, not least [because] so many named Kleiber, who in his lifetime conducted fewer concerts than most of them direct in a couple of years. Kleiber's attention to detail, enthusiasm for music, and accomplished level of performance could never be doubted. Perhaps 'less is more' is the real path to true greatness."
  • In 2012, Kleiber was voted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame. Clemens Hellsberg (May 2012): "What was it that propelled Carlos Kleiber to near mystical heights? It was the unforgettable experience of surpassing one's own boundaries, yet also the utter helplessness when he stormed off in the last minutes of a rehearsal. This was not pretension but the expression of deepest despair, even though the orchestra had performed at the highest level, or perhaps for that very reason. Extreme contradictions characterized his personality: one constantly feared catastrophe, yet he was always available to musicians for private conversations. He had a vast repertoire yet restricted himself to a few works. His rage could be directed at anyone, yet his interaction with children was characterized by tenderness. In art there are no upward limits. But each generation needs at least one artist who exemplifies this. Kleiber reached to the stars for us. Even when he broke down in his efforts, he still proved that they exist."
  • In 2013, the Escuela de Dirección de Orquesta y Banda Maestro Navarro Lara of the city of Huelva, Spain, established the International Day of the Conductor, honoring Kleiber and setting the date of July 13 on its international calendar.[24] An approval process that began in early June, and concluded with more than 30,000 signatures of support expressed in less than a month, finally succeeded in establishing July 13, 2014 – the 10th anniversary of Kleiber's death – as the first day to be commemorated by the international orchestra in homage to the great master of the podium.

Documentary tributes[edit]

  • In 2008 Rai Radio 3 broadcast a 10-episode program dedicated to Kleiber's legacy, Il Sorriso della Musica: un Ritratto di Carlos Kleiber (The Smile of Music: a Portrait of Carlos Kleiber), organized and hosted by Andrea Ottonello, with participation by Claudio Abbado, Mirella Freni, Maurizio Pollini and Kleiber's sister, Veronica. In his interview, Abbado termed Kleiber one of the greatest, if not the greatest, conductors of the 20th century (è stato uno dei più grandi, se non il più grande, direttore del novecento).[25]
  • On 26 September 2009, BBC Radio 3 transmitted Who Was Carlos Kleiber? – a documentary produced by Paul Frankl and presented by Ivan Hewett with research by Ruth Thomson, this feature was based on interviews with four who knew Kleiber well: tenor and conductor Plácido Domingo, music administrator and intendant Sir Peter Jonas, music journalist and critic Christine Lemke-Matvey and conductor–pianist Charles Barber.[26]
  • 2010 film documentary Spuren ins Nichts: der Dirigent Carlos Kleiber, Deutschland, Slowenien, Österreich, 52 minutes, director Eric Schulz, Centauri, EuroArts Music International. This is also known as Traces to Nowhere. Servus TV [2]
  • 2010 TV documentary I Am Lost To the World directed by Georg Wübbolt, BFMI, ZDF, 3sat, C Major Entertainment [3], available to sample via YouTube. This is mostly German-language; the little English used is of poor quality.
  • In July 2014, on the tenth anniversary of Kleiber's death, a syndicate of public broadcasters in Canada, Great Britain and the United States began airing the two-hour audio documentary Carlos Kleiber: a Conductor Unlike Any Other. This is Kleiber as remembered by his colleagues. Producer Jon Tolansky, who played for Kleiber at the Royal Opera House, interviewed singers Ileana Cotrubas, Thomas Hampson, Dame Felicity Lott, the late Dame Margaret Price and Jonathan Summers; members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Opera House, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic; conductor and Kleiber friend Charles Barber; administrators Peter Jonas and John Tooley; and recording executive Costa Pilavachi. The documentary has excerpts from Kleiber recordings.[27]

Video performances[edit]

Kleiber's unique conducting style is preserved on video in a number of performances: Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 7 from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam,[28] Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus from Munich, Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier from both Munich and Vienna, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 36th symphony and Brahms' second symphony from the Musikverein in Vienna ; Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, Mozart's 33rd and Brahms' fourth symphonies from Munich and Bizet's Carmen again from Vienna. He led the New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1989 and 1992, and these are both preserved on video.

Audio recordings[edit]

Kleiber made only a few studio recordings. Most are, however, highly regarded. His versions of Beethoven's fifth and seventh symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic and of the composer's Symphonies Nos. 4, 6 and 7 with the Bavarian State Orchestra are particularly distinguished. Other notable recordings include Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 4 and Franz Schubert's third and eighth ("Unfinished") symphonies, also with the Vienna Philharmonic, recordings of Dvořák's Concerto for piano and orchestra with Sviatoslav Richter, Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz, Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus and Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata. His last studio recording was Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde with the Staatskapelle Dresden. Recording sessions began in 1980 but Kleiber left before they were completed. However, as a musically complete performance had been set down, Deutsche Grammophon went ahead and released it, much to Kleiber's anger.


  1. ^ "Carlos Kleiber voted greatest conductor of all time". BBC Worldwide Press Releases. BBC Music. 17 March 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Barber, Charles (2011). Corresponding with Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-8143-3. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  3. ^ Harvey Sachs (2004-07-25). "The Conductor Who Could Not Tolerate Error". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  4. ^ a b Schudel, Matt (20 July 2004) "Obituaries: Gifted, Eccentric Conductor Carlos Kleiber Dies at 74" Washington Post, Washington D.C. p. B06;
  5. ^ "Performance Database Search Results". Royal Opera House Collections Online. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  6. ^ John Rockwell (2004-07-20). "Carlos Kleiber Is Dead at 74; Music's Perfectionist Recluse". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  7. ^ Michael Walsh (1983-07-13). "Unvarnished Symphonies". Time. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  8. ^ a b Nicholas Kenyon (1989-10-15). "Carlos Kleiber: Genius Wrapped In an Enigma". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  9. ^ Donal Henehan (1988-01-24). "Pavarotti and Freni in La Boheme". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  10. ^ Donal Henehan (1990-03-07). "Carlos Kleiber Leads Plácido Domingo In Verdi's Otello". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  11. ^ Donal Henehan (1990-09-27). "Sweeping Rosenkavalier at the Met". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  12. ^ Jacobs, Arthur (1990) "Kleiber, Carlos" The Penguin Dictionary of Musical Performers Viking, London
  13. ^ "Kleiber, Carlos" Current Biography Yearbook 1991 edition, H.W. Wilson Co., New York, p.338
  14. ^ Bernheimer, Martin (October 2004) "Obituaries: Carlos Kleiber" Opera News 69(4): p.85;
  15. ^ Kakaviatos, Panos (20 July, 2004) "Carlos Kleiber, 74, widely admired conductor" Chicago Sun-Times
  16. ^ Alan Blyth, obituary for Carlos Kleiber, The Guardian, 21 July 2004.
  17. ^ Youtube Rare Carlos Kleiber Interview in 1960
  18. ^ Interview of Carlos Kleiber on German Radio
  19. ^ Frühe Ausnahme von der Regel – Das bislang einzige überlieferte Interview von Carlos Kleiber [1]
  20. ^ Tolansky, John. "Carlos Kleiber – Obituary (Gramophone, October 2004) by John Tolansky". Gramophone. Gramophone. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  21. ^ Martin Kettle, "A rare touch of musical magic". The Guardian, 1 January 1990.
  22. ^ "Obituary section: Kleiber, Carlos" Current Biography Yearbook 2004 edition (New York: Wilson, 650)
  23. ^ Domingo, Plácido (1983). My First Forty Years. New York: Knopf. pp. 142–3. ISBN 0-394-52329-6. 
  24. ^ "Se institucionalizó el día del Director de Orquesta". Tiempo de San Juan. 2014-01-12. 
  25. ^ "Radio – Home". Retrieved 13 February 2016. 
  26. ^ Transcript of Who Was Carlos Kleiber?
  27. ^ "NOW: Carlos in Korean / Carlos on DGG Documentary". Corresponding with Carlos. Retrieved 13 February 2016. 
  28. ^ Bernard Holland (1987-06-19). "Conducting for Cultists: Beethoven From Kleiber". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ Andrew Clements, "Brahms: Symphony No. 4". The Guardian, 17 March 2000.


External links[edit]