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19.02.2010 07:40 - Transcript of BBC Radio Program on C.Kleiber, broadcast 9/26/2009.
Автор: kleiber Категория: Музика   
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Последна промяна: 19.02.2010 15:30

Transcript of BBC Radio Program on CK, broadcast 9/26/2009. You can hear and download the whole program at:   http://www.mediafire.com/?wn4lnykyqkk


UA (unidentified announcer)
IH (Ivan Hewitt)
PD (Placido Domingo)
CB (Charles Barber)
PJ (Sir Peter Jonas)
CLM (Christine Lemke-Matvey)


UA: [0:00] “Today, we turn to the great conductor, Carlos Kleiber, who died 5 years ago, aged 74. He was one of the most mysterious and maverick conductors in musical history, his rare concerts treated almost like religious events by his fervent admirers. But very few people knew much about the man behind the baton. In our Saturday music feature this afternoon, Ivan Hewitt asks ‘Who was Carlos Kleiber?’, talking to, among others, Placido Domingo (PD).”

PD: [0:31] “Carlos was the greatest conductor, the greatest musician I have ever met.”
[Opening of Beethoven’s Symphony #5 playing in background]

PJ: “One of his greatest talents was seducing people musically.”

PD: “Carlos was able to find out everything.”

CB: “His was charisma, beyond any human definition of it.”

CLM: “His eyes said ‘I know everything.’”

IH: [1:25] “The voices of Placido Domingo, Christina Lemke-Matvey, Charles Barber, and Sir Peter Jonas, on the extraordinary conductor Carlos Kleiber. The word ‘genius’ is one people often apply to Kleiber and that’s a word that might seem just too strong for a mere conductor. But when it comes to this man, there’s really no avoiding it. So many people who saw Kleiber and worked with him insist that he was in a class of his own. He inspired performers to heights they didn’t think they could reach and in audiences he inspired a special kind of excitement that bordered on ecstasy. Over the next 45 minutes, I’ll be trying to get a little bit closer to the mystery that was Kleiber in the company of four people who knew him well.”

“Kleiber isn’t one of those conductors who made a dazzling debut when he was very young and then spent a lifetime at the top. He actually started in a very modest way, in Potsdam in the early fifties, and then proceeded slowly up the conducting ladder with jobs at Dьsseldorf, Zurich, and Stuttgart. Up to this point he was really following in his father, Erich Kleiber’s footsteps, who had had a successful career over many decades. The elder Kleiber had in fact left Germany in 1930, disgusted with the Nazi regime, and settled temporarily in Argentina. That’s why his son bears a Spanish name. But it was only after his stint as music director at Stuttgart ended in 1968 that the mystique of Carlos Kleiber really began. His rare performances, particularly at the Munich Opera acquired a legendary reputation, based almost as much on absence as presence. In later life, he really was ‘the vanishing conductor,’ turning down far more offers from orchestras and opera houses than he ever accepted. Those who were lucky enough to see him, or work with him, were almost always bowled over. One of the many musicians who reveres Carlos Kleiber is Placido Domingo. The ‘Otello’ they performed together is now the stuff of operatic legend.”

PD: [3:06] “Carlos was a conductor that was able to find out everything in the score, everything that perhaps most conductors haven’t. He was that kind of musician that will change night after night. He was living every second, and you know that you have to be ready because he was, he was improvising and this [sic] was the magical evenings, every performance was different to [sic] the other one. His imagination, his ability to really use both hands, the independence of the right and the left, giving us everything, everything that was possible for every instrument.”

IH: [3:54] “Placido Domingo. Another musician for whom Carlos Kleiber has practically God-like status is the conductor Charles Barber. He first encountered Kleiber’s extraordinary talent in very unusual circumstances. He was doing some walking with a friend and had checked into a hotel. He switched on the television and was idly channel-hopping when something seized his attention.”

CB: [4:13] “It was astonishing. It was all eloquence and control and, paradoxically, all freedom and all intimate speech. I’d had no idea who this conductor was, not a clue. But I had never seen anyone enchant an orchestra, nor inform an audience, like this man. I watched with slack-jawed amazement at what this conductor was doing. Only at the end did I find out that it was Carlos Kleiber, whose name I recognized but whose work I had never seen. When I got back to Stanford I spoke to my teacher. I told him what I had seen, and he smiled and said ‘Oh, you’ve finally seen Carlos Kleiber have you?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I want to study with him.’ And he laughed and laughed and said, ‘You want to study with Carlos Kleiber? Are you mad?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve seen what he does. How do I reach him?’ And he laughed again and said, ‘No one reaches him. He’s a complete hermit. He’s totally unavailable. He doesn’t have an agent, he doesn’t have a manger, he never gives press conferences, he cancels more often than he ever appears, you’re out of luck.’ And I said, ‘How do I reach him?’ So he proposed that I get in touch with Caroline Weber at Columbia Artists, told her my story, and I said, ‘If I were to write a letter to him and send it to you, would you be so good as to forward it for me?’ And she said, ‘OK, I will but I have to tell you, he won’t answer. He doesn’t even answer our letters.’ Which of course prompted me to think that a conductor as great as Carlos Kleiber must get letters form people all the time, asking to study with him, to learn from him, to figure out how it was he made the miracles he made on the podium. And what I concluded was two things: that first of all, most of the letters that he gets were probably entirely sycophantic, written by people wearing knee-pads, a reflux of self-interest. And the reason I further deduced that he must have been appalled to get such letters was by studying more closely his films, and I’ve looked at them very closely and realized something that everyone knows who ever looked at what Kleiber did: the man had a fantastic sense of humor. And so I decided to write him a funny letter. I worked on it for a fair bit, and then I sent it off to Caroline Weber. She kept her word and forwarded it to him, and about two weeks later I arrived home one night and there was a letter in the mail box in a hand I did not recognize, with no return address, postmarked Munich, and my hand, ridiculously, started to shake. I opened the letter and sure enough, two pages, hand-written, and Kleiber said, ‘No. I’ve never had a student, I don’t want a student. No, my degree’s in chemistry. Your degree’s in music. I should learn from you. Perhaps I should study with you.’ Although he had said ‘no,’ I got the powerful impression that if I were to write again, he would answer again. And he did, and he did, and he did. There are about 200 letters and postcards and faxes, uh cartoons, drawings, uh musical examples that he sent over the years, beginning in 1989. I have kept all of them. I wrote to Carlos, he answered. And that’s how it began.”

IH: [7:31] “Charles Barber. It wasn’t just musicians who were seduced by Kleiber’s charisma. Christine Lemke-Matvey is a music critic now writing for Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin. She had written a scathing review of a singer and had received a sack load of hostile letters in response. But among them was an anonymous fax written in support of her position. It was only years later that she realized the anonymous faxer was none other than Carlos Kleiber. And the two of them struck up an unlikely friendship by letter. Finally they got to meet in person, and Christine recalls that the circumstances were typically eccentric.”

CLM: [8:01] “When we met he was very hysterical and nervous. This was a morning in Gran Canaria in his hotel suite, actually. He has [sic] changed the location several times before, and in the end we ended up in his suite. And this was a date of maybe one and a half or two hours. And during all this time he was looking for his credit card. And this was really shaking him. He was, well, of course we were talking to each other and about music, and about critics, and about other conductors, and about Beethoven and so on, but mainly he was dealing with his credit card. This was Carlos: not being there but also being there. He was a very ambiguous and very ambivalent personality. And on the third hand, he was the most, really most intelligent person I’ve ever met in my life. There was something in his eyes which said ‘I know everything, but I don’t talk about everything.’ And this was something which I really adored and loved.”

CB: [08:59] “His eyes, the way his eyes controlled a room and a person, without meaning to do so, but effectively doing so, was really quite astonishing. His was charisma beyond any human definition of it. You could not take your eyes off him. You simply could not. It would be like watching Richard Burton; no one else need bother be on stage when Burton was speaking, it was simply pointless. And in fact when I watched ‘Otello’ — I watched it on a Monday and a Friday at the Met — when I actually saw him work, I began to think it was a bit unfair to Domingo and Ricchiarelli and Diaz, because no one was watching them, they were only watching Carlos.”

PD: “One of the unbelievable things that I remember is to see the public at the beginning of ‘Otello.’ He was conducting and I was about to come to sing the ‘Esultate,’ I was going from the side of the boxes in Covent Garden and I could see that nobody was paying any attention to the stage. Everybody was looking at Carlos, what he was doing. And that’s really unbelievable. And that was really so special that the people they were captivated, they were really, absolutely hypnotized by what Carlos was doing, and that I will never forget as long as I live, you know. “

IH: [10:24] “Placido Domingo. Sir Peter Jonas, who was intendant of the Munich Opera in the 1990’s, first encountered Kleiber as a young man when he was director of artistic administration at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”

PJ: “We struck a friendship, it became a correspondence friendship, and then we used to see each other from time to time when I was in Europe and eventually I worked very slowly on getting him to Chicago. And one person who helped me was the Music Director, Georg Solti. And Georg and I were working very closely, and Georg had a somewhat fiery reputation, but he was very, very tolerant. And I, one day, bought him a recording, ’75 I think it was made, or ’74, of Carlos conducting the ‘Fledermaus Overture.’ And Solti looked up from his desk and said, ‘it’s much too fast, much too fast, much too fast, must be a young boy, a young firebrand, it’s too fast. But it’s interesting, it’s fascinating.’ [Fledermaus playing in background.] And he listened to it again and again and again, and he said, ‘You know, you’re right, you must try and get him, and do whatever it takes.’ And the Orchestra president also said ‘do whatever it takes,’ so I had a kind of carte blanche about frequent trips to Europe and flying over Carlos’ family to make sure that that dйbut was possible….[more of Die Fledermaus overture] [13:11] By the time the engagement happened, his reputation had exploded, become esoteric, this extraordinary conductor in Europe who doesn’t conduct. You know one of these people who made himself completely rare, by saying, you know, ‘the great genius who will not conduct,’ …doesn’t conduct, will not conduct, doesn’t want to conduct, money doesn’t interest him (even though it had to be a lot), and the reputation somehow filtered through. So, when he was engaged he was unknown, when he came he was very well known. And of course the concerts came in for tremendous scrutiny, before the music managers from New York, Ronald Wilford, the director of the Met, everybody came, you know, every orchestra intendant in America came. When Carlos arrived, he arrived about a week before the first rehearsal, unlike most conductors, of course he was so nervous, so frightened, as he always was, jittering really, spent the last two or three days of spare time going into the library and with his own material which he had sent ahead of time, checking that the librarians had marked every single bowing exactly as he wanted it, from his master part. And he wanted unequal bowings. These days, when people watch orchestras at the Proms, they’re all bowing the same way. Carlos didn’t like this. He didn’t want the first violins and the second violins to bow all the same way; he wanted the first desk to bow one way, the second desk to bow the other way. So the bowings were all different, which he thought would create a seamless sense of legato. And he was passionate about all little signs, and hieroglyphics in the parts, indicating here ‘Smile,’ in the cello parts ‘Smile.’ Well, when the first chair, grey-haired, eminent, йmigrй players of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — there’s no age limit to players of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – came to the first rehearsal, they’d got the parts beforehand and some of them took them very seriously and others got furious, including Frank Miller, who had been Toscanini’s first cellist [in] the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Frank took his part home and rubbed out Carlos’ markings. And then, when the first rehearsal happened [15:26] Freischutz Overture playing in the background] Carlos started with the Weber ‘Freischutz Overture’ and it was wonderful. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was very competent in this kind of thing and they were expecting this esoteric maestro and they were going to show him how good they were. So the first thing he said was ‘Well, now, it’s not right.’ And he started to explain that they should imagine a Kaspar David Friedrich [sic] painting, and the mists arising from behind the trees of the forest, at which point Dale Klevinger, the legendary first horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, put his hand up and said, ‘Maestro.’ ‘Yes, Mr. Klevinger,’ – Carlos had learned all their names – and he says, ‘Can I ask you a question?’ ‘Yes, Mr. Klevinger.’ ‘Do you mean louder?’ He said, ‘Yes, Mr. Klevinger.’ [Freischutz excerpt from 16:07 to 17:26]. [17:27] I mean I remember he had talked to me about the ‘Freischutz’ overture when the main theme comes. In the first rehearsal he ever had with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, they started ‘yam, diddle-diddle, yam, diddle-diddle yam, diddle-diddle yam, da…’ and he wanted it to be very hesitant. And so he said, ‘Look, don’t try and play it together. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was so used to Solti, and even Giulini, telling them to play together, that they couldn’t really understand what he was saying, but he was speaking in their language: ‘Don’t try and play together. I’m just going to bring my hand down, from up above, slowly and you will come in when you feel like it. And then it will be alright.’ And he did and it was alright. It just felt as if the main theme was stealing in the sound, and that was the effect he wanted and he got it. But these were very unconventional methods to an orchestra like the Chicago Symphony.”

“One has to remember at the same time he was a great classicist. He believed in the structures of Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven, you know. He believed in the classical repertoire. And that first concert was a miraculous performance. Most people were convinced and if they weren’t convinced, they were at least seduced, which was another one of his great talents, of seducing people musically and making them so thrilled that here was a conductor who could bring them into the music in a way no other conductor could, because he brought literature into play, he brought psychology into play, he brought his own personality into play.”

IH: [18:57] “Sir Peter Jonas. So it seems as if at this stage in his career Carlos Kleiber had it all: tremendous native gifts, total freedom, and an adoring public. And yet, not everything was perfect in the garden.”

PJ: [19:08} “He was always absolutely in panic before a concert. I mean, this happened throughout his career, whether it was an orchestra concert, whether it was an opera performance, he was in panic. He was scrupulously prepared, scrupulously rehearsed, he demanded rehearsal conditions that nobody else had. Even in the opera, players couldn’t change their seat. He was so prepared, over-prepared if you like, but in panic. He would be in the dressing room before a rehearsal, three hours before, before a performance three or four hours before, and would live in the opera house or the orchestra hall and soak up the atmosphere, working himself up into a frenzy of fear, panic and paranoia.”

IH: [19:53] “But that seems to have vanished the moment he arrived on the podium.

PJ: “I don’t think so.”

IH: “I mean, from the outside…”

PJ: “From the outside, but I don’t think so. I think, players would say you could feel this febrile nervousness. But that febrile nervousness very often added to the intensity of the performance and added to the intensity of the sound he wished to achieve.”

CB: “He didn’t think he was any good.”

IH: “Charles Barber.”

CB: “He knew full well what the world thought of him. He was well aware of the esteem in which he was held in the music profession and in the musical world generally. You know full well what his fees were, how rarely he worked, relatively speaking. In a 50-year career he conducted, by my count, a grand total of 96 concerts and approximately 400 performances in opera. That’s all, in 50 years. Toscanini would do that in one year. And one of the reasons was this urgent element and qualification of self-doubt. Nothing he ever did reached what it was he had already reached in that extraordinary mind of his. And I came to realize, as I got to know him better and as I would study a score with him, as I would look at a chord and the way in which it would line up, a color and the way in which it presented itself, a timbral interest or a tonal interest. And I began to realize that one of the mysteries of Carlos and one of the elements of self-doubt within Carlos as a human being, and as a supreme conductor, was that he simply heard differently. He heard the world and, most particularly, the musical world differently. I’m not sure that I can annotate the differences. But I know that, if, for example, when I was studying ‘Rosenkavalier’ with him, and we would come across a particular chord, just any old chord, that had one of Strauss’s typically brilliant enunciations, in terms of instrumentation, Carlos would point to an instrument and say, ‘Do you hear that? Do you hear that? Do you understand what that means? Do you why he chose that instrument?’ And I would be able to answer in a reasonably professional but ordinarily pedestrian kind of way, and he would sometimes get a little mad and he would say, ‘But, but, but,..don’t you understand why the second clarinet is playing that note?’ He had a way of conceiving music, as he lifted it from the page, as he engrained it in his own musical consciousness, which then took the form of an enormously powerful internal hearing. But his problem, his frustration, his anxiety, is that no matter how great the orchestra – Berlin, Vienna, Concertgebouw, Chicago, name it – no matter how great the orchestra, none of them, none of them, in any way, met what he had already heard as he studied the score. And this was for him a matter of immense frustration, immense. And so he doubted himself, and so as time went on he conducted less and less and less. And it is not because he was lazy – people sometimes say that and they make jokes or they don’t know what they’re talking about – he worked very hard. It is because, I think, more and more he was less enamored of the profession and less enamored of his gift within it.”

PD: “I said, ‘Carlos, why don’t you work more, you know?’

IH: “Placido Domingo.”

PD: “And he said, ‘I’m happy with what I do, you know me, I’m demanding, and people won’t be as prepared as they should, and so I prefer not to work that much. I prefer now and then to take my rest.’ The big, big tragedy and loss for the world of music is that he was not working so much. I said, ‘Carlos, can you come next month to conduct?’ ‘Where?’ ‘Los Angeles.’ ‘Ahh…I…it’s so far.’ Everything that you ask him he will say ‘no.’ So, it was his own choice. He really picked his own destiny, you know. Absolutely, absolutely.”

CLM: [24:08] “I think he was manic-depressive. There were phases in his life where he was really on top, and really being, being quite convinced of himself and, and quite arrogant to the rest of the music world. And there were phases, which probably have been the longer ones, um…where he was utterly depressed and not able to move or to conduct or to do anything. So this was, I think, really, really, well, a hard thing to cope with.”

IH: [24:39] “Christine Lemke-Manvey. So perhaps it’s hardly surprising that through the 1970s and 80s, Carlos Kleiber conducted less and less. By the 1990s he’d become a virtual recluse, rarely venturing out from his modest home in Munich, that he shared with his wife, the Slovenian dancer, Stanka Brezovar. When he did emerge, his demands in terms of rehearsals and fees became ever more eccentric. He once demanded and received a brand new Audi worth Ј100,000 for a single concert. For some people this is a sign of a willful and self-indulgent character. But for Charles Barber it is simply the flip side of his endless search for perfection.”

CB: [25:15] “Sometimes those elements of his creation may have seemed, to
ordinarily minded people, as somewhat unusual. But they weren’t unusual at all – if you understood the premises upon which he worked. And those premises were eloquence and life and passion and analysis, and total control and total release at the same time. He lived in the heart of that paradox and he made it work. It was, admittedly, for him, though, and perhaps for anyone, exhausting. It was sometimes deeply exhausting for him to try to do all of those things at once, and do them across the 36 rehearsals, for example, that he once got for a particular project of his. You know mortals like you and me would be likely to get three or four rehearsals. Carlos once time actually got 36 orchestra-only rehearsals for a project. And then, by the way, he canceled. But he only cancelled – and if I may deal with this because it too has I think been grossly distorted – he only cancelled when someone else failed to keep their word. And when they failed to keep their word, Carlos took the view that he was no longer obligated to keep his. And, indeed, he would walk [away]. But to imagine that Carlos did this willfully or capriciously or childishly or mindlessly is complete rot. It’s absolute rot. And I know it’s so because he told me. The man’s center of gravity about the making of music was so bedrock, it was so in the heart of the earth that he occupied, that he would not be pulled off it by anyone or anything. His frustrations could quickly rise to the surface if he felt that people were not investing or engaging as heavily and as enormously as he did. You may know that his famous recording of ‘Tristan’ is a recording that he never approved, and in some ways a recording that he never finished. It’s a recording that was cobbled together by the producer, because the producer kept the tape recorder running all the time. Carlos in fact was furious with his recording company that the record ever came out. He never approved it. It is in fact, though, most people would agree, one of the all-time great recordings of ‘Tristan.’ He understood how to ignite the stillness in a way that no other conductor ever came close to. Even his beloved Furtwangler never came close to the quality of ignition that Carlos could bring to that work.”

[from 28:00 to 29:28 an excerpt from ‘Tristan’ plays]

IH: [29:29] “Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’ in Carlos Kleiber’s famous recording. Behind the anxieties and traumas of Carlos Kleiber’s life looms the domineering figure of his conductor father. [Excerpt of Erich Kleiber conducting ‘Die Blaue Donau’ plays.] Erich Kleiber never approved of his son’s musical ambitions and insisted that the young Carlos study chemistry. In later years, as Charles Barber recalls, his father remained a touchy subject.”

CB: [30:28] “Carlos had very mixed feelings about his father; I think that was well known. And ah, so I didn’t wish to trespass. In fact, I had been advised, at the beginning of our correspondence never, to raise the subject, ever.“

IH: “Do you think it may have been something to do with feeling that perhaps, as a professional, he, in some way, didn’t measure up to his father, who was a conductor in a more traditional line, was constantly working and gave hundreds of concerts?”

CB: “I think by the ordinary measure of a career, his father had the bigger career. But I think by the standards of anyone who knew how to read what the son actually did, on the podium the son was the greater, deeper, more moving musician. And I think that part of that must have hurt him and been a peculiar paradox whose nature he never wholly resolved, if he even tried to resolve it.”

PJ: “It’s no coincidence…

IH: “Sir Peter Jonas”

PJ: “…that the pieces he actually performed were pieces that his father performed a lot. One of his kind-of-almost-like Bibles at his house were his father’s scores and parts, which he studied all through his life, and restudied and revived. And he worshipped the recordings of his father, even the ‘Pop’ recordings of the Berlin Philharmonic, playing ‘Pop’ overtures in Berlin in the 1930s and so on. And he worshipped, worshipped, worshipped, worshipped his father. His father had always said to him ‘you shouldn’t be a conductor, you can’t be a conductor, I forbid it, you should learn something sensible, and it hasn’t done me any good in my life; don’t become a conductor.’ So he went off to study chemistry in Zurich, and was going to have a life as a chemistry [sic] or even perhaps go into medicine, and without his father’s knowledge studied music.”

CLM: “Erich Kleiber died in the midst of the fifties, and these were Carlos’ very early days, performing under a pseudonym. He used to name himself Karl Keller. This was in Potsdam, even before he went to Dьsseldorf and all the other early locations of his career. So, right from the beginning onwards, he had obviously the feeling to hide and not to be the son of his father because he thought this could be dangerous. There was always a shadow and there was always something which hindered Carlos to be [sic] really free and to be really free of his father. Erich Kleiber died quite early and this was difficult as well because I think he couldn’t discuss the whole matter out. They were not ready with each other, I think.”

PD: [33:09] “The father’s character was easier, you know, he probably in a way want[ed] to have the character of the father, you know. He asked me ‘Placido,’ he said, ‘why can I not be just like you? Why I cannot be just like you?’ I said, ‘What do you mean? You are superior to everyone in the world.’ ‘Did you want to do everything and you could and you enjoy working so much. Why I cannot do that?’ I said, ‘Carlos, that’s my question also, why you cannot,’ you know.”

IH: “Placido Domingo. Carlos Kleiber did eventually receive a career offer which surely would have won his father’s grudging approval. He was offered the chief conductorship of the Berlin Philharmonic after the death of Herbert Van Karajan in 1989. And he refused, which must surely be unique in the annals of conducting history. He did though have a brief association with the orchestra. Charles Barber again.”

CB: [34:05] “In his whole life he conducted in Berlin I think two times. It is absolutely true that after Van Karajan died they asked Carlos to take over and he declined. He served them whisky and cigarettes and sympathy, he received them, but he said ‘no’ immediately. He didn’t want the job. But he did one time agree to do the benefit concert. And he told me about it because, um, he asked me to help acquire yet another score. And he decided he was going to do ‘Coriolanus,’ the Beethoven overture, which as you may know begins with a massive thumping chord, huge. And I asked Carlos how he was going to handle that chord. ‘How do you prepare that? How do you do that without telegraphing your intentions? How do you do it without overdoing it? How do you place it just so? And how, in advance of all of that, do you rehearse and hear it?’ And this is what he told me. He told me to run out and get a particular film of Duke Ellington and watch how Ellington brought his band in, all of them, all at once, with the simultaneity of lightning, and apparently doing nothing. [Extract of Duke Ellington jazz music plays in background.] And that’s what Carlos was looking for. And after the concert he sent me a tape of it. I watched it and saw what he did. And it was, at one level, visible what he had done. But, at another level, like lightning after its effect, it was invisible, although all the power was still there. And he described it in a typically Carlos Kleiber way. He said, ‘With the Berlin Phil and the opening of “Coriolan,” it was like driving into a brick wall at 50 miles an hour in a Rolls Royce.’ That’s how he heard it, that’s how he did it, that’s who he was, that was the musicianship and magicianship of Carlos Kleiber. There was, I think, no other like him.”

IH: [36:16] “That story reveals a side of Kleiber that’s rarely mentioned, his love of language. With a name like Carlos Kleiber you might imagine that Spanish and German would be his most fluent languages. Not so, according to Peter Jonas.”

PJ: [36:26] “English was his mother tongue. People don’t really realize that now, they think he was a German, his mother tongue, which is absolutely not so, he was born and bred in Argentina — not born in Argentina but bred in Argentina and brought up to speak Spanish, but his English from his mother’s side was absolutely wonderful. And he could speak English with a mastery of vocabulary and metaphor that was quite spectacular. Words were as important to him as scores. He was immensely well read in English and also in Spanish, immensely – and also German. He was phenomenally well read, I’ve never met anybody so well read. One of the most well thumbed books that he had at home, which he reread constantly was William Shawn’s History of The New Yorker. In the early period of our friendship, you know, I would get my New Yorkers and post them to him after I’d read them, you know, and he would get them late by ‘snail mail,’ and all the rest. And I remember there was once in The New Yorker, many years ago, a 14-part serial on the aircraft industry, on the manufacture and sales of the Parrow [?] engines. Now that’s a totally useless subject. Who needs to know about all that, how aero engines are built and how they’re sold, you know, separately from airplanes? And this was [ ? ], we used to correspond like mad about these kind [sic] of articles, and the longer the better, the more abstruse the better. He loved The New Yorker. I tried to get him later interested in The Spectator but he found The Spectator too slapdash and too superficial. But he was immensely well read. That’s where his ability as a wordsmith came, and I…A great tragedy to me is not just that there’s not enough music existing in recordings from Carlos Kleiber, but that there’s not enough literature that he wrote, his letters are incredible. They are the best use of metaphor, the way he could strangely misuse language in the most creative way, I find absolutely thrilling to read. He was a tremendous punster, but in the very best and finest sense of the word, quite remarkable, and in three languages: English, German, and Spanish, all of which he could master equally and he was very good in Italian too.”

IH: [38:38] “What was your impression of his amorous life, put it that way, his relationship to his wife? Did you glean a sense of the state of that during your friendship?”

PJ: “Sure, but, you know, it’s a difficult thing to talk about. I mean, I knew her very well and I knew him very well and I knew many of his other girl friends. He was always though very loyal to his wife. At the end of his life, you know, he was always, would always say, ‘Ah Stanka, she knows,’ you know, and he would follow her opinion about people so much more closely and he would trust her a lot. He had a very close relationship with her, even though they didn’t share any of his world in a sense. And when I used to go visit him at home, we would be talking about the world, this and that and the other, and she would cook and that’s it. About twenty years before he died, at Stanka’s insistence, he bought a little cottage in Slovenia and a.…he used to go there in the summers….a very modest little cottage near to the village where she was from. And um…he…they sort of renovated it and made it quite comfortable and they would go there…that was their, that they felt was their real, real hiding place.”

IH: [39:47] “To me, what all these stories show is that this most passionate and heated of men was in a peculiar way like an iceberg. People only saw a fraction of the man. Most of him was hidden away, perhaps only revealed to his family and friends. In the same way, his recorded legacy shows only a fraction of what Kleiber could have given us. The recorded legacy is so small that some people say that Carlos Kleiber does not deserve the title of ‘greatest conductor,’ in fact they wonder whether he deserves the title of ‘conductor’ at all. But this mistakes quantity with quality. We don’t dismiss Elias Canetti because he only wrote one novel, or Alban Berg because he only wrote a dozen works. Like them, Kleiber was a perfectionist, and he only allowed the world to see the handful of works that truly satisfied him. Those who were lucky enough to know him have something else to treasure: Kleiber’s extraordinary human qualities.”

CLM: [40:35] “He was really attractive and I could really understand these many women he had affairs with because he was so bright and he was so…um…being in a rather good mood, I think he could really be ah….well, ‘Don Juan’ is not the right expression, but somebody who’s really the one coming…coming to the world and bringing in light, and the moment he goes away again this light also vanishes.” [excerpt from Carlos conducting Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ plays in background] There was a telephone call from a colleague who had, I don’t know why, studied a home page of the Slovenian Radio and there it said, ‘the conductor Carlos Kleiber died,’ I mean, nearly a week ago. And they were not sure because there has been at least one similar story some years before. And there also has been a fax to Karl-Heinz Rumpf, the chief of [the] Culture and Communication Department at Audi’s [sic], the car maker, and this fax was sent two days before he left for Slovenia, obviously to die, and this fax was really saying ‘goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, I thank you for everything you did for me and God bless you’ and all the rest of that. This was his way of saying, ‘bye, bye, I’m leaving.’ He was said to suffer from a cancer, I’m not sure whether this is true. His wife died six months earlier, and I think he couldn’t cope living without her. And so I’m rather convinced that he went to Slovenia, to this tiny, tiny little…little village to…well, to die. Three weeks after he died, we decided to go to Slovenia. This was a very, very special and very moving journey. It’s really a location in the midst of nowhere. It was rather difficult to find it, and there were only trees and woods and birds and flowers and, on this day, some sunshine as well. This place was so full of peace, this was his rest, this was his place to find some…ja, to find peace and also love. It was the perfect hideaway. The grave, where also his wife was buried, was ready, it was perfect. There was his name put on the headstone and there were the dates of his birth and of his death put on the headstone. Everything seemed absolutely well prepared and absolutely…well in a…ja…perfect as nothing else has ever been perfect in his life. This was again part of the mystery, maybe.”

[Excerpt of poignant orchestral music from ‘La Traviata,’ from 43:56 to 44:41]


Transcript by Robert McGinn, 2010.


1. kleiber - Making copies for non-commercial use is permitted!
19.02.2010 07:42
Making copies for non-commercial use is permitted!
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