The score–a landscape
Seen anew in bright colors,
In sweeping brush strokes,
The smallest detail
Made plain with delicate touch.
Paints music with a baton
The air–his easel.
See now his Mozart
See Beethoven from his hands
Hear in a new way.
I recently saw this tweet by cellist Steven Isserlis:
I had heard of conductor Carlos Kleiber, but I’d never seen him. Over to YouTube. First on the list was Kleiber conducting Beethoven’s Symphonies 4 and 7. I clicked play.
I have never seen anything like it.
His hands were utterly fluid. And he conducted with his whole body. The subtlest gesture yielded a highly specific response. It was fascinating.
And that’s not all.
He was smiling. He was clearly enjoying the music, the process…everything.
That kind of enthusiasm is infectious. You want to keep watching. And you want to keep listening, because you know at any moment he might bring out a nuance you have never heard before.
Who is this guy?
And so I joined the ranks of countless more before me who have asked this same question. Kleiber didn’t give press conferences, didn’t answer correspondence, sometimes didn’t show up at all. He would agree to concerts and then change his mind. He’d up and drive off to his cottage with no notice. He gave few concerts, recorded fewer; but they were magical.
If you want to read more about Kleiber, there is this article from The Guardian. And here is a tribute to Kleiber from the Met orchestra musicians. Wherever I looked, I found glowing testimonials from musicians of the highest calibre.
Charles Barber has written a book on Kleiber, half biography, and half devoted to the letters that Barber exchanged with Kleiber over a number of years. Told that Kleiber would not respond, he decided to try anyway, and managed to interest Kleiber enough to answer, again and again.
Documentaries have been made about the maestro. Here is a BBC audio podcast on Kleiber.
You can find DVDs, CDs, and vinyl of Kleiber performances at your favorite vendor.
So now I’ve told you how to find out more, what you can read, how to hear what people have said about him.
But what you really need to do is see for yourself and listen. That, more than anything else, will show you what a phenomenon Kleiber was.