Who was Carlos Kleiber?

Cribs 2015.07.30 09:00

Placido DomingoHis 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.

Charles BarberHis 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 Ricciarelli and Diaz, because no one was watching them, they were only watching Carlos.

Placido Domingo: 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.

Peter JonasWhen 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.’

[. . .]

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.”

Charles Barber: 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.

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