Klaus is on my mind today

January 11, 2018 by norman lebrecht


We have lived without Klaus Tennstedt for 20 years.

And we’ll never see another conductor like him.

June 6, 1926 – January 11, 1998


Comments (38)

  1. Nicht Schleppend says:

    For many this is the seminal Tennstedt moment – concert and subsequent recording:

    Alles Vergängliche………

  2. Cubs Fan says:

    One of my cherished memories of three decades ago: Tennstedt and the London Philharmonic were on tour. I was bound a determined to get his autograph and just walked back stage like I belonged there. Went to his dressing room door which was open. He was in a t-shirt and said “come in, come in!”. He signed my program booklet and then offered me a Heineken beer. He was so friendly and warm. I regret I only got to hear him live once; thankfully there are many fine recordings. I wish I had kept that bottle!

  3. harold braun says:

    Just by chance listened to the broadcast recording of his live Mahler 5 with the NYPOfrom 1980,and a talk by former principal trumpet Phil Smith about how Tennstedt shaped his opening phrase,and how it forever changed Smith´s concept of this famous passage.
    The performance……well it´s simply the greatest mahler performance ever.Even better than Lenny for my money.Unbelievable!

  4. Sue says:

    I’m presenting a lecture about Tennstedt on 22/2 to our community music group and I can’t wait!! He was one of the rare conductors – apart from HvK – admired by Carlos Kleiber.

    It’s great to see this entry today on SD.

    1. RW2013 says:

      Love to come on 22/2.

      1. Sue says:

        I presented two last year on Carlos Kleiber and he has a whole new tranch of fans!!

        Re Tennstedt: starting with the BBC interview from 1991, “Desert Island Discs”.

        1. Hilary says:

          Aaaah yes, he revealed on that instalment of Desert Island Discs that the Ken Russell biopic on Mahler switched him on to that composer.

    2. Player says:

      Can we please read/hear/see your lectures on CK?

      1. Sue says:

        They were delivered ‘in the flesh’ before an audience and were not recorded.

        1. Player says:

          Shame! Fan club assembling but needs feeding.

  5. MacroV says:

    On the same program as when Tennstedt conducted Mahler 1 with the CSO in that video (1990), he did Strauss’ Oboe Concerto with the legendary Ray Still. Mr. Still, IMHO the greatest musician ever to play the oboe but probably no longer at his best at age 70, nonetheless delivered a musically brilliant performance (I have a cherished radio tape somewhere), but the drive and shape Tennstedt brought to the accompaniment still stand out in my mind, nearly 30 years later.

  6. Lawrence Kershaw says:

    Jupiter followed by Mahler 1; LPO. Extraordinary in every way!

  7. Joel A Stein says:

    I heard Tennstedt a number of times in the US primarily with the BSO but also with the Philadelphia and CSO. A number of his live concerts are available on occasion through the Berkshire record outlet on the Memories label. Magnificent musician.

  8. James says:

    20 years already…
    His Pfitzner and Strauss and Bruckner and Wagner live on in my memory.

  9. opus131 says:

    I played that CSO Mahler 1. One of a handful of the greatest concerts I ever had the honor of taking part in. I have never played a performance of that work (or Mahler 4, or Schubert 9 with Tennstedt) that approached it. For me, Tennstedt and Bernstein are at the apex of the conductors I have experienced.

  10. Mercurius Londiniensis says:

    Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend Tennstedt’s concerts with the LPO during the 1980s will never forget them. He was famous for his Mahler, Bruckner and Strauss, but his Beethoven was also tremendous (albeit in a very different style from that which was then beginning to predominate).

    He was perhaps unique among leading conductors in being physically clumsy. I recall one RFH concert when he dropped his baton, the only time I have seen a professional do this. And we have a film recording the occasion when he somehow–the Lord know how–caused his music stand to collapse during Siegfried’s Funeral Music:

    What is really remarkable, though, is that these lapses didn’t matter.

    1. Judie Janowski says:

      Along with Ronald Wilford, I handled Maestro. Credit must be given to legendary Walter Homburger of the Toronto Symphony who brought Klaus to our attention.You had previously mentioned his supportive wife Inge. Many orchestras said they would not engage Klaus unless Inge accompanied him.

      1. norman lebrecht says:

        Dear Judie, Without Inge around there was no guarantee his shirt would have buttons, or that he would land in the right city… And, yes, you handled him so well. Happy days. N

    2. Hilary says:

      The collapsing music stand sounds like a canon/gun fire and is uncannily well timed.
      I met Tennstedt backstage at the White Rock Theatre in Hastings and he kindly signed his EMI recording for me, of excerpts from the Ring.

  11. erich says:

    A truly great artist who refused to be groomed or packaged but simply oozed honest, unvarnished music-making of immense depth from every pore. I will never forgive the mean-spirited Austrian critics, who treated his Salzburg Easter Festival appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic (at Karajan’s invitation) so unkindly, that he pulled out of a new production of Capriccio with the Vienna Philharmonic, at the following summer Festival, never appearing there again.

  12. Patrick says:

    Thank you, Mr. Lebrecht, for reminding us to remember. I had let him slip by…

  13. Ralph Sauer says:

    As a young trombone player with the Toronto Symphony in the 1970s, I remember a Beethoven 5th that still rings in my ears and heart.

  14. chris in new york says:

    And recalling some memorable performances in Minneapolis during the early 1980s, including a Mahler Third for tbe ages. He was beloved in Minnesota.

    1. Don Ciccio says:

      Yes, and in fact was considered for the post of Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra – they eventually chose Neville Marriner! But then it’s the same orchestra that chose Henri Verbrugghen over Bruno Walter!

  15. conductors-mind-and-heart says:

    wonderful musician, inspired and magic condctor ! his Mahler !!! also Bruckner 4, Prokofiew 7, Eroica, Wagner .. incredible..

  16. Robert Garbolinski says:

    I had the wonderful good fortune to have worked with him so many times (as I was in the L.P.C.) so we sang in so many choral works with him (as well as recordings). His Mahler 8 was stupendous and recording on the first day in Walthamstow Assemble Hall we were so tired by 20:30. He then said we are going to record the entire first movement again. We gave it our all and when the final chord sounded there was such a reverberation and silence that every one of us knew – that was “the take” Still the best Mahler 8 I know of and the recapitulation in the first movement is the very best one on any recording. The performances were astounding and I am so proud to have been a small part of them.
    _ used to attend as many concerts of his as I could afford – the Strauss and Mahler were just amazing.
    We miss him very much. Those really were the glorious “Tennstedt years” !

  17. Bruce Weinstein says:

    One of the greatest conductors and musicians of all time. I was lucky to have played Eroica and Brahms 1 with him. His musical ideas expressed so simply and poignantly with gentleness were hallmarks of the man. There will never be another like him.

  18. Stephen says:

    I am glad to read these tributes since shortly after his death critics were saying “no conductor’s reputation has ever faded so fast”.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      which critics – do you remember?

      1. Stephen says:

        Sorry, no, but it was at least two – some years ago now – and it wasn’t you!

        1. Stephen says:

          P.S. I don’t think the critic (or critics) meant to be unkind but his records seemed to have disappeared more or less completely from the catalogue, notably his Mahler.

    2. James says:

      Prehaps it was the same critics who said, and say, the very same of Karajan.
      Ah, critics…their pronouncements are no less useful than those of Trump in
      demonstrating just how stupid stupid can be.

  19. Paul Thomason says:

    Among the many marvelous Tennstedt performances I was lucky enough to experience live was his Met debut. The opera was FIDELIO and I splurged and bought a seat in the orchestra, about the sixth row. It was the kind of performance I didn’t know could still happen, a combination of soul shattering incandesce and utter naturalness that one finds in live performances before 1950. Sitting next to me was a quite elderly man who seemed to be by himself. After the Leonore #3 the audience erupted into a prolonged standing ovation. The man struggled to his feet and then turned to me. ” Am I a boy again? Is this 1920s Vienna? It has to be, but I must be crazy because I’m an old man? How can this be?”

    1. John Marks says:

      Just a guess, but… my guess is that that gentleman might have been Hans Fantel of the New York Times. See, e.g.,

      When I was a young writer, Mr. Fantel was very kind to me. I will always remember his kindness. It was a privilege to know him.

      John Marks
      Formerly of Digital Audio, The Absolute Sound, Stereophile, and other media outlets. Presently writing for his own blog, The Tannhauser Gate

  20. Hans Kellner says:

    I once waited outside the Royal Festival Hall in subzero temperatures for over an hour just to shake the hand of the great man. His autograph still hangs on my wall.

  21. Jürgen Irps says:

    One of his many memorable concerts I have attended at the RFH since 1984 was Mahler 1 on February 12, 1985. After the long and enthusiastic applause died down and standing in the aisles next to two elderly ladies I’ve overheard one saying to the other: “Das war schön, nicht laut aber wuchtig, genau wie Bruno Walter es damals gemacht hat”. Only later I realised who that lady was, it was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. This one comment came always to my mind when I listend to Tennstdt’s peformances and how right it was. Today these dynamics are not there anymore.

  22. Julie Ayer says:

    Klaus Tennstedt was Principal Guest Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra (1979-82),
    and I was fortunate to participate in some of the most memorable, moving
    musical experiences of my professional life in the Minnesota Orchestra.
    Even with his limited English,
    it made no difference in his intense expression and the magic he created,
    and we responded to. “You must it”! “You can it”! were among his favorite
    expressions – and we did. Not only that, but he was crazy for ping-pong, and
    we spent many hysterical post-concert hours playing backstage.
    He will always be greatly missed.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      His limited English was part of the charm… lovely!

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