The inimitable Klaus

The inimitable Klaus


norman lebrecht

December 04, 2015

Out of the blue, at the end of a stressful day, this popped up on social media.

Klaus Tennstedt’s first opera at the Met.

Have you ever heard a Met audience erupt like that for an overture?


As the cellist James Kreger recalls: From the outset of the very first rehearsal, one could sense his total, life and death, commitment to the score. That made the orchestra even more eager to reciprocate in kind. Those incredible moments on January 7, 1984 made me feel privileged to be part of this great orchestra, and will remain with me forever as one of the high points of my career.

Just listen.

We will never hear his like again.


  • Petros LInardos says:

    This is truly special. Many thanks for the posting.

  • George Murnu says:

    Please, Met, edit this on CD as part of the live broadcast series! I am a Met subscriber, if this counts for anything…

  • milka says:

    Remember the performance well -it was hair raising – he threw down the gauntlet ,no one could challenge him.We applauded until our hands were raw almost bleeding .
    Mr. Kreger was part of a performance that comes once in a life time if you are lucky .
    Mr. Kreger and associates played “out of this whorld ” Thanks .

    • David Crowe says:

      I also was fortunate enough to have been at this performance, I still think of it as perhaps the single most exciting orchestra performance I ever heard – and I’ve heard quite a few.

  • PaulD says:

    Simply breathtaking.

  • Gordon Davies says:


  • Pamela Brown says:

    My introduction to Mr. Tennstedt came with a performance of the Mahler 1 during the days when the players seemed to pay more attention to their poker games in the lounge than to their performance. But that day the MO shown like a rough, yet brilliant diamond, and I, like many others were left with speachless.

  • Joel stein says:

    I heard this performance at the Met-I have a “bootleg” cd of it -I am certain it is available from one of the several live opera sites on line.

  • Paul Thomason says:

    I was lucky enough to be sitting in the orchestra for the first of these FIDELIOS. Overwhelming is the only word to describe it. At the end of the Leonore #3 the entire audience stood up and just screamed. Sitting next to me was an elderly man who seemed to be alone. He struggled to his feet and applauded, then nudged me and said, “Am I crazy?” When I bend down to hear him more clearly he said—and seemed genuinely confused—”How is this possible? Am I a boy again? Is this Vienna, 1927? I don’t understand, how this can be?” All during the performance I had been thinking this was the sort of music making I heard on recordings from before WWII, but had almost never heard from more modern conductors. Those miraculous FIDELIOS (I went to most of them) still echo in my soul.

  • James Kreger says:

    These performances of Beethoven’s Fidelio turned out to be Klaus Tennstedt’s first and only appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. At a later date Tennstedt was scheduled to do Richard Strauss’ Elektra, and he did in fact conduct a few rehearsals. Unfortunately, he was already quite ill and died shortly thereafter.

    • Paul Thomason says:

      I remember the excitement when it was announced he was coming back for ELEKTRA. What would those have been like! I didn’t realize he had done some of the rehearsals. It’s very sad he was so ill.

  • Robert Manno says:

    I was fortunate to be a member of the MET Chorus during that time. Tennstedt came into the chorus room to rehearse the 43 men in the famous Prisoners Chorus. It upset him to see only 43 as he was expecting 60. He proceeded to completely re-work and rehearse our approach to the music so that by the end of the rehearsal we were sounding like 60. He worked at the depth of our sound, it’s breadth and beauty of tone and paid extraordinary attention to the extremes of the dynamics. Those performances of Fidelio were among the most memorable of my years at the MET and stood at the very top of many other performances by Böhm, Kleiber, Levine (in Wagner, Mozart & Strauss) and Giuseppe Patanè.

  • John Willan says:

    I was sitting next to Itzhak Perlman. At the end of the opera, as the house exploded, he said to me, “John, the last time I heard such applause in this house was for Karajan!” I miss him a very great deal, but I was so lucky to be his producer at EMI, his boss at the LPO (as he described me) and one of his dearest friends as he was of mine.

    • Nicholas Kenyon says:

      Norman: you post a lot of tendentious rubbish on your site as we all know. But this is absolutely the real thing: tremendous, and many thanks. (NB slightly pedantic point: it is ‘a reaction to an overture’, yes, but not an overture at the beginning of an opera, but near its climax of the evening, where the tension has clearly been built to bursting point. Amazing.)

      John: I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be associated with this genius, but this shows what he was capable of. I will always treasure the few times that I heard him –once with the NYPO, once with the LSO, and then in that great period with the LPO. Superhuman.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Nick, I have learned so much from you on the diffusion of tendentious rubbish, I would hardly know where to begin. As for the overture, although it is near the climax of the opera the piece is commonly referred to as such. But don’t let me deter you from your pedantry. Have a lovely weekend.

        • Oliver Rivers says:

          “As for the overture, although it is near the climax of the opera the piece is commonly referred to as such.”

          “Leonore No. 3” is commonly referred to as “Leonore No. 3”. I’ve never heard it referred to as the overture to Fidelio, which is unsurprising, because it hasn’t been the overture to Fidelio since 1814, when Beethoven wrote the overture to Fidelio that is now used as the overture to Fidelio, and which, for that reason, actually is commonly referred to as “the overture to Fidelio” for the very good reason that it is the overture to Fidelio.

          • Hilary says:

            There are in effect four Fidelio Overtures of which Leonora No.3 is arguably the most arresting. Critical reception wasn’t favourable at the time. Here is one commentator:
            “No one has yet written such incoherent music, ostentatious, chaotic and disturbing for the ear. The most abrupt modulations succeed themselves in a truly repulsive sequence, and some minor ideas, far from any sublime touch, complete the incredibly unpleasant impression.”

  • Halldor says:

    I was in the cello section the last time he ever conducted. The single greatest musical experience of my life.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Was that at Oxford? I was there for the rehearsal… Freischütz overture, as far as I remember without checking the records. Had a long chat with him beforehand. Unforgettable man, indelible musician.

  • Daniel F. says:

    Remember so well his first appearance with the Boston Symphony in, I believe, the mid-1970’s: a Bruckner 8th that met with wild acclaim from the Boston Globe’s Michael Steinberg, an honest critic of very high standards. Steinberg was right: in most of his appearances with the Orchestra, Tennstedt set a bar that was reached only rarely by other conductors–guest conductors, I need hardly add, until Levine stepped in and set things right. A mark of Tennstedt’s rare kind of integrity: a Beethoven Pastoral out at Tanglewood, where rehearsal time is savagely limited. Just about any other conductor would have taken the time to go over “spots” throughout the work. It was clear from the performance that Tennstedt instead had scrupulously rehearsed the first and second movements only: these were remarkably luminous and transparent & lovingly shaped and I’ll never forget it. The rest of the symphony was a mere run-through. He gave his enormous all to what he could with memorable results. That was KT through and through.

  • Gordon Wolffe says:

    Absolutely amazing – what a talent!

  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    Of the 10 greatest concerts in my life (I am 54) I would say a third or a half were with Tennstedt. He literally changed my life, when I 16, living in a suburb of Cleveland and with a nascent interest in music, he led the Mahler 7 when he was almost completely unknown. I never looked back. Also in Cleveland Bruckner 4 and 8, which I also heard him do in Chicago and Philadelphia, where he was a god and is still sorely missed. A minor crime that the only part of the PO’s centennial box with him was the Barber Adagio, not least because, just after his hip replacement surgery he led the Mahler 6, which is still the single most terrifying and magnificent rendition of that work that I’ve ever heard. At one point he picked up the stool on which he was sitting and hurled it off the podium. Nothing like it ever again.

  • Mark Stanton says:

    I was privileged to attend Tennstedt’s Met Fidelio. It was one of the great opera experiences of my life. His Mahler with both the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic was revelatory also.

  • Barbara Chasson says:

    I had the great privilege of playing with KT as a violist in the LPO in the late 70’s. He was one of the greatest conductors I ever knew and a truly lovely human being, with a great sense of humour!!

  • David says:

    It is so tragic that no live Tennstedt Mahler 9th ever made it to commercial release. I once heard a recording of the 1982 NY Philharmonic performance and was absolutely floored, and would give a lot to actually have the bootleg, but not possible. Devastating impact.

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      That boot leg was available for a while via a private collector’s blog. The audio sounds like decent FM broadcast quality, and I presume it was probably taken off the radio.

  • John Willan says:

    At dinner one evening at Roald Dahl’s house in Great Missenden, we were seated with an eminent Oxford don who, fortunately, sat on the committee which awarded doctorates honoris causa. He agreed that he would nominate Klaus. At that time we were all desperate for him to conduct again as he had stopped after I left the LPO. He was duly invited to become doctor of music honoris causa, the first German conductor, since Haydn and Karajan were Austrian, he said. We fibbed that, in order to receive the degree, he must take a rehearsal of the University Orchestra. After considerable argument, he agreed. On the day, in June 1994, he threw down his walking sticks, climbed the podium and said, “My hip is bad, my eyes are bad, my voice is bad, my English is bad. But we make music.” At the end of an exhilarating hour of the Oberon Overture the orchestra made him president for life. But that was it.

    • Halldor says:

      I was in the University orchestra that evening, and those words are burned on my memory, as is what followed: 60 minutes in which I experienced, for the first time in my life, what music could truly be.

  • Stephen says:

    His reputation fell sharply after he died; it is good that he is now acknowledged as one of the greats.

    • Daniel F. says:

      I am interested in WHY his reputation (with whom?) fell sharply after he died. I had not known that. Can you expand on your comment.

      • Stephen says:

        I can’t be very precise on this but I remember two critics saying they had never known a musician’s reputation to fall so fast. Obviously I did not share their views or I would not have posted as I did.

  • Marina Arshinova says:

    an excellent discussion, that you. one can get a lot from it

  • John Kelly says:

    I also was at that incredible Fidelio. One of the Met cellists told me how much he loved KT, about how KT didn’t want any fancy parties or dinners and just wanted to drink beer to relax (“and not the horse piss you Americans drink”). I suspect only Carlos Kleiber was as well liked by the orchestra in the same period.

    Previous comments about his Mahler 9 with the Phillies I would endorse and would also mention a gut-wrenching Mahler 6 with the NYPO. This is a man who as a teenager helped clear bodies after the Dresden firebombing. He believed Mahler was predicting the calamities of the Twentieth Century. He was the only conductor apart from Bernstein who understood that Mahler must be at “maximum intensity throughout” (Bernstein to the Vienna Phil in rehearsal).

    At the risk of being accused of pandering I am going to say that in Norman’s book on Mahler he has more than a few pages devoted to his friendship with KT and it is, in my view, the best thing he’s ever written, it is completely consonant with my own feelings of affection for a man who while I never met him, I sat and watched and listen to a musician who touched our souls as few ever can or could.

  • DESR says:

    The whole of this performance at the Met is not difficult to find online, I suspect…

    I can find live performances of his of every Mahler symphony with the LPO, with the exception of No.4. Is that correct?

    If so, can anyone suggest a substitute?

  • Hilary says:

    His appearance on Desert Island Discs.

  • Michael Sturgulewski says:

    Everybody who heard this Fidelio either live or via broadcast was overwhelmed by the whole performance and especially the Leonore #3. It’s a shame he never recorded any opera in the studio. I was hoping he’d be chosen to conduct the EMI Ring that fell to Haitink. Are there any archive tapes of performances he conducted when he was at the Kiel opera?

  • John Willan says:

    He was actually scheduled to record Elektra. The first piano rehearsal in Kingsway had Ute Vinzing in the title role, Eva Marton and Christa Ludwig in the other two. Ute and Eva were, at that time, singing these roles around the world. At the interval, Klaus refused to continue on the grounds that the two soprani were in the wrong roles. Nothing would persuade him and the recording collapsed. We did Mahler 6 instead. Eva, of course, went on the be one of the greatest Elektras of all time! So we did try!

  • Michael Fine says:

    I too remember this extraordinary performance.
    When Boehm performed Fidelio, not only was there a thunderous ovation after Leonore 3 but an exit for the doors as many patrons wanted this to be the last music they heard, rather than what some felt was a less inspired final act.