Carlos Kleiber: Orchestras will teach you all you can learn about conducting

Carlos Kleiber: Orchestras will teach you all you can learn about conducting


norman lebrecht

February 16, 2017

We have seen a letter from the great conductor to someone asking for lessons.

Dated 29 June 1999, here’s what Kleiber advises:


I never do any teaching! (And I hardly conduct anywhere any more).

Judging by your CD, you aren’t a beginner by any means. Orchestras* will teach you all that you’re capable of learning about conducting.

Try as coach in some opera company in the US. When the conductor falls sick, there’s a chance to take over a performance. If you don’t blow it, you’re in. Symphonies can wait. Symphonic music means mainly rehearsal. Opera means technique, in the broader sense of the word. With a good technique, you can forget technique. It’s like with manners. If you know how to behave, you can misbehave. That’s fun! (At least, that’s my theory).

Good luck!

Yours sincerely


Carlos Kleiber

*And watching conductors – preferably lousy ones – at work. (They’re everywhere!)

PS This letter is all I can do for you. OK?



  • George hlawiczka says:

    I wonder who got hold of this letter. Of course it’s nice to share this precious thing. A friend of mine told me she wrote to him and received this reply.

  • Mark says:

    Charles Barber published a book ” Corresponding with Carlos” detailing his many letters to and from CK.
    I am pretty sure that this letter was one of the earliest to CK.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      The addressee is not CK.

      • Rose says:


        could “Ms. Wright” be the American band conductor Gladys Stone Wright? The tone of Kleiber’s letter feels like a response to someone (already accomplished) looking to branch into symphonic/operatic work.

        Gladys might fit the bill?

        Great find!

      • Patrick says:

        The author of this letter is known and easy to find online. Still an active musician in the LA area.

    • Charles Barber says:

      Hi Mark. I write in brief reply to yours. This letter was not written to me, but it is unquestionably authentic. The handwriting, the angle on the page, the little home address stamp, the under-lining, and above all the humour — this is the voice of Carlos.

      It’s also very good advice, and something in parallel terms he told me (and others) many times. And, once again, it makes the point that CK was NOT Howard Hughes, hiding in a cave and growing fingernails. If people approached him with kindness and clarity, respect and wit, he would very often reply in like manner. It was my personal experience, and that of others lucky enough to know him. I think you would have liked him, very much. This letter shows why, and how.

    • Bruce says:

      pseudonym 🙂

    • Sue says:

      Kleiber did live in the internet age. He died in 2004 and many people had been using the net for quite a few years already by then. His use of fax to Charles Barber (and presumably others) shows us that was still a neophyte with technology. God bless him; he was widely loved!! Xxxx

  • Anna says:

    Orchestra has a lot to offer.An orchestra is the best teacher for a conductor.She will show all of the conductor mistakes and will respond on every good thing conductor will show.

  • David Boxwell says:

    The extended film of him rehearsing, with such seductive charm, is sufficient. He is especially skillful at flattering the band into giving him what he wants: “You played that so beautifully, I’d like to hear it again, only this time can you . . . .?”