What the world needs now is more Carlos Kleiber

What the world needs now is more Carlos Kleiber


norman lebrecht

March 13, 2017

Facebook has reminded me that five years ago today I posted this rare clip of CK conducting Wozzeck, a work which his father premiered in Berlin in 1926.

Has that score ever sounded more captivating?

Can’t get enough of it.

Enjoy your week.


  • Sue says:

    Oh god, you’re posting to the right audience here. I ADORE/D Kleiber and have just presented a nearly 2 hour lecture on him here in Australia for our Music Appreciation group, with the second to follow in May. What intrigues me is why he conducted “Wozzeck” when the rest of his repertoire was quite traditional.

    Carlos Kleiber, we still adore you and miss you so much!!! The passion, the talent, the looks, the charm: I could go on…!!

    • DESR says:

      Er, because his Dad wrote it?

    • Jonathan Grieves-Smith says:

      Where in Australia, Sue?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I had the huge fortune of attending La Boheme under Kleiber in Vienna in 1985. During that performance I kept telling myself to remember what I was hearing, because I wouldn’t hear its like again. Ever since, I don’t want to listen to La Boheme again, unless it’s under Kleiber. I want to preserve the memory. This short clip does capture some of the magic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlM_lztYmP4 That aside, I have occasionally listened to those substandard releases, which don’t do full justice to his interpretations.

      Then, in May 1985, I traveled from Vienna to Munich to attend the Rosenkavalier under Him. Alas, he canceled. A player of the orchestra told me that rehearsa.s were going wonderfully, as usual, until he had a clash with a soprano (I believe with Sophie).

  • Alexander says:

    …still cannot get accustomed to that German phrasing in arias …. consonant endings …. this is not only about Wozzeck , another point is your much loved ( and paid and prestigious etc and so on…) Wagner … I might have not been born in those lands before … just my opinion of course … P.S. Donizetti is what I am really thrilled about, not in the mainstream foe today 🙂

  • Alexander says:

    for today 😉

  • DESR says:

    It is all very well coming round to CK in your older age, Norman, but hark what you said a few weeks after he died, in a piece headlined “Not a great conductor”.


    Can we have a retraction?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      No. Read the article, not the headline.

      • DESR says:

        I had.

        So, you would argue that what you wrote does not bear a complete relation to the headline chosen.

        But was is this if not a bit of pre-internet clickbait?

        This is something of a theme.

        I would just say that you do scoff in your piece at those obituarists who called him ‘the greatest’ and end by calling him the greatest ‘non-conductor’.

        And now you pray him in aid! At the very least, tut tut.

        • Sue says:

          I had exactly these same words about Kleiber with Mr. Lebrecht. The sub-editor has obviously gleaned his ideas for that headline from reading the article about Kleiber, which I wish I’d written instead!!

          • Hilary says:

            It’s not unreasonable to have a seismic shift of viewpoint! That ought to be celebrated. The opposite is a bit boring.

  • DESR says:

    If you want a complete performance of Wozzeck by Kleiber, try this:


    • Wurtfangler says:

      HAHA – that’s funny! You have a great sense of humour Isolde as you couldn’t really get any further from Kleiber’s humble and total service of the music than Currentzis’s ego!

    • Tom says:

      Tee hee…

      There isn’t anyone working today who is CK’s equivalent – certainly not in terms of rarity of appearances. In terms of scrupulous approach, deep thinking and perfectionism, I think Kirill Petrenko is the closest thing you might find.

      Currentzis. Honestly. Shock tactics do not a great conductor make…

      • Sue says:

        I disagree. I think Andris Nelsons is the ‘new’ Kleiber. I’ve seen him on the podium at the Musikverein a couple of times and he’s a wonderful musician with that passion and intensity which marked Carlos Kleiber’s career.

        • Tristan says:

          you must all be joking here comparing the only Carlos Kleiber with Nelsons or Currentzis???? What ever Kleiber touched is incomparable with anyone else, simply breathtaking and out of this world
          Petrenko definitely the most exciting around these days but even he can’t reach Carlos Kleiber.
          AND never forget: it’s quality and not quantity!!!
          Same with Callas, no one ever came close to her but unlike CK she had a huge repertoire incomparable to anyone else. Those are the two only Gods so music interpretation or like Michael Gielen once said ‘if ever, one used the word genius for a reproducing conductor it’s only CK’ – so right

        • Daniel F. says:

          Nelsons?? Please. I guess his appropriation of some of CK’s physical mannerisms—the deep knee bends, the holding on to the podium railing, the reaching out toward the orchestra–has deafened you to the fundamental blandness of Nelsons’s musicianship. Nobody can approach Kleiber, at least at his best, but Vladimir Jurowsky does carry with him the high voltage of a musical intelligence.

          • marina arshinova says:

            no one can be ever compared to Carlos, no one.

          • Sue says:

            Well, naturally I’m extremely pleased to read all these fabulous comments about Carlos Kleiber. My comparison with Nelsons was not to suggest that he eclipsed Kleiber; not at all. But he has an energy and enthusiasm which we were all familiar with when it came to Kleiber. I wouldn’t agree that he is ‘bland’.

            Kirill Petrenko. Most definitely NOT.

            We’ll have to disagree. It happens.

          • Olassus says:

            Sue, what do you know about KP in NSW?

            He just led the greatest Rosenkav I have ever heard — and that includes from CK, many others over the decades, and KP himself.

            You are in the wrong place to make such “definite” judgments.

    • John says:

      Oooooh, he has his own Facebook Page! Every bit as great as Carlos Kleiber!!!

    • Gordon Freeman says:

      I almost agree…!

  • John Borstlap says:

    Sometimes Kleiber reached the perfect and the sublime, without any apparant strain:


    • Sue says:

      I ran that performance from a DVD in my Music Appreciation presentation; well, the first movement. All the time I was thinking about the statue of Brahms, out there on a plinth in Ressel Park – facing the Musikverein – and thinking how happy the composer would have been after this performance. Kleiber’s Brahms #4 with the VPO from 1980-ish is actually my favourite recording in the entire world. It touched me deeply back when I was a lot younger and its magic has never left me. And this performance was found in Kleiber’s car CD player the day after he died!! I’ve got a mental image of his driving over the alps from Munich towards Slovenia listening to it and knowing it would be virtually the last thing he would hear.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    I read somewhere that Kleiber had expressed a wish to conduct The Gondoliers! It seems unlikely but not impossible. Does anyone know if there is any substance to that?

    • Sue says:

      In all the reading I’ve done about Kleiber I vaguely remember seeing that mentioned. But Carlos Kleiber had a huge musical taste, a wonderful – and, at times, wicked – sense of humour and his mother tongue was English. His mother was born in Waterloo, Iowa.

    • Charles Barber says:

      CK loved Gilbert & Sullivan. He got and hugely enjoyed the word play and parody, understood the historical and cultural references, and could do a lot of the patter songs.

      One can never over-estimate the importance — and necessity — of humour in his life. G&S was a natural for him, as was ‘Fawlty Towers’, and for many of the same reasons. Sue correctly indicates that his native tongue was English. Nothing about G&S was obscure to him.

      • Sue says:

        Hello, Dr. Barber; I immensely enjoyed your book about Kleiber. I’ve used some of the letters as the basis of my presentations on Kleiber. And quite a few new fans have been born!!

        • Charles Barber says:

          Hi Sue: glad you did. You would have liked him in person a good deal more. I tried to argue in the book that he was, beyond every other calling, an Ecstatic.

          This is revealed in many ways. When the atoms aligned and whirled and shook just so, there was no state he could not enter, I believe. And when even one element fell slightly out of orbit (an errant clarinet, Italian diction that sounded like Esperanto, an audience that refused stillness), it could all collapse rather quickly. Many observed this.

          In that defeat, and in that disorder, he retreated altogether — but always (most always) found his route liberated by laughter. It was an unusual combination. An amazing man. Your class is lucky to have you make the introductions. Good luck! C

      • Gordon Freeman says:

        I too would like to say thank you for your really fantastic book on CK!

    • DESR says:

      It was The Mikado! It was I believe when his great friend Peter Jonas had moved from Chicago (CSO) to ENO…

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Wow, Currentzis is insignificant enough a hack for C Kleiber to even bother crushing him under his boot. In heaven.

  • Henrey says:

    Kleibers musicality almost always reaches supernatural heights. Too bad he never wrote a book or gave a substantial interview expressing his thoughts on music and the art of interpreting/performing it.

    The best way I’ve found to think about him is that he is to conducting what Bach is to composition. You can’t really say “the best” outright, but there is certain eloquence that is yet to be matched by anyone.

  • Steve P says:

    Yes, please, another Kleiber.

  • Sue says:

    @Olassus: ignorant comments. We have TV and internet in Australia and I’ve spent time living in Europe – in the country of KP’s citizenship, Austria.

    • Sue says:

      And Petrenko is conducting this as if it’s Verdi or Puccini! Where is the articulation we are so used to with Wagner?


      • Olassus says:

        No, Sue, he is not conducting here “as if it’s Verdi or Puccini.” He is useless in Verdi and nearly so, for other reasons, in Puccini. (An admitted difference from CK.)

        You wouldn’t make such a comment if you had attended even one of his full performances of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg last year. The opera is 260 minutes long, your snippet less than three. What KP accomplished musically with the complete score, and how his emphases shifted between May and September, not necessarily for the better, was a fascinating experience for those of us fortunate enough to attend repeatedly.

    • Olassus says:

      If you were here instead of there you would be able to watch how he works and you would realize that despite the differences in appearance and personality KP is — musically — as close to CK as anyone around. Watch him in Die Fledermaus and Der Rosenkavalier and you will understand.

      Andris Nelsons is another fish altogether.

      Newcastle has a wonderful hall and facility.

  • Hilary says:

    If I may be so bold to say, a bit tentative (is it the recording?) when compared to Neville Marriner’s version but worth flagging up for the rarity value : https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5pEwhe-3GXU

  • James Kreger says:

    The stage director Otto Schenk worked on many productions at the Metropolitan Opera. Once in the Met cafeteria he raved about Carlos Kleiber’s conducting in the Wozzeck production they worked on together in Europe. Schenk had never experienced anything like it before.
    I was privileged to be a member of the Met Orchestra, making music with Carlos Kleiber in four operas he conducted at the Met in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Bohème, Otello, Traviata, and Rosenkavalier.
    A good orchestra will usually try to maintain a high standard in everything it plays regardless of whether the conductor of the moment may fall short of expectations. However, if that same orchestra is playing for a conductor they respect, they will often play better than they know they can. This was the case with Carlos Kleiber. To us in the Met Orchestra he seemed utterly possessed by the essence of the music. To his great credit I would describe Carlos Kleiber’s artistry as egoless, as if he had a hotline to the composer himself. Kleiber somehow channeled this dedication to us in the orchestra, and we felt compelled to respond in kind. It was as if we were lifted out of our very skins in a timeless journey to a universe of emotion, eloquence, and grandeur rarely experienced.
    Following is a link to an article I wrote about Carlos Kleiber and the Met Orchestra: http://www.metorchestramusicians.org/blog/2014/4/7/making-music-with-carlos-kleiber-elusive-titan-of-the-podium

    • Sue says:

      It’s wonderful to read this comment. I actually read your “Making Music with Carlos Kleiber” dedication aloud at my recent Music Appreciation program on Kleiber and it was very moving.

      • rosella formenti says:

        Carlos Kleiber the best!
        Nel 2016 in Italia è stata creata una nuova rosa da Davide Dalla Libera chiamata Rosa Rosenkavalier Kleiber dedicata a Erich e Carlos Kleiber (fu presentata l’11 maggio 2016 a Milano a Casa Verdi dove viveva Veronica Kleiber). Alcune piante sono state portate a Konisjca sulla tomba di Carlos, altre piante sono fiorite in giro per l’Europa, da Londra a Roma nei giardini di appassionati ammiratori di Carlos e di musicisti che hanno lavorato con lui.

  • Jaybuyer says:

    A stunning 10 minutes – even at breakfast time. Thanks for this, Norman.