A Whitsun treat: Celibidache does Romania

A Whitsun treat: Celibidache does Romania


norman lebrecht

May 26, 2018

A big smile – or your money back!


  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Watch it without sound and you can certainly guess the title. The mimicry, the pathos, the yelling out, the whistling, the extraneous noises (all emanating from the podium !). He shakes his rear-end as he dances to the Roumanian rhythms…

    In February 1984 at Carnegie Hall, the final work on the program was Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite. He told the students in the Curtis Orchestra that they would repeat the second movement as an encore and that “I will shake my rear in the face of the New York public who only understand vulgarity.” And shake it he did, right from the beginning:


    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      PS: I believe that this is a pirated recording made from the lap of an audience member. The NPR recording was of better quality and balance but very hard to find today because Carnegie Hall claimed the rights to it.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      What is your take on the program of that legendary concert?

      To me it seems overweighted towards loud and coloristic works, Tristan being the exception. Wouldn’t Celibidache have more to offer to young students by conducting them in Bruckner or other more spiritual works?

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        You have a point, but early on in the preparation process (18 rehearsals), SC told the orchestra that, as Americans, all they know is fast and loud and he was particularly hard on the brass (He later refused to allow American brass students to play in the Schlesweig-Holstein Orchestra when he conducted them).

        He had originally proposed Bruckner 4 which we rejected when we realized that Philadelphia Orchestra was going to perform it under Muti that same week in Carnegie. Dueling reviews of Bruckner seemed like a questionable idea at the time. The NYT still did some comparison between the two orchestras which did not please Maestro Muti.

        He was making stylistic points with each work using the Prokofiev as an example of the brutal music suited to Americans. He did not rehearse the Scythian at all for 10 days and when he conducted it for the first time, he played it through without stopping at the rehearsal (very rare for him) At the end of that reading he told the students that this is perfect music for American training. The encore performance was especially brutal as he suddenly egged on the percussion and brass as if to make a point.

        Unforgettable in many ways, not all positive, to say the least.

        • william osborne says:

          At the beginning of the first rehearsal, he also moved the person who had been assigned first trombone, Debbie Taylor, to a lower position because he didn’t want a woman on the first trombone.

          Another interesting thing happened at Schlesswig-Holstein. A cellist from Latin America was slouching a bit in his chair. Celi had a fit, and if I remember right, removed him from the orchestra. He then commented, bizarrely, that he was trying to protect the women in the orchestra. Many of the musicians walked out of the rehearsals in response. Die Zeit (a very distinguished paper in Germany) noted that the divisions broke straight down cultural lines. The foreigners walked out, and the German students remained. These sorts of things followed Celi just about everywhere he worked.

        • John Kelly says:

          An amazing concert from my point of view. The Tristan was utterly magnificent. The Debussy very slow but similar to his effort with the LSO that he did in London in 1980.

          I met a cellist from the Philly orchestra as they played either the next night or perhaps later the same week – he said – and I quote – “I’m ashamed to go on here after what those kids did.” He needn’t have been, the Philly Orchestra was sensational during the Muti period, but so were those Curtis kids. I have the recording and it is still interesting and worth a listen. Of course Celi would abhor the very notion of listening to it over and over again!

          My Osborne’s points about Celi’s “view” of women in the orchestra is right, and corroborated by many. I suspect it’s why he liked the LSO which was all-male even into the late 1970s. Mind you, while some of them liked him and thought he brought some unusual focus and discipline, others were bored and infuriated by the endless rehearsal. He took them to Japan. Superb Tippett Ritual Dances (unequalled in my experience) but the Dances of Galanta fell apart in the last bar (half the band came in the upbeat and half on the downbeat) – showing that you can rehearse as much as you like but still have a trainwreck.

    • william osborne says:

      Sadly, this comment about NY vulgarity might have also had some racist overtones.

      • Tamino says:

        Well, he did call himself ‘a dirty Romanian’, so I guess his misanthropy extended to all mankind, including himself. Nobody should be overly narcissistic by believing, that Celi exclusively disliked him or her. 😉

  • JoBe says:

    From all the utterances of him that I have read, I gather that Celibidache truly believed that he was more intelligent, wise, sagacious, insightful, and smart than all of his colleagues and predecessors, Furtwängler included. An insufferable personality, but at least he had the matching face!

    • Thomasina says:

      I have heard from my grandfather that according to Mr.Lebrecht’s book(20 years+ ago) Celibidache said about Muti that he was terribly ignorant but talented.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    You could convince me that the solo violin around 3:40 is Leonidas Kavakos’s dad.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Herr Doktor: der Solo ist eine Bratsche.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        Thanks for that clarification. And additional thanks to Google translations. 🙂

        Let me re-state my comment: You could convince me that the trombone solo at 3:40 is Leonidas Kavakos’s dad.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          OK. I shall try. Bratsche = viola; trombone = Posaune. I agree that the solo violist looks like a certain Greek violin player.

          • Herr Doktor says:

            Robert, the truism is, when one has to explain a joke, it was probably unsuccessful.

            Plus the [wink] did not come through at the end of the message, which would have hopefully put context around my trombone comment.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I acknowledge your wink and raise the bid with a smiley face.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Musically this is gorgeous: what a sense of rhythm, what characterization! And visually its annoying: we see too little of the orchestra, and too much of Celibidache’s ridiculous mannerisms. That’s why I don’t understand when they say “watch” for musical clips. Hell no, I want to watch that. But I can’t stop listening.

  • Rob says:

    One of the worst conductors of all time. It’s shocking how he was allowed to make recordings never mind anything else.

    • Patrick says:

      How fortunate, Rob, that you’ve seen so few bad conductors in your time. That Celibidache is one of the worst….lucky you!

    • Sue says:

      The irony is that he detested making recordings, much like Kleiber did.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Celi detested sound recordings but consented to video recordings. I wonder why.

        The other irony is that soon after his death, Celi’s family authorized the official release of many sound recordings. The argument was to prevent substandard pirate recordings from defining his legacy. If only Carlos Kleiber’s family could have been persuaded along the same lines, we would have now been enjoying the Scala Boheme and Otello, to say the least. I would bet money that after seeing what happened with Celi’s posthumus releases, Carlos did everything possible to ensure history would not repeat itself with him. If only Carlos would have known not to let the best be the enemy of the good – or, rather, the unimaginably good be the enemy of the supreme …

  • william osborne says:

    I remember sometime in the 80s in Munich Celi gave one of his infamous interviews and called Chailly an “Ignoramus.” Chailly had recently done some concerts in Munich. Not to be outdone, Chailly gave an interview and called Celi a “clown conductor.” For some reason this seemed to really sting Celi. After that, I never saw him clown conduct again.

  • Sue says:

    @Petros: why didn’t they like it and was Kleiber to blame?

    • Petros LInardos says:

      I don’t know. The loggionisti are not famous for fairness, but for partisanship.

      A possible legitimate criticism may have been about the orchestra drowning out the singers. Apparently it happened at one passage, according to Alexander Werner’s biography of Kleiber. Was that enough to provoke such a reaction? I doubt it.

  • Paul Smith says:

    “BOB!! BOB!!!!!!” – Celibidache

    At Curtis, Celibidache yelled for Bob Fitzpatrick many times. After yelling for him to correct a mis-aligned light, and then again for a light that was making noise, he yelled for him once more just to see him quickly pop up, eager to do his bidding. As a student, I thought that was not funny (though many of us did laugh). Nor was it funny to decry unintelligible playing as “Chinese” – with Chinese students right there in the orchestra. But he did apologize to them later after explaining that saying something is “Chinese” in German is akin to saying “that’s Greek to me” in English.

    Once at Curtis during rehearsal I made the horrible mistake of resting my feet up on the railing and leaning back in my chair to take it all in. Problem was that this perch was behind the orchestra, directly in Celibidache’s view. Of course, he stopped the orchestra right away to yell, “Let me know if I can get you a pajama!!!”

    We all know the mundane stories of how he shockingly denigrated mediocre conductors, and detested their shortcomings. Distasteful as that was, that part of him had little to do with the musical insights he offered. Fortunately, the insights were compelling, inspiring and thought provoking. Definitely not worth throwing out with the bath water.

    One more story … One Friday in 1984 I was at a party in a fellow student’s small apartment, about to head home for the night around midnight when Celibidache appeared at the door holding two brown paper grocery bags in his arms. There were only about five of us in that dark, cramped living room, mostly drunk and very much out of it. He asked if this was the party he had heard about, and came in doling out several bottles of wine from his bags. He kept the party going, drinking along with us until god knows when. I think I left at 3 am and he was still there. The next morning at 9:00 am, he was on the podium, sharp as ever.

  • Player says:

    Norman, did you not post this clip some time ago?

  • Mike_T says:

    I’ve just watched this after coming from the clip of Pat Kop bashing the crap out of some poor old upright.

    Talk about chalk and cheese…

  • Radames says:

    Celibidache was an outstanding musician, one of the very greatest of the last century. I am baffled by the negativity of the comments in this forum. He may not always have had the most diplomatic way of expressing himself, but he did show immense humanity towards a lot of people who needed help. He detested the music industry as a whole and the various manifestations of it. He allowed filmed recordings of his concerts only because the image would convey more of the concert than only the sound on its own.

    We all have heard of maestros of a past generation insulting their orchestras (think of Toscanini and his outbursts), Celibidache was nowhere near that level and yet this is all that people come up with when they talk of him.

    The world should be grateful for having had Celibidache!

    • Petros LInardos says:

      If Celi was honest about argument in favor of films was honest, then he was not honest with himself.

      Those filmed clips of the ending of Bruckner’s 4th and 8th symphonies appeal a lot to me musically, and are a huge turnoff visually. It is disproportionately focused on Celibidache, and overall don’t showcase the orchestra visually. This is not unlike other Celi footage I’ve seen.



      How could a control freak like Celibidache accepted such conductor centered footage?

      The 80s and 90s were not early days for concert filming.

      This 1971 Bruckner 4 film with the Vienna Phil under Kubelik conveys far more of the concert atmosphere.

      • Radames says:

        He didn’t control the videos because he wasn’t interested in them. He tolerated them because there was enormous pressure to record his concerts. He refused any distribution of the recordings and only tolerated the release of videos but was never interested in watching them nor in contributing in any way to their editing or distribution.

      • Paul Smith says:

        Exactly as Radames says. Those were not Celibidache’s work, and he had zero involvement in them … not even in “accepting” them or not. As he told me, “I give concerts. If the radio wants to record them, there is nothing I can do about it.” I saw absolutely zero evidence that he had ever seen one or that he gave a damn about any of them.

        • Radames says:

          I couldn’t agree more! What somewhat perplexes me is the fact that so little official effort has gone into doing that. We hear more about Karajan, Kleiber and Bernstein (to roughly stick to Celi’s generation) than about him, not only in terms of recordings (no surprise there) but also in terms of his effect, his influence, his musical personality. As much as I admire qualities in the above, to me Celi by far outshines them in so many respects, though his recordings do little credit, you had to be there live. But that’s no less true for Furtwängler who however continues – for all the right reasons – to be immensely popular.

          Celi has taught all his life, always for free, and his students and colleagues would probably have invaluable things to contribute if someone took the leadership. Also, I’d be extremely keen to hear more of his vast body of compositions, only one piece was ever recorded (Der Taschengarten) and another was performed a few years ago in Romania.

          There have been some wonderful documentaries over the years, most recently 2 years ago, but they always stay too much on the surface.

    • Paul Smith says:

      I agree with you Radames! The positive contributions to music-making that Celibidache made—including freely teaching many, many musicians, far outweigh the negative aspects of his life.

      Those contributions are not only what should be remembered, but what should be analyzed, understood, improved upon, and aspired to. I should also add “talked about” instead of the petty, junior-high-school gossip we (myself included) are wasting time “discussing.” We ought to be able to discern what to carry forward, and what to leave in the past.

      I’m more interested in understanding Celibidache’s musical approach, methods and ideas and how they worked than in what he said to whom, when.

  • David Crowe says:

    Former colleagues of mine who were in the Curtis Orchestra describe him, depending on whose opinion, as a genius, charlatan and megalomaniac. Probably all three simultaneously. My experience of hearing the MPO Bruckner 4, played on tour in Ann Arbor, featured an opening horn solo that was as breathtakingly beautiful and magical as I’ll ever hope to hear. But, the ending of the fourth mvt. was so slow and dragged out that the tremolo figure in the strings literally broke down and had to re-start itself about two minutes from the end. A truly memorable performance.

  • La Verita says:

    Celi’s Carnegie Hall debut with the Curtis Orchestra was unforgettable! The sold-out Hall was packed with musical celebrities ( thanks to a NY Times interview in which he dismissed Bernstein, Ormandy, Karajan and others as nincumpoops). Celi showed the hard-boiled New Youk public what an orchestra can accomplish when a genius rehearses them on one program for 6 months: the pianissimi were inaudible, the crescendi threw us from our chairs, and the fortissimi had us running for the exits – there has never been such a concert! Ok, so perhaps he was part showman, part shaman, and part sham – but so be it – he had no equal.

    • Paul Smith says:

      Isn’t it remarkable that we’re discussing a concert of oft-repeated standards that happened over twenty years ago? That is far more telling than the fact the Celibidache had opinions about others that were not very interesting or … come to think of it … not that different from some of the opinions we read from others on this forum all the time.

      By the way, he didn’t rehearse for the Carnegie Hall concert for “six months.” It was only about three weeks.

  • Fred says:

    1. why did he never conduct opera?
    2. what was exactly his stand during the nazi era?

    • Radames says:

      (1) He didn’t conduct opera because he didn’t want the non-musical influences (staging, etc.) to interfere with the musical experience. Having said that, he has conducted opera excerpts including from Verdi and of course Wagner, including arias. I vaguely remember him saying that he very much liked Berg’s Wozzeck but don’t remember 100%.

      (2) During the Nazi era he was a student and completely non-involved in any political activities. He was a Romanian refugee in Berlin. His “cleanliness” was one important contributor towards him becoming interim Chief conductor of the Berlin Phil after the war.

  • muslit says:

    One of the most over-rated conductors.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I think he was probably better when he was younger. His old age in Munich, I feel, does him little credit: out-of-time in his attitudes to the orchestra and particularly female players; bitter about the industry and his place in it, having spent much of his career with second-rate orchestras; and prolix, mannered and self-indulgent in his conducting.

      • Radames says:

        Hmm, I don’t agree with that. His musical performances were at their best in Munich, he had the best orchestra of them all at his fingertips, and they were a union made in Heaven. But his early and middle periods are equally as fascinating for the sheer visible energy in his performances, his wild presence on the podium. In later years it was no less exciting in the concert hall, he had reached the pinnacle of inner maturity, of knowledge about orchestral sounds and musical connections, structures and lines. “Knowledge” is a bad word, he saw an inner truth in it all. I remember his Bruckner 9 in Munich in 1995, one year before his passing, which was absolutely miraculous, full of energy and solemnity. Breathtaking and on a totally different dimension from his performances only 10-15 years earlier.