Just in: John Malkovich to star as famed conductor in new film

Just in: John Malkovich to star as famed conductor in new film


norman lebrecht

September 18, 2021

Variety reports that veteran Hollywood actor Malkovich is to play Sergiu Celibidache in a film titled The Yellow Tie.

The script is by Celi’s son, who will also direct. Shooting in Romania early next year.

Plotline: Teenaged Celi gets thrown out of home after telling Pa he wants to be a musician. Some years later he’s chief of the Berlin Philharmonic. Goes on to become one of music’s greatest grouches.

“I am thrilled and honored to be given the opportunity to play the conductor Sergiu Celibidache,” said Malkovich. “A unique and singular talent, he is considered to be one of the great classical music visionaries of the last century. Playing him in his later years will be a challenging and fascinating journey.”



  • sam says:

    Total. Miscast.

    Young Celi = Rami Malek
    Old Celi = Donald Sutherland

    (Damn, I should be a casting director, Hollywood, here I come.)

  • Henry williams says:

    I saw him a few times with the Israel philharmonic.
    The best conductor i have ever seen. And i have seen the best.

  • pvl says:

    Sergiu Celibidache is a man of a misterious biography

    • Concertgebouw79 says:

      Fantastic life mainly between Germany and France. His arguments against making records were intelligents

      • Tamino says:

        his arguments against recordings have to be understood in their, and his, context.

        a) They were formed in the early days of mono recording, when recording was indeed not catching the subtleties of musical timbre and balances. Later in his carreer his arguments were a bit outdated.

        b) Celi had an obsessive hate for Karajan. A deep trauma. Karajan was the chosen one by Berlin Phil, when Furtwängler died. Celi felt deeply betrayed by the orchestra, stabbed in the back. When Karajan’s carreer went ballistic, mainly due to his major recording efforts, Celi positioned himself as the antagonist, the only “true artist”.

        Actually Celi himself recorded a lot. All the broadcast orchestras he had (because they would give him the rehearsal times he wanted) by definition were recording orchestras. His Munich concerts all were recorded.
        He studio recorded a few of his own compositions.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      Mysterious? Why?

    • Hilary says:

      and a far from impeccable one as regards treatment of women in orchestras. Archaic even by the standards of the time.
      Could be an amazing conductor in certain repertoire, no question.

  • Crock says:

    ….Thrilled….Journey…. Am I the only one who can no longer stomach this stuff?

    • The View from America says:

      I’m sure you have plenty of company.

    • Herbie G says:

      No Crock – you are not the only one.

      Celi has his fans and his detractors, of whom I am one. He’s more famous for his huge appetite for rehearsals and his predilection for soporifically slow tempi than for his performances. Yes, Klemperer and Bernstein were occasionally guilty of such agogic aberrations on occasion but they were like greyhounds next to Celi, who was also an ‘interventionist’ conductor who stamped his own eccentricities on his performances.

      I am sure there are others who rate him highly; chacun à son goût. But is his life so interesting that it deserves a film? I’d rather see one about Furtwangler. Ronald Harwood’s play ‘Taking Sides’ dealt merely with the spurious denazification process to which he was subjected – but not with his roller-coaster career in Nazi Germany and his courageous and frequent refusal to toe the Nazi line – placing himself on the Gestapo’s wanted list towards the end of the war, when he fled to Switzerland to escape certain death at their hands. There’s also plenty of salacious detail in his personal life. Now that’s the stuff that great films are made of.

      As Oscar Wilde said, ‘life imitates art’ – so I guess that most of the actors will walk off the set because of over-frequent re-takes and the thing, when completed, will last about as long as Die Meistersinger.

      • Monsoon says:

        I have never understood why conductors are praised for demanding many and long rehearsals. To me, that’s a sign that they have trouble communicating their ideas to the orchestra and/or unable to persuade the orchestra to play the music how they want.

        • Paul Smith says:

          Celibidache said it only made sense to have a lot of rehearsal with an orchestra that had the ability AND desire to explore the myriad possibilities the musicians could offer. For orchestras where you would exhaust the options at, say, two, all the extra rehearsal would be a complete waste. [Source: Curtis Institute rehearsal, 1984]

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    I yes Sutherland is the good choice Malkovich is too skiny but it’s a good thing if we talk more about what Celibidache gave to music and if what he did in Berlin is more highlighted

  • Curious says:

    Wonder if his son will include the awfulness his father put Abbie Connant through.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    It will have all the usual woke tropes. Ergo, it will be anachronistic. Pass.

  • Larry says:

    Very strange that they should be making a film about a real-life conductor, let alone one who is probably unknown to 99% of the lay public. (And unknown to many musicians.)

  • Novagerio says:

    He should play Mitropoulos instead, not Celi.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    While no Slippedisc thread pertaining to matters Celibidachian can be deemed complete unless and until William Osborne weighs in — novice SD readers may forgive this little in-joke — the choice of John Malkovich to play the old magician seems bewildering.

    For all his undisputed thespian qualities, the persona projected by Mr. Malkovich must surely count among the least germane to that of the late conductor.
    This is all the more puzzling, given that the director, Serge Ioan — Celi’s son — is well acquainted with two fine actors who illuminated his previous cinematic effort, “Octav” : the great Marcel Iureş, and the immense Victor Rebengiuc. Both, each in his own way, should be able to portray the elder Celibidache to any imaginable psychological depth.

    Having watched Mr. Celebidachi’s documentary feature on his father several times over the years (not least because there is a personable shot of yrs. truly in the audience at the Gasteig in it), I am not entirely convinced of the wisdom of a fictionalised account, let alone one directed by his son. To be sure, Mr. Malkovich may find the role “challenging”. We may well be in for one hell of a “journey”, and I wouldn’t bet on it being all that “fascinating”.

    • It speaks to this respondent’s character that he is a coward denouncing people behind a screen of anonymity. And obviously a Celibidache sycophant.

      Celibidache was a sexist. My wife was solo trombonist of the Munich Phil for 13 years. She took took the City of Munich to court over the way Celibidache treated her. Through 11 years of trials, the facts were established. You can read them here:


      • Le Křenek du jour says:

        True to form. On cue. “Auf Knopfdruck.”
        Thank you very much indeed.

      • Don Ciccio says:

        “An obviously a Celibidache sycophant”…

        Then he is in good company: Ingmar Bergman, Carlos Fuentes, Helmut Kohl, Alfredo Di Stefano…

        Did you realized that without the Celi incident, your wife would have remainde another anonymous orchestral player. World class for sure, but many of her peers, as good as her, remain as well known even to the contributors of this blog as, say Glenn Dodson (he was the principla trombone of the Philadelphia Orchestra).

        Of course you know. This is what all this maskarade is all about.

  • True North says:

    I had to check to make sure today’s date is not April 1st.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      … and Jim Hacker is not Prime Minister?

      Thinking and speaking as a one-time low-level orchestral musician I always thought of Sergiu Celibidache’s rehearsal demands as absurd, wasteful, and completely the function of abused power and status, particularly for standard repertoire stuff. Then I heard a remarkable version of the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 (tuning in after it began so I had no idea what conductor or orchestra), which is certainly standard repertoire. After that I would concede that at least in the case of that piece and that performance the excess rehearsals were at least productive in the way of extraordinary results.

  • Should be a fun watch, I’m looking forward to it. Title might have been “Being Sergiu Celibidache”

  • We privatize your value says:

    Will the film explain why Celibidache conducted the first movement of Bruckner’s Ninth at a slower tempo than the third movement? I have always wondered. Bruckner did not require that!

  • Cornishman says:

    I trust the film will be true to the Celi spirit by being very slow-moving and full of sub-plots…

  • Tamino says:

    When father’s despise their son’s professional passions, it usually makes for very neurotic personalities. What about his mother?
    It is telling, how Celi left almost no biographical information about his forming years in Romania.
    The hiding during WWII in Berlin, lucky not to be drawn into the Romanian army (why such luck actually?).
    Then the explosive and almost comical carrer kick
    off, almost a student still, being chosen by Berlin Phil out of pure need. Interims chief Leo Borchard just having been shot by an American guard during the night curfew. No other conductor of stature able or willing to conduct in a 1945 Berlin in ruins. What an amazing rollercoaster start to a life.

    Then another father figure, Heinz Tietjen, his former mentor and teacher, voiced disappointment at Celi about his vanity and mannerisms, betraying the music. Then Celi’s following catharsis and eternal and difficult search for love and meaning. Lots of stuff for a good book or movie.
    I hope his son can muster enough courage to raise above taboos and blind spots his father had.
    Celi had so much anger snd bitterness in him. He was acting out in so many ways. The psychology of his life must have been quite phenomenal.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      > “I hope his son can muster enough courage to raise above taboos and blind spots his father had.”

      I wouldn’t bet on it. It would be a divine surprise if he could. Sons rarely do.

      > “Celi had so much anger and bitterness in him. He was acting out in so many ways. The psychology of his life must have been quite phenomenal.”

      Celibidache’s personality was tectonic: multi-layered, with gaping fault lines, mighty subduction zones, and the occasional volcanic vent. As with geologic faults, interlocking strata created mighty surface asperities. Underneath the crust, inner layers could be surprisingly ductile. But nothing prepared one for the true kindness and gusts of humour which could also occasionally emerge.

    • Jackson says:

      I think you mean “The phenomenon of his life must have been quite psychological.”

  • I once wrote a preview for a concert of Bruckner 4 he did in Ann Arbor. It was not uncritical of him. I interviewed him via phone for the preview and he let slip some ahem… ‘interesting’ points-of-view. I mentioned these juicy things in the preview and it pissed him off. I talked with him in his dressing room after the show. (He insisted on meeting me, in the company of a few artsy-fartsy high rollers.) He drew himself into his best impression of high-dudgeon and accused me of making up horrible things about him. I replied, “perhaps we should listen to my taped interview together, Maestro.” Whereupon he looked gobsmacked for a precious fleeting moment, smiled broadly, and began to laugh his ass off. He patted my shoulder, bade me sit with the others and he held court for a while.
    Incidentally, the performance was sacramentally beautiful and one of the few I remember in 10 years of concert reviewing that was completely satisfying and wanted for nothing.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    The one time I saw Celibidache conduct (Munich Phil), I vividly remember that when he gestured for the orchestra or individual players to rise for recognition, they popped up and down like mechanical puppets in a shooting gallery. It was very striking, and to my mind this kind or response also characterized the performances (of impressionist music no less).

    • The famous German music critic, Joachim Kaiser, referred to the quick popping up of the musicians as Celibidache’s “trained dog routine.” Kaiser was put off by Celi’s interpretations and character and finally refused to review his concerts even though he was a principal music critic for Munich’s major paper.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Biopics are seldom any good.

  • Minnesota says:

    In a note of realism, the Celibidache film will be a 90 minute story with a run-time of three hours.

  • John says:

    Watch him with Bruckner’s 8 and Peter Sadlo on timpani. I play it about 3 times a week. Mesmeric.

  • Dan says:

    His son writes the script and directs?
    The outcome could be either very good, mediocre or awful.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    It should be someone a lot hanmier like Brian Cox or Gary Oldman who’d chew the scenery. Raul Julia would have been perfect.

  • Ari Bocian says:

    At the very least, I hope we’ll get to see John Malkovich yell “VIOLA!”

  • CRWang says:

    Creepy actor to play creepy conductor.

  • xnlover says:

    I wonder – will they use recordings he actually made in the film; or will they record a modern orchestra led by a conductor who will try to approximate Celibedache’s characteristics?

  • His son has already made a documentary about his father: alright, but pretty flat and slow-moving.

  • Rob says:

    How long is the film going to be? Ten hours?