What made Carlos Kleiber a great conductor?

In 2009 BBC Music Magazine asked 100 leading conductors to name the conductor they found most inspiring. Their choice wasn't Karajan, Bernstein or Toscanini; it was Austrian conductor Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004). Yet watching him in action, you begin to understand why so many musicians admire him.

Kleiber never thought of performing a piece that he didn't know inside out, often using the meticulously marked scores prepared by his father, Erich Kleiber. In fact, he limited his repertory to a relative handful of works that he cared deeply about. And his rapport with the musicians was such that it often took only a smile or a raised eyebrow to get exactly what he had in mind.

But most important was the fact that he made a deep emotional connection with every work he performed. It's hard to believe that connection could have been any stronger had Kleiber written to works himself. Eric Schutz showed us what that sense of rapport with the music meant in the concert hall in his 2011 documentary, which is now available on DVD. 

With contributions from the conductor's sister Veronika, Brigette Fassbaender, Otto Schenk (who directed many of the opera productions Kleiber conducted) and Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, it's a production I warmly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about this extraordinary musician.

Here are some other performances, along with a recording of the only interview Kleiber did and memories of him on the podium from a Met cellist:


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