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Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, April 2012

Carlos Kleiber: Traces To Nowhere is a documentary about the famed conductor…Some major names in the business are interviewed (including Placido Domingo) and Director Eric Schultz presents the man’s life as best he could with a good selection of archival material and facts added. The resultant biography brings back to life a major name you might not otherwise hear about and more conductors whose works will not see home video releases, et al, deserves such top rate coverage.  An informative booklet with text and trailers on the disc are the…extras. © 2012 Fulvue Drive-in Read complete review




Michael Quinn
The Classical Review, December 2011

KLEIBER, Carlos: I am Lost to the World (Documentary) (NTSC) 705608
KLEIBER, Carlos: Traces to Nowhere (Documentary, 2010) (NTSC) 101553

valuable and often compelling insights into the artistry of one of the greatest (if also one of the most elusive and enigmatic) musical personalities of the last century. Superbly produced, both profiles add considerably to our understanding and appreciation of Kleiber’s unimpeachable art. © 2011 The Classical Review See complete list



John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune, December 2011

KLEIBER, Carlos: I am Lost to the World (Documentary) (NTSC) 705608
KLEIBER, Carlos: Traces to Nowhere (Documentary, 2010) (NTSC) 101553

The brilliant, reclusive, demanding, chronically insecure German maestro Carlos Kleiber (who died in 2004) was, by general consent, the greatest conductor of his time. Each of these fine video documentaries examines the man and mystique from a slightly different perspective. Both make for essential viewing. © 2011 Chicago Tribune



Bruce Surtees
The WholeNote, November 2011

KLEIBER, Carlos: I am Lost to the World (Documentary) (NTSC) 705608
KLEIBER, Carlos: Traces to Nowhere (Documentary, 2010) (NTSC) 101553

I am lost to the world is the title of an extraordinarily moving DVD (Cmajor DVD 705608) which attempts, successfully so, to outline the life and career of Carlos Kleiber and perhaps understand why he was predictably unpredictable. He is seen in rehearsals and in a non-commercial video of what seems to be a final run-through of Tristan at Bayreuth. The intensity is electrifying. Players from the Vienna Philharmonic and others give us a fair idea of the man, illustrated by videos of rehearsals and performances. His stick technique and his whole “body technique” were exuberant and flamboyant, communicating to the players exactly what he wanted to hear. It is a revelation for us in the audience to see what the musicians saw. The title of this DVD, Ich bin der Welt elt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the World) is the title of the third song from Mahler’s Rückert Lieder.

A second documentary on Kleiber, Traces to Nowhere, covers much of the same ground and interviews some of the same witnesses but also others. Both films take us to Kleiber’s final hours but I am lost to the world left me feeling very sad for him. Both films are recommendable and are complementary.




Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, October 2011

Enigmatic, charismatic, reclusive and difficult, Carlos Kleiber was “an intriguing, contradictory” figure, “made all the more alluring by his refusal to play the media game”, wrote Jeremy Nicholas. Eric Schulz takes as the starting point for his fascinating documentary Kleiber’s final journey to his home in Slovenia, including along the way recollections by such friends and colleagues as Plácido Domingo, Brigitte Fassbaender and Manfred Honeck—and the first and only interview with his sister Veronika.



Daniel Morrison
Fanfare, September 2011

KLEIBER, Carlos: I am Lost to the World (Documentary) (NTSC) 705608
KLEIBER, Carlos: Traces to Nowhere (Documentary, 2010) (NTSC) 101553

Several months ago, BBC Music magazine polled 100 active conductors on “the greatest conductors of all time.” Carlos Kleiber came in first, well ahead of the second-place finisher, Leonard Bernstein. What accounts for the extraordinary esteem in which this elusive figure is held by his colleagues? After defying the wishes of his father, the eminent conductor Erich Kleiber, and pursuing a musical career, he mounted the podium with increasing rarity during the years that normally would be the peak of a conductor’s career. He refused countless entreaties to conduct and made few recordings. He was notorious for canceling or walking out when conditions didn’t meet his requirements and he felt he could not achieve the results he sought. By coincidence, two documentaries about Carlos Kleiber have been released more or less simultaneously. They take a similar approach in interspersing clips of Kleiber performing or rehearsing with comments from those who knew him, including conductors, singers, orchestra musicians, administrators and other personnel of the musical organizations with which he worked, and friends. Some of the commentators appear in both films, as does some of the same footage. Kleiber’s older sister Veronika, the only family member to participate, is interviewed in Traces to Nowhere. I Am Lost to the World quotes excerpts from Kleiber’s letters and other writings.

From these documentaries one learns many interesting details about Kleiber’s life, career, and family. I knew that Erich Kleiber was one of the few prominent non-Jewish musicians who left Germany during the Nazi era, but I was not aware that his wife, Ruth, the mother of Carlos, was Jewish. Carlos’s first name originally was Karl. He began studying music seriously only at age 20, after bucking his father’s opposition. Unlike most conductors, he did not play the piano. His father not only gave him no support in his career but encouraged him to change his surname, feeling that “one Kleiber is enough,” so Carlos for a time used the name Karl Keller. Although he is famous for returning again and again to the same few works in search of perfection, he actually knew a much larger number of scores, and according to one commentator could have performed 60 operas. Traces to Nowhere includes clips from works, presumably conducted by Kleiber, that as far as I’m aware do not figure in his discography, including Brahms’s Song of Destiny, the overture to Rossini’s William Tell, Grieg’s Peer Gynt, and the Adagio from Beethoven’s Ninth, which sounds utterly transcendent in this rendition. He idolized his father, studied the latter’s recordings and annotated scores intensively, and believed (wrongly, in the opinion of many) that he could not match the results his father achieved. His podium manner was completely different from his father’s. While Erich stood upright on the podium, staring sternly at the orchestra, Carlos used his whole body, with very broad, sweeping, intensely expressive gestures (“free like a bird,” in Riccardo Muti’s words), his facial expressions conveying the extremes of joy. He had instant rapport with orchestra musicians because he showed he believed in them. He was not a dictatorial maestro of the old school, but he was a relentless perfectionist, hypersensitive, “a border crosser, always on the brink.” He used imagery and metaphor to convey his intentions to the orchestra, but his unswerving quest for perfection could exasperate musicians, who sometimes didn’t know what else they could do to satisfy his demands. He was a master of rubato and transition, with an unparalleled ability to shape a phrase with his gestures. He did not give interviews, although there was one in 1960 that is excerpted in I Am Lost to the World. He didn’t want anyone attending his rehearsals, but some of them were recorded. He had immense personal charm and was very funny, but was also diffident and almost childlike in everyday life. He was a man who loved women, apparently a good many of them, but remained married to his one and only wife, to whom he was deeply attached. He was devastated by her death, which occurred shortly before his own. In his last years he suffered from prostate cancer but refused to seek treatment. Ill health led him to withdraw completely from conducting, feeling that he no longer had the strength and stamina to achieve the results he wanted.

In the last analysis, these two documentaries are complementary as well as competitive. I Am Lost to the World gives more of a chronological account of Kleiber’s career. It also flits rapidly from one commentator to another, sometimes frustratingly raising issues that need exploration in greater depth. Is it really true that Erich Kleiber and later his wife committed suicide? Traces to Nowhere tends to stay with a given commentator for a more extended discussion and leaves fewer loose ends, but it also fails to identify the commentators frequently enough, so that it is sometimes difficult to keep track of who they are. Both films are predominantly in German, with multilingual subtitles. I am not proficient enough in that language to monitor the accuracy of the English subtitles, but I did notice a couple of instances of slipshod translation in I Am Lost to the World. Tiefe Bläser (low woodwinds) is rendered as “deep blowers,” and Berliner Philharmoniker as “Berlin Philharmonics.” There are other instances of questionable English as well. If you are having only one, I would opt for Traces to Nowhere as the more indispensable of the two documentaries, as Veronika Kleiber’s comments about Carlos as a person and Manfred Honeck’s discussion of his conducting technique are especially illuminating, but if you are really interested in this remarkable musician, you will want both.

So was Carlos Kleiber really the greatest conductor of all time? Of course not. No one was or ever will be on this earth. But he was certainly an extraordinary one, one of the greatest. He understood that the music was greater than any one realization of it, even his own, and this frustrated and tormented him, but at his best he achieved transcendent results. His memory will endure among his colleagues and those who attended his performances and treasure his recordings.



John Yohalem
Opera News, August 2011

KLEIBER, Carlos: Traces to Nowhere (Documentary, 2010) (NTSC) 101553
KLEIBER, Carlos: I am Lost to the World (Documentary) (NTSC) 705608

Fame is easily acquired; mystique is something else again. Probably the best way to encounter Carlos Kleiber’s appeal would be to listen to some of his few but extraordinary recordings…

…Eric Schulz calls his Traces to Nowhere, from a Chinese proverb Kleiber liked, about living but leaving no traces. Pretty words, but it doesn’t mean much about a recording artist. For the body of the film, Schulz has a number of colleagues (Brigitte Fassbaender, Michael Gielen, Otto Schenk among them) watch the famous rehearsal footage along with us, commenting on his style, his manners, his deep thoughts. The trump card is the conductor’s sister Veronika, whose intimate insights nail nothing down.

Wübbolt’s I Am Lost to the World is a fine title…

Many contributors offer ideas of what made him great. “It’s the transitions…the way he made one tempo become another.” “He never beat time—he conducted the melody with those gestures.” “He knew the music inside out.” Both films are fascinating, and many comments are rich with insight, but neither will get you closer to the man and his “secrets” than his recordings do



Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, August 2011

KLEIBER, Carlos: Traces to Nowhere (Documentary, 2010) (NTSC) 101553
KLEIBER, Carlos: I am Lost to the World (Documentary) (NTSC) 705608

Two films exploring the enigma of the charismatic conductor

The cult of Carlos Kleiber grows apace. Seven years after his death, the conductor who turned cancellations and walk-outs into an art form is more widely venerated than in his lifetime, and was recently voted by his peers “the greatest conductor of all time”. What does that mean? Repertoire—small and ever shrinking; range of music—selected symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, many operas, Viennese music; appearances—sporadic and increasingly rare; baton technique—superb; musicality—unmatched; charisma and communication—a class of his own. What an intriguing, contradictory figure he presents, made all the more alluring by his refusal to play the media game. A figure ripe, then, for a documentary—or two—and despite sharing many of the same talking heads and some archive footage, these films complement each other as character studies rather than career narratives. Both have extensive excerpts of Kleiber in rehearsal, enabling us to see how he strove for the perfection that marked him as a musician and plagued him as a man, capturing in his expressive face both the ecstasy and frustration of the process. Watching him, one begins to understand the result of the poll and why so many fine musicians revered him. The musical results aside, for charm and screen presence Kleiber is off the score-card.

Georg Wübbolt’s I am Lost to the World includes a rare radio interview with Kleiber and emphasises the destructive/inspirational relationship with his famous conductor father Erich. It is by no means a hagiographic portrait (“He made a fool of a lot of people,” says one contributor. “That was not nice.”) and is frank about his serial womanising. The film is somewhat spoilt by the occasional intrusive narration voiced by an accented German bass-baritone in imperfect English (“Kleiber has always forewent Berlin”).

“Traces to Nowhere” directed by Eric Schulz boasts contributions from Kleiber’s sister Veronika (serene, thoughtful), Plácido Domingo (under-prepared) and Brigitte Fassbaender (clearly a close friend). Schultz book-ends the film by following the road back to Konjšica, Kleiber’s Slovenia hideaway where he was found dead by one of his two children (neither of whom is referred to in either film). Suicide? Probably not; but he refused medical intervention for an easily treatable prostate cancer. It was only after his funeral a week later that his death was made public. Very Kleiber “As far as possible you should leave no traces behind in life” was a favourite Chinese saying of his. The fact that we have such vivid traces on film and disc is cause to rejoice for, as one musician who played under him says of his exhilarating Die Fledermaus Overture (but really referring to all Kleiber performances): “You can do it differently, of course, but you definitely can’t do it better. Actually,” he adds after a pause, “I don’t even think you can do it differently.”



Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, June 2011

If ever there was a legend among modern conductors then surely it is Carlos Kleiber; the iconic maestro, the conductor who refused to conduct, limiting his appearances to tiny slivers of repertoire and cancelling, seemingly, as often as he turned up. Kleiber was notoriously difficult: unique working conditions, hours of rehearsal time, absolute dedication from everyone he worked with and astronomical fees—once he required, and received, a new Audi A8 as his performance fee! He was famously demanding and acquired a reputation for cancelling if the tiniest detail of his demands was not met. He conducted only a tiny portion of the repertoire, limiting himself to a very small number of performances, the quantity of which shrank yet further as he got older: Karajan once quipped that he only conducted when his freezer was empty. He adored his father and lived in his shadow throughout his professional life, but he shunned the limelight, preferring to live in quiet seclusion. Yet in spite of all the difficulties he may have created, the extraordinary quality of his music-making is plain for all to hear. His studio recordings with Deutsche Grammophon are all remarkable documents: his Brahms 4th, his Beethoven 5th and 7th and his Schubert 8th symphony recordings are surely at the top of anyone’s list of recommended recordings of these works. His Traviata and Tristan make these works come alive in a way no other conductor can and, while some may quibble with some choices in his Freischütz and Fledermaus, no-one can question the sheer commitment of the music-making. Any Kleiber performance is one of white-hot intensity which other conductors may mimic but none can surpass.

Under such circumstances it is hardly surprising that a great legend has grown up around him. Notoriously reclusive, neither he nor any member of his inner circle ever gave an interview and, on his death in 2004, the legend only grew. This German language film, by Eric Schulz, claims to be the first film dedicated to his life. It comprises solely reminiscences of Kleiber from those who knew him well. These include orchestral musicians who played with him, singers like Brigitte Fassbaender and Placido Domingo, conductors like Michael Gielen and Manfred Honeck, directors like Otto Schenk and others including, somewhat randomly, the make-up artist from the Bayerische Staatsoper. The film claims as its coup an audience with Kleiber’s sister Veronika who never spoke about him during his life as she saw it as a betrayal of his closely guarded privacy. She gives memories of their family life and occasional later conversations with her brother but, truth be told, she doesn’t contribute an awful lot. The best thoughts come from the artists who worked with him. Fassbaender and Domingo describe well the intensity that surrounded working with him, the perfectionism and the incredibly high standards he had of everyone he worked with and the rush of securing such results. It’s particularly interesting hearing the musicians, a flautist and an oboist, who clearly remember him with incredible affection as well as enormous respect.

But what did this film tell me about Kleiber that I didn’t already know? Well, not really that much. Part of the problem comes from its non-interventionist structure. There is no over-arching narrative and there is a complete refusal to impose any pattern to the different memories. We go extremely loosely through Kleiber’s life, but the film is in no sense biographical. Instead it seems to move through themes: they consider his sense of humour, his perfectionism, his womanising, his family life and so on, so the film feels unavoidably piecemeal. Furthermore, actual revelations are rather thin on the ground: instead the predominant mood is one of nostalgia and fond remembrance. Two things stick in my memory: Otto Schenk says of him that “there was something in him that could not keep pace with his genius” and others, like Fassbaender, suggest that his mind moved so quickly and with such flair that everything else in the physical world had of necessity to lag behind it, even his own performances. Also, one of Kleiber’s friends says of his later years that “he felt he could no longer live up to his own legend.” That’s as good an explanation as I can think of as to why his appearances were so infrequent: he knew—and probably hated the fact—that he was adored and honoured throughout the world, but he was so self-critical that he could not live up to his own standards and so rather than give a sub-standard performance he simply withdrew. So while the film is an interesting and never less than enjoyable look at the man and the artist, insights such as these are fairly thin on the ground.

I suspect, however, that Kleiber himself would have liked it this way. He would have been appalled to think of this film being made: one of his maxims, quoted in the film, was that you should leave no traces behind in life. It’s perhaps appropriate that this film succeeds only very slightly in telling us more about Kleiber: it re-surrounds him with the mystery and aura that followed him through life, and I don’t think he would object to that. The music remains, and that, surely, is the most important thing.



Lee Mills
Operagasm, June 2011

At long last there is a biographical account of Carlos Kleiber that does not try to paint him as an immortal god! (Carlos Kleiber: Traces to Nowhere, by Eric Schulz) Having generationally missed the experience of Kleiber, it is very difficult to fully grasp his impact as a conductor. As an orchestral conductor, he only performed 96 times in his lifetime, and as an operatic conductor, which was clearly his favorite, he gave around 400 performances. Not only did he make very few appearances, But his repertoire was also infamously limited. He often backed out of engagements (once, he even left the country unannounced the evening before an opera production was to go up), and had a reputation for collecting extravagant conducting fees.

Despite all of this, Kleiber has managed to attain a nearly universal reputation as one of the greatest conductors ever to grace this planet. BBC Music Magazine recently polled several of the most successful living conductors for their list of top-20 conductors of all time, and Kleiber pulled in at No. 1, ahead of both Leonard Bernstein and Claudio Abbado.

This has troubled me for quite a while. Yes, his recordings are fantastic, and yes, his is absolutely captivating to watch as a conductor, but how can a conductor who only conducted 96 orchestral concerts in his entire career attain such a high status—especially among the likes of Bernstein, Abbado, Toscanini, Mahler, et cetera who have had tremendous impact as conductors on the way we as a society listen to music?

These are the questions I had as I loaded up the DVD. I wanted explanations. I was hoping that this documentary would finally be able to change my impression of Kleiber as an arrogant, aloof, and persnickety man who thought he was so much better than everyone else that he could just walk out of an opera production, hanging the hundreds of musicians involved out do dry.

I was not disappointed. Through personal interviews with musicians, friends, and family members, a new picture of Kleiber is painted. One of Kleibers favorite phrases—an old Chinese saying—is that “one should leave no traces behind in life,” and Schulz uses that as a strong focus in this film. Schulz is not afraid to address the common criticisms of Kleiber, from his flakiness to his lack of repertoire, but instead of painting Kleiber as aloof and whimsical, Schulz focuses on the incredible underlying psychological problems of Kleiber—not as a god, but rather as a deeply troubled genius. Through Schulz’s presentation, we can see that Kleiber did not “only work when he needed money,” as it is commonly said, but that the reason he didn’t perform, especially as he got older, was that he felt he could not live up to his own standards and those demanded by the music. Kleiber is presented as insecure, somewhat depressed, and afraid to take up new repertoire because he didn’t think he could give it justice as a performer.

Kleiber was certainly a profound musician, but he was not a god. It is refreshing and insightful to see such a direct—but still with loving admiration—approach to this man. He was certainly a genius, but Schulz is able to finally show him as a human.



John von Rhein
The Classical Review, May 2011

KLEIBER, Carlos: I am Lost to the World (Documentary) (NTSC) 705608
KLEIBER, Carlos: Traces to Nowhere (Documentary, 2010) (NTSC) 101553

Reclusive, brilliant, insecure, famously self-critical—a poetic perfectionist who was as fanatically demanding of himself as he was of the artists he chose to work with—Carlos Kleiber was, by general consent, the greatest conductor of his time.

Apart from positions as Kapellmeister and repetiteur in Düsseldorf, Zürich and Stuttgart early in his career, he held no permanent positions during his lifetime (he died of prostate cancer, at 74, in July 2004). He conducted only when he felt like it, walking out on even elite orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic when the performance conditions did not suit him. He refused interviews, made relatively few recordings, confined his concert and opera performances to a singularly narrow repertory (despite his deep intellectual mastery of a vast amount of music), and shunned the international music fast track in general. He was the Berlin Philharmonic’s first choice to succeed Herbert von Karajan. Characteristically, he turned down the offer.

Kleiber’s audio and video legacy is not huge, though every item remains in circulation and has long been prized by collectors. (Think of the Deutsche Grammophon CDs of his Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, Die Freischütz, Der Rosenkavalier, La traviata and Tristan und Isolde; also the Kleiber-conducted live stage performances of Rosenkavalier on a DG DVD and Carmen on TDK, among other gems.) As fickle fate would have it, two admirable new documentaries about the man and his music have appeared at practically the same time, on rival DVD sets.

Although the documentaries cover much of the same territory (both draw heavily on footage of Kleiber rehearsing the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in the overtures to Freischütz and Die Fledermaus, sequences that are available complete on an Arthaus DVD released earlier this year), each approaches its subject from a slightly different perspective as each director sifts through the available evidence in hope of determining what factors drove the unpredictable genius known as Carlos Kleiber.

The Austrian conductor’s circle was not as large as, say, Karajan’s or Leonard Bernstein’s, and some of the talking heads on director Georg Wübbolt’s documentary reappear in Eric Schulz’s, including conductor Michael Gielen, oboist Klaus König and stage director Otto Schenk. That even artists such as these, who presumably knew Kleiber as intimately as anyone, could only scratch the surface of the enigma does not diminish the worth or fascination of these well researched, admirably presented films.

I Am Lost to the World enlists a somewhat larger cast of characters (including conductor Riccardo Muti, soprano Ileana Cotrubas and opera impresarios Ioan Holender and Sir Peter Jonas) to share personal and professional memories of Kleiber. The production is also rather more dramatized, with faster and fancier intercutting of film clips. There’s even an off-screen actor reading from Kleiber’s correspondence. (A booklet note explains that neither the letters nor the handwriting we see on screen are the originals.)

A bit more detective work is evident here than in the rival release: we learn that in 1989, and again in 1994, the German president lured Kleiber back to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, which he had
walked out on in 1982. Schenk speaks of his friend’s “helplessness to deal with his own success.” Indeed, many of the interviewees in both documentaries reflect on perhaps the most insurmountable roadblock Kleiber put in his own path—his belief that he could never equal, much less surpass, the towering achievements of his autocratic father, conductor Erich Kleiber.

If Traces to Nowhere is a more straightforward musical portrait, it is also the more personal. Kleiber’s protective older sister, Veronika, shares touching family lore while refuting the notion that papa Kleiber bullied his sensitive son and undervalued his abilities once he took up the baton professionally. Some of the most revealing insights come from mezzo Brigitte Fassbaender (who once sang Octavian and Brangäne under the younger Kleiber), who speaks of the “Kleibergrams,” the memos the maestro gave singers after performances in which he would chide them for mistakes he took as personal offenses.

Other colleagues relate the man’s extraordinary powers of communication and persuasion on the podium. “His movements were pure music, not just a means to an end,” recalls oboist König. One sequence shows each interviewee listening intently to Kleiber’s recording of Tristan; the smiles that cross their faces speak volumes about the incandescent magic the maestro could conjure with body and baton—music-making, as Gielen observes early in Traces to Nowhere, possessed of “that divine spark that no one could really explain.”

The production values are superb on both DVDs. Each is essential viewing for anyone who wants to learn more about one of the greatest, if also one of the most elusive, figures in the history of conducting.



John Terauds
Toronto Star, May 2011

One of the recurring points of lively debate is what makes a conductor great. As Lorin Maazel said to me a couple of months ago, it’s hard to put one’s finger on specific characteristics, “but you know one when you see one.”

Last month, German conductor Carlos Kleiber (1930–2004) was voted the top conductor of all time in a public poll published in BBC Magazine. He conducted a much less than most of the great conductors and his repertoire was especially narrow, rarely venturing out of the 19th century core of European repertoire.

Whatever you and I might think of polls, this must mean he was pretty special.

Coincidentally, two TV documentaries made about Kleiber since his death have recently been issued on DVD: Carlos Kleiber: Traces to Nowhere by Eric Schultz (ArtHaus Musik), which is the strongest of the two; and Carlos Kleiber: I Am Lost to the World, by Georg Wübbolt (C Major).

After watching both, I could only think of one thing: History only matters—in the real sense of being deeply, viscerally important—to those who have lived it. It’s why each new generation needs its own heroes and villains and why we can’t just write or say that so-and-so was great, we have to keep proving it over and over.

That’s a roundabout way of saying that neither bio-doc really got to the heart of what made Kleiber so special—more special that Leonard Bernstein or Riccardo Muti or Herbert von Karajan, or the hundred other greats listed in the BBC’s poll.

Kleiber is said to have refused to give in-depth interviews, so both documentaries rely on friends and collaborators and colleagues. The most personal is Schultz’s film, which includes Kleiber’s older sister, Veronica.

Both documentaries use the same film clips of Kleiber in rehearsal and in performance, showing off a highly expressive, engaged conducting style of the type we see with someone like Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Both make the point that this is at the heart of what made orchestras respond to his instructions.

As has been the case so many times throughout history, the person behind the artist is a lot less impressive: Kleiber would frequently walk out of rehearsals and cancel performances. He wanted to be well-paid for what he did. Despite clear devotion to his wife, he was a compulsive womanizer. It appears he might have been borderline manic-depressive.

We don’t need to know more about Kleiber’s drinking habits. But we do need to see and hear more of his work. What both films lack, for me, is a complete performance of any one work, because that is, ultimately, what bound both listeners and musicians to him.



Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, May 2011

It is my own view that Carlos Kleiber had music in his DNA, and that the set of compositions that he performed were personally very meaningful to him. He conducted 60 operas. He also loved the music of Johann Strauss Jr, and also the operas of Richard Strauss.

Carlos Kleiber was an astoundingly capable conductor. In addition, he made extraordinary efforts to verbally communicate how he wanted the music performed. Frequently these communications could be frustrating to orchestra players. But in the end…the results were magical. And if one watches carefully, you can see that smile on his face, when he was satisfied. Like no other conductor, he insisted on having the orchestra players listen to the one instrumental section, or the one Oboe player to whom the composer handed the melody. That made Kleiber’s music sublime!

Kleiber’s relationship with his father, who was also a well-known conductor, was complicated. It is said that the father on occasion introduced his young son by saying: “This is my son, Carlos, he has no musical talent whatsoever…” Perhaps that’s why ultimately Carlos chose to become a conductor, so he could prove to the old man how wrong he was!

On the 11 July 2004, when he was 74, Carlos Kleiber got into his car and drove from Munich to his holiday home in the remote Slovenian village of Konjsica. There he wrote a final letter to a friend in which he bid farewell to the world. A short time later the conductor, increasingly plagued by illness and suffering, was found dead. His wife had died earlier, and my sense is that he simply did not want to go on…

This documentary “Traces to Nowhere” represents the first film dedicated to the enigmatic personality of the conductor. The film follows in the traces of Kleiber’s final journey and, by means of the recollections of friends and other companions—including the first and only interview with his sister Veronika—portrays a man as renowned for his difficult personality as his brilliant work.



Andrew Alexander
Creative Loafing Atlanta, April 2011

The Austrian documentary Traces to Nowhere, newly released on DVD, doesn’t do much to explain the little enigmas that still surround the reclusive conductor Carlos Kleiber…which is a good thing. We hear some details of his life: Kleiber (1930–2004) was the son of another well-known conductor, and even when his own reputation seemed to equal or surpass that of his father’s, he oddly never felt he measured up. His father remained a giant in his mind. There are other details about his life, the admiration and enmity that his idiosyncratic style and fast success earned him, his unusual death, and so on.

But one of the film’s strengths lies in its skirting away from a preponderance of biographical detail and towards the use of archival footage of the conductor at work: This sounds like it would be a little dull (“Hey, wanna watch some archival footage of a Serbian conductor rehearsing with the Vienna Philharmonic in the 1970s?” “Er, no thanks. There’s an ice cube I was planning to watch melt.”) But the conductor actually had a beautiful and precise way of verbally translating his vision of a score to his musicians that’s exciting to watch, even for non-musicians and those who may not normally be fans of classical music.

“Play this section as if you believe in ghosts,” sounds like nonsense, but an interview with a flutist—who still precisely recalled the odd direction 40 years after the fact—suggests otherwise, as does hearing the orchestra play the piece with the direction in mind. Kleiber had an image for every phrase, but it was the precision and accuracy of his imagination—its practical effect and the artistry he was able to pull out of an orchestra—that made him such a great conductor. Part of a conductor’s job is to know how to get the best out of other people. Kleiber was also visually arresting—one of the interviewees describes him as an Apollo at the podium—his vivid, expressive movements closer to dance and his lived, in-the-moment, emotive expressions bore a close relation to the best acting.

The documentary is well put together: the interview subjects—his sister, other conductors, musicians and singers including Placido Domingo—speak in mostly glowing and admiring terms about his artistry, but we do hear some of the problematic aspects of his character: he was much loved, but no one would describe him as an easy person to know. (And the archival footage is also surprisingly sharp and crisp by the way: Austrians must know how and why to store such things).

Part of the mystery surrounding Kleiber is due to the fact that he never gave interviews. He was a fan of Eastern philosophy, and a phrase from the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi “Leave no traces” was particularly close to his heart. Though he tried to live his life according to that doctrine, the documentary is, ironically, a testament to its opposite: a great artist always leaves lasting traces. It’s a well-constructed, if knowingly incomplete, look at a complicated and fascinating man.






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