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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.

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.”

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, July 2011

This hour-long documentary DVD, which I assume was made for television, is one of two on Carlos Kleiber to have been released recently. The other is a film by Eric Schulz, ten or so minutes longer than this one, and released by Arthaus Musik.

The director of this C Major production is Georg Wübbolt and his direction ensures that whilst most of the witnesses are laudatory not a few are puzzled by Kleiber the man, and in one instance dismissive of aspects of his personality. Clearly he was not an easy man. The story of his predilection for ‘Geishas’ was long known, but his appetites in general, not merely the sexual appetite, seemed to some dilatory or merely capricious. This documentary hardly resolves the dilemma of Kleiber, who seems to have been in thrall to the memory of his meticulous father Erich for much of his life, but it does paint a portrait of sorts of a man whose complexities were at least partially fathomable.

One interviewee, possibly significantly a woman, notes with a certain distaste that ‘he made fools of people, which wasn’t nice’. The element of caprice was certainly strong, the demands both unreasonable but in some cases—especially rehearsal time—not wholly unreasonable. But there was also a meticulous, almost hyper-sensitive quality too; he would refuse to conduct the second act of an opera because he feared that he’d failed in the first act; he had to be reassured, like a child, cajoled, pushed, almost thrust back on, but often he simply left anyway, and went home.

Kleiber’s mother was Jewish and the family left Germany in 1935, after the Nazis took power. They journeyed to South America where Erich—whom Michael Gielen calls ‘The Commander’ and Wolfgang Sawallisch calls a ‘Dictator’—was busy conducting. There is a good amount of film of Erich conducting; a small, compact man, with hooded unblinking eyes, directing orchestras with short, unostentatious, business-like gestures. He was everything that his son Carlos wasn’t. He was controlled, prepared, and in charge. Whereas things seemed to be in control of Carlos, whose stream of consciousness conducting, arms windmilling in an agony of desire in Rosenkavalier, suggests an out-of-body compact with the music that his father would never have countenanced. But Carlos, when not boring orchestras with his finicky explanations, often poetic in the extreme—nothing is guaranteed to annoy an orchestral musician more than non-specific verbiage—was also something that his father was not; he was funny. A rehearsal extract demonstrates that he could make the musicians laugh, and ensure collaboration through complicity, not as his father had done, by bludgeoning the musicians.

We hear from many musicians; Riccardo Muti talks admiringly of Kleiber, in English; we also hear from Ileana Cotrubas, Peter Jonas, and Otto Schenck and Kleiber’s doctor Otto Staindl are also enjoyably encountered. Ioan Holender speaks with a certain patrician hauteur. Most agree he conducted too little, but was paid an awful lot. We also hear from Kleiber himself, in a 1960 NDR radio interview. His letters are read in English voiceover, not very well, but which nevertheless supplies a real need since he was had an almost pathological aversion to journalists, and thus interviews.

Toward the end of his life his repertoire had dwindled to almost nothing, as had his concert-giving, his fee for one famous one-off concert in 1996 being a new sports car. He retreated to Slovenia, birthplace of his ballerina wife, to die alone, his body undiscovered for a day or so. And yet I’m sure it can be argued, though this documentary doesn’t seek to argue the case, that Kleiber achieved his own degree of resolution. His childhood had been fractured, his first language naturally German (Karl) but his youth requiring him (Carlos) to be multi-lingual. There are hints that both his parents killed themselves. Erich denigrated his early conducting attempts, and Carlos came late to music. It was something of a small miracle in fact that he achieved independence from so powerfully centrifugal a force as Erich.

In the end this documentary raises more questions than answers. Carlos was a sensualist, money-conscious but not apparently status-obsessed, an indifferent pianist but a master conductor—one whose need for a singing and expressive narrative sense in his conducting set him apart. He was so good an opera conductor not because his repertoire was so small, but because he knew the score inside out. His tortured sense of inadequacy perhaps sprang from hearing too often and too loudly the admonishing words of his ruthless father: the fewer works he conducted, and the better he knew them, the less often he would hear his father’s posthumous scorn. Or maybe it was something else entirely. Until there is a biography perhaps we will never truly know.

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.

Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, April 2011

I have come to view the late Carlos Kleiber as one of the most extraordinary conductors of all time. And this DVD shows us a great deal of this man’s genius, as well as the devils that haunted him. We learn of Mr. Kleiber’s relationship with his father, Erich Kleiber, who was a well-known conductor in Europe before the family moved to South America when the Nazi’s emerged in the mid 1930’s.

I learned for the first time that the older Kleiber would introduce his son by saying: “This is my son, Carlos…absolutely no musical talent…”. The father’s comment is astounding, really…

What makes this DVD unique is that it includes so many people who knew him well. Other conductors (Mutti), as well as Directors of European Opera houses, and many, many orchestra players are included, and they tell us about Carlos Kleiber based on their own experiences. A lot of these folks tell us of his personal charm, his charisma, and about his professional self-doubts. We hear about all the performance cancellations, about the fact that Kleiber despised journalists, and about the demands that he made of singers and instrumental performers.

We learn about Kleiber’s self-deprecating humor, and about his womanizing. Most of all, however, I learned more about his astounding *feeling* for the music, about his very expressive hands and arms, and about his dedication to “getting it right”…

Much of this DVD is spoken by Kleiber’s friends in German, but there are excellent translation sub-titles into other languages.

And…of course…there’s a lot of music. While you can hear some Wagner, there are also rehearsals for a concert of the Beethoven Symphony #4, where the leader of the second violin section totally gets frustrated with Kleiber’s explanations and demands.

Several of the participants in this film share with us their own view that here was a man who was a legendary conductor, yet also a man with strong personal demons, some of which haunted him to the end of his life.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group