Conductor Carlos Kleiber was born on July 3, 1930, in Berlin, where his Viennese father conducted the Berlin State Opera. The elder Kleiber, opposed to the Nazi regime and its restrictions on performances of modern musical works, left Germany in 1935 and moved his family to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Carlos Kleiber learned English from his American mother and from English-language schools in Argentina and New York. His father discouraged Carlos’ interest in music, so he studied chemistry at a college in Zurich, but he had begun to compose music at age 9 and by 20 was studying conducting in earnest.
“What a pity he is musical,” his father wrote in a letter in 1954.
Mr. Kleiber, who lived most of his adult life in Zurich surrounded by thousands of recordings and books, was fluent in six languages and had a strong interest in literature and politics.
Mr. Kleiber died on July 13 2004 in Switzerland.
As a conductor, he demanded double or triple the typical number of rehearsals. And he rarely announced what he would conduct in advance, deciding on repertory when he showed up for rehearsals. Despite his vast knowledge of the music repertory, he only conducted a handful of symphonies, concertos and operas.
In my view, his somewhat limited conducting repertoire led to his amazing excellence. I treasure listening to his interpretation of the Brahms symphonies and a few symphonies by Mozart. He is amazing in leading Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. And one of his greatest strengths is the style he brings to the music on Johann Strauss. As one watches old rehearsals, you can see Kleiber’s whole body moving elegantly with the rhythm of a Strauss waltz, or with the music of Die Fledermaus.
Let me show you how Carlos Kleiber conducted Strauss: