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Charles Barber : Corresponding with Carlos

Review by Antoine Leboyer

Charles Barber’s book on Carlos Kleiber is fascinating, remarkable and unexpected.

While studying at Stanford, Charles Barber, now an active conductor in Canada, became a regular penpal with Carlos Kleiber. He reached out to him in a direct and unaffected manner. This might have been a breath of fresh air as everyone was probably bowing with the utmost respect to Kleiber who suddenly could discuss with a smart and educated contact who both shared a refreshing sense of humor. Both corresponded over more than ten years until Kleiber’s death.

The first part of the book contains as detailed a description of Kleiber’s life. It is rich in details, including a fascinating story of aborted recording sessions of Beethoven Emperor Concerto with Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli. The second part includes a significant part of the Barber – Kleiber’s correspondance. It contains unique jewels as one can appreciate Kleiber’s encyclopedic knowledge, quick wit … and understand some of his concerns (read the letters on the mistakes on Orchestral parts …). There are also some great insights on Kleiber’s commenting when to pre-beat.

While Charles Barber’s book is comprehensive, it is easy to read and the author fascination and respect is palpable at every page. I am also guessing that it was written by the author himself, ie, there was no ghost writer interviewing someone and putting words into a book.

Whether one will understand and graps Kleiber’s genius is another story. This is where Barber strikes an ideal balance. He provides unique material which he comments as the professional musician he is but he know where the analysis fails to do justice to a genius like Carlos Kleiber.

Maybe like Kane’s Rosebud, one should respect and “do not trespass”. In the meanwhile, this is probably the musical book of the year.

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