SYMPHONY NOW

“Charles Barber’s Corresponding with Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber represents an admiring younger conductor’s efforts, begun during his graduate-student days, to draw out a brilliant but eccentric and reclusive maestro through multiple layers of correspondence.

“In his introduction to Corresponding with Carlos, Barber writes that the book originated with his desire to contact, and eventually to study with, the conductor he had just discovered on public television leading a performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony…

“Attempting to reach the conductor through his agency, Columbia Artists Management Inc., Barber was informed that it was doubtful Kleiber would take on a student, but that CAMI would forward a letter to him at his home outside Munich. So the would-be student “charted a path to demonstrate how I could be of service to him, and did so with self-deprecating jokes … and a straightforward pitch.” Barber’s initial letter, dated January 25, 1989, drew the following hand-written response:

“Dear Mr. Barber!
 Tho’ honestly + immensely impressed by your qualifications and accomplishments (wish I could compete!) I am sorry to say: I hardly conduct at all; so that would mean you would be totally hors d’oeuvre (out of work) and horrified at my lack of interest, energy, initiative, and so forth … I’m a real mess, actually. Don’t tell anyone, please.
 Yours Sincerely
, Carlos Kleiber

“This unconventionally structured book consists of two biographical sections (“Family” and “Career”) supplemented with photos and other illustrations; a 92-page compilation of letters from Kleiber interspersed with commentary from the author; an epilogue, bibliography, and index; and four appendices documenting Kleiber’s repertoire and career. His personality and attributes as a conductor emerge not only in his letters to Barber, and in the author’s own opinions, but through the voices of colleagues.

“Conductor Bernard Haitink, for example, found Kleiber ‘an extraordinary man, above all the others. One of his secrets, I think, is that he knows the pieces he works on better than anyone else … Don’t be fooled by the small repertoire. His knowledge of music is immense.’  And the eminent pianist Maurizio Pollini recalls that Kleiber ‘had the capacity to understand instantaneously a work or a score. He immediately had an expressive or interpretive idea in his head, and all this resolved itself immediately, instantly, into a gesture appropriate for orchestra directing.’ ”

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