July 21, 2004 by

Carlos Kleiber

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Categories: Musicians

Carlos Kleiber was a brilliant and eccentric Austrian conductor who preferred variety to stability. Although his baton led the Bavarian Opera from 1968 to 1973, he usually chose to work as a guest conductor rather than lead a single orchestra.
Born in Berlin, Kleiber was the son of an American mother and renowned conductor Erich Kleiber. His family fled Nazi Germany to Argentina, and schooled him in English-language institutions. He was only nine years old when he composed his first piece, yet entered the music business against his father’s wishes. To avoid embarrassing the elder Kleiber, Carlos adopted the name Karl Keller for his European debut in 1954. He eventually returned to his legal moniker.
Kleiber’s demanding style and long rehearsals brought out the best in his musicians, and earned him praise from performers and critics alike. He conducted several operas, including Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and Verdi’s “Otello,” and occasionally recorded select symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert.
Many considered Kleiber to be one of the greatest conductors of the past 40 years, despite the fact that he had a reputation for canceling appearances at leading European opera houses with little notice. Consequently, his concerts became musical events that quickly sold out whenever they were scheduled. He was a voracious reader, fluent in six languages and played several instruments, but was also reclusive and rarely gave interviews to the press.
Mercurial, demanding and talented, Kleiber spent the majority of his life living in Munich and performing when it suited him. In 1996, he agreed to lead the Bavarian State Orchestra in exchange for a $100,000 Audi sports car. His final performance was in 1999.
Kleiber died on July 13. Cause of death was not released. He was 74.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR
Carlos Kleiber: Schubert, Brahms & Wagner Download “Carlos Kleiber: Schubert, Brahms & Wagner”

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