Notes and Editorial Reviews
CELIBIDACHE: YOU DON’T DO ANYTHING—YOU LET IT EVOLVE
Sergiu Celibidache, cond; Various ensembles
ARTHAUS 101365 (DVD: 100:00)
Conductor Sergiu Celibidache (1912–1996) remains a cult figure and a figure of controversy almost 13 years after his death. Certainly there were those who looked upon him as a sort of Dalai Lama of conducting, just as there were others who thought he was woefully wrong-headed. His refusal to make commercial recordings prevented many of the curious (myself included) from obtaining a clear picture of his musicianship
while he was alive. Since his death, however, there has been a flood of live recordings in editions sanctioned by his family, who preferred to retain at least some level of control over his legacy, knowing that sooner or later unauthorized releases would proliferate. There have been DVDs too—actual concerts, and documentaries such as the present one.
This film dates from 1991. It is not a biography as much as it is an opportunity to follow the conductor into rehearsals, teaching sessions, interviews, and unguarded moments from his daily life—for example, a visit to Israel where he meets several former orchestral musicians, and a return to his native Romania. Many of the rehearsal sessions are for Bruckner’s Mass in F Minor, material also covered in another Schmidt-Garre documentary released on Arthaus Musik. About his personal life we learn nothing at all, and perhaps that is as it should be.
Celibidache was not a conductor one could sum up in 100 words or less, nor was he someone who necessarily communicated in the most concrete terms. Hearing him speak to his orchestra or to students in various workshops, I often found myself asking, “What did he just say?” (One is not surprised to learn that, as a young man, he studied philosophy, and much later, Zen Buddhism.) I expect it took time for those around him to get onto his wavelength; obviously, that is not going to happen during the course of a 100-minute documentary. In teaching and rehearsals, he appears to have placed great importance on making musicians work out the solutions to musical problems, rather than telling them precisely what to do. Whoever watches this documentary in hopes of getting a conducting lesson, then, will be disappointed. I am not a conductor, but as I watched this documentary, I almost became discouraged by how little I know and how badly I listen. It was a humbling experience, but ultimately a healthy one.
One memorable sequence among many in this documentary comes as Celibidache is conducting a youth orchestra in a rehearsal of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. At one point he stops, is silent, and is clearly moved. (Later he admits that he actually was crying.) Then he praises them for having “fought hard,” adding, “There will be music after me.” (He also comments “Donnerwetter!” which the English subtitles infelicitously translate as “Man alive!”) It’s a touching, very human moment.
Given the multiple sources, the quality of the sound and picture is variable, but is never less than acceptable. A full screen format has been used. This documentary is an always fascinating set of glimpses at a conductor whose like we shall never see again.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
A Film by Jan Schmidt-Garre (1992)
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish
Running time: 93 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
Works on This Recording
Work(s) by Various
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