Centennial of conductor Sergiu Celibidache a reminder of poetic license
OK, I know -- I pay way too much attention to anniversary dates. Which reminds me: Why aren't people in Baltimore doing more to acknowledge the150th anniversary of Debussy's birth?
But I digress. Today's indulgence in backward glances has to do with Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache, born June 28, 1912 (he died Aug. 14, 1996). I think it's safe to say that the general classical music-loving public in this country does not know much about the man or his work. But he is well worth discovering.
Active mostly in Europe -- he led the Berlin Philharmonic after the war until Furtwangler's return and later held posts with orchestras in Stockholm, Munich and elsewhere -- Celibidache became something of a cult figure over time. This was due both to ...
his music-making, which, often at very unhurried tempos, could not have been more different than that of his contemporaries, and his almost mystical philosophizing about the art.
I think the first time I became aware of him was reading ecstatic newspaper accounts of his U.S. conducting debut, which didn't occur until 1984 -- leading a student orchestra, albeit the top-notch one from the Curtis Institute, at Carnegie Hall. You knew from reading about the event that this was no ordinary conductor.
I find much to savor in Celibidache's recordings, even when, on rare occasions, the pace is too slow for me (as you know, I usually can accept any extremes). What I admire is the integrity of the interpretations, the sense of deep connection to the tissue and sinew beneath a score.
This extraordinary conductor practices the musical equivalent of poetic license, an unbridled freedom of how to shape a phrase, to control a movement, all in an aim to make the music more vital and communicative -- to the players as much as listeners.
On the occasion of his centennial, here's a little sampling of Celibidache and his art: Rehearsal footage that has bad sound and visuals, but provides a glimpse into the man's personality (and how he could make a daringly slow tempo seem sensible in the scherzo from Beethoven's Ninth); and the final, uplifting measures of Bruckner's Eighth in a live performance: