There is old video footage of rehearsals led by Carlos Kleiber, who was born in Berlin in 1930. Untypically, we don’t see him from behind as in concerts, but in front of us, from the orchestra’s perspective. It’s particularly fascinating to see Kleiber’s amiable authority in working with the (at the time mostly male) orchestral musicians. How his immense bodily presence, his elegant arm movements captivate the viewer, and the humor and imagery of his language. He succeeds in almost playfully motivating the orchestra to attain the highest level of precision.

We notice how the musicians are sitting on the edge of their seats, ready at every moment to follow the conductor’s very definite interpretive ideas. Their undivided attention is required, since Kleiber’s interpretations mercilessly push the outer limits. But he was also capable of pushing these limits in other ways: for example in 1982, when the day before a concert with the Vienna Philharmonic, he angrily stormed out of the rehearsal and left town. “Departed on a mystery tour” was the terse inscription he scrawled on a card afterwards.

Fortunately, Kleiber didn’t depart from Vienna in 1989 and 1992, when he was engaged by the Vienna Philharmonic to lead their New Year’s Concerts - the spirited interpretations of both performances have gone down in legend. On the subject of interpretations, the repertoire of this exceptional conductor was relatively limited and included such works as Brahms’s Second Symphony, Beethoven’s Fifth, Die Fledermaus, and Der Rosenkavalier, all of which he performed frequently. He returned again and again to the same works, since quantity and breadth were less important to him than quality and depth.

© Elke Tschaikner, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • Karl Ludwig Bonifacius Kleiber is born on July 3, 1930 in Berlin as the son of Viennese-born conductor Erich Kleiber.

  • In 1940 the family emigrates to South America, since as a matter of principle, Erich Kleiber does not want to cooperate with the Nazi regime.

  • In his new home of Argentina he is called Carlos, a name he will continue to use afterwards.

  • Carlos’s father wanted his son to study chemistry, but the young man terminated his studies after a year in order to study music in Buenos Aires (starting in 1950).

  • 1955 Carlos made his debut with Carl Millöcker’s operetta Gasparone in Potsdam, conducting under the pseudonym Karl Keller.

  • The Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where the conductor celebrated many triumphs, was one of the his many performance venues.

  • He gave his final performances in 1999, during a Spanish tour with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

  • Kleiber was married to Slovenian dancer Stanislawa Brezovar; the couple had two children.

  • 2004 Kleiber died at the age of 74 in his house in Konjšica, Slovenia.

Did you know?

  • Carlos Kleiber was regarded as brilliant but at times difficult to work with, since he constantly made the highest demands on himself and others while at the same time suffering from stage fright and self-doubt.

  • There has been much conjecture about his relationship with his famous and strict father, also a conductor; Carlos conducted from his father’s scores and only performed works that Erich Kleiber had also conducted.

  • He cultivated long-term friendships with such personalities as Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, Franco Zeffirelli, Otto Schenk, and Plácido Domingo.

  • In Kleiber’s former vacation home in Konjšica, visitors can find a memorial room dedicated to his life and work.

  • The eccentric Kleiber was extremely media-shy and did not give any interviews.