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Video: The original dancing conductor. It’s …. Celi!

Elegantly to a fault, brilliantly choreographed for conductor and orchestra, hair designed in heaven, this must be the most authentic and scintillating performance ever captured of Georges Enescu’s first Rumanian Rhapsody. Sit back. Enjoy. Be grateful for such moments.
celibidache bucharest

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  1. Sebastian / LondonJazz says:

    You and your readers probably know it already, but the video of Celibidache, still in his thirties, conducting the Berlin Phil in Egmont Overture in 1950 the ruins of the Philharmonie is an extraordinary document too.

    ….even if the producer did get a bit carried away at 7 : 13 and the triumphal arrival in F major.

  2. Göran Södervall says:

    A wonderful performance full of small but important agogical turns you only find with the greatest conductors. There is another great version of this music by another supreme conductor also a Roumanian of course! I Think of Constantin Silvestri on an ASD LP of the 60s with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Just sublime!

    • George Murnu says:

      There is a even better (much better) Silvestri recording of Enescu’s Rhapsody: with the Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon. Desert island material.

  3. Great! Anyone know what he’s shouting at 9:13? Also 10:13 but it’s no so obvious.

  4. Heather Roche says:

    Hair made in heaven? Surely you’re referring to the solo violist’s moustache…

  5. Daniel Farber says:

    Amazing performance: Celi gives as much respect to the Enescu as he did to Schubert or Bruckner. The concerts he gave with the Munich Orchestra ca. 1990 in Boston and Worcester Massachusetts are among the greatest orchestra concerts I’ve ever attended. It didn’t matter what era of Celi we encounter, the young and the fast or the old and the slow: great at all speeds, in all moods. Around 1962 after a single timpani lesson with the Boston Symphony’s legendary Vic Firth, I asked him who he thought was the greatest living conductor. He answered quickly, “Celibidache.” I had never heard of him; in fact I thought he had made up the name to yank my chain. Apparently his wife, Olga, a cellist, had played under Celi in Rome and Vic had attended a concert or a rehearsal and had been overwhelmed.

  6. David Greenlees says:

    This is a horrifyingly fascinating article which suggests that the Munich Philharmonic and its revered music director were, at least during his tenure, every bit as hostile to female musicians as the Vienna Philharmonic.

  7. ruben greenberg says:

    Enjoy-certainly! Sit back-a bit harder to do. What a spellbinder! Enraptured musicians playing like they never thought they could, egged on by this infuriating old magician.

  8. Michael Redmond says:

    I once interviewed a very prominent Romanian musician (male, of course), who opined en passant that he found women cellists offensive because they must play with legs akimbo and this is, well, just indecent. Obviously. I just let the remark pass and kept the interview going.

    • Daniel Farber says:

      And this is relevant how?? Is it about Enescu? Celibidache? All (male) Rumanians?

      • itrinkkeinwein says:

        Do the math … and read Osborne-Conant link, above.

      • Michael Redmond says:

        I was responding to David Greenlees’ post re Celi’s apparent hostility to women musicians, Mr. Farber. No, it’s not about “all male Romanians.” But I did think it was a strikingly odd comment for this particular male musician to make as our conversation at the time had nothing to issues of this sort. It’s a reminder, I guess, that social attitudes in the former Eastern bloc can be quite different from those in Western Europe and the States.

        • Daniel Farber says:

          Thank you for your temperate explanation, Mr. Redmond. I am aware of the contretemps surrounding Celibidache’s apparent hostility to female musicians but am thoroughly disinclined to condemn either the entirety of the man or the entirety of the artist due solely to a single noxious stance. The literary world has kept Faulkner, Eliot, and Pound in the canon, despite their repellant views on race and ethnicity, although a more apt comparison with Celibidache is probably to be found in the “generic” anti-semitism to be found in the works of James, Hemingway, and a good many others: like them, he was (in a similar regard) no more and no less than a person of his time and place. Whether the attitude he displayed is typical of that found in former eastern block countries as distinguished from the west (as you suggest) is something I am not competent to judge

    • Michael Redmond says:

      Oh. And this is the greatest performance of this piece I’ve ever heard.

  9. SergioM says:

    WOW! Something actually conducted by Celibidache that isn’t as twice as long as it should be

  10. itrinkkeinwein says:

    My thought exactly.

  11. @Sergio: and with the great Maestrissimo in a good mood.
    So overrated, mythified.

  12. stanley cohen says:

    I clearly recall a wonderful performance of Schubert’s ‘Great’ Symphony in C Major at the Festival Hall, in which the incomparable John Barbirolli waltzed around the podium, bunions and all, during the third movement – frequently ‘threatening’ to fall off but never succumbing. A great symphony and an equally great conductor.

  13. Alexander Hall says:

    If you wanted to, you could criticise almost every note of music conducted by Celibidache, Bernstein, Furtwaengler, Toscanini and Karajan, all of whom were master-musicians and inspirational conductors. What hasn’t been commented on so far is the way in which Celi followed a similar path to Ormandy in Philadelphia. Celi hardly ever conducted any other orchestra after he took over the Munich Philharmonic and spent large periods every year working intensively with the players. There is an object-lesson here for all those pumped-up conducting egos of today who think they only need to devote a maximum of 12 weeks a year to “their” orchestra. In Celi’s case, the results speak for themselves. Listen to the coda of the finale to Bruckner’s fourth symphony in the EMI recording: at a remarkably slow speed, the intensity is quite staggering, with every strand of the texture clearly audible, and when the release finally comes it is almost orgasmic. Say what you will, there are few conductors who have had such a mesmerising effect on their players.

  14. jim sillan says:

    ‘bidache was a control freak – he put music in a straight jacket

  15. James M. Frase-White says:

    Exhiliarating! Thank you for a joyous start to my morning.The work reborn and refreshed

  16. Stephen says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been reading recently about ensemble musicians and trust so I guess I was primed for this but that is the one thing that seems to pervade this performance. It was treading on the edge from the first notes but everyone knew where that edge was.How many times did he just let the music flow with no real directing from him?
    And the choreographic gestures- – 3 dimensional music which in an acoustic space is what it really is.

  17. Fabio Fabrici says:

    Looking closely, he his not doing much conducting. It’s hard to impossible to play after him. He is more following the music by dancing rather than conducting. Well, at times a conductor is needed as an inspiration, not as a conductor.

  18. This was a concert that was for me more than a concert, and I’ll share the backstory to the extent that I know it.

    I spent the 1979-80 academic year in Romania on a Fulbright Fellowship, studying with Mircea Cristescu, one of the Music Directors of the Enescu Philharmonic in Bucharest. The Romania in which I studied and travelled offered an extraordinarily rich folk culture and an equally poor economy – after Albania’s the weakest in Europe. The country was under the suffocatingly oppressive thumb of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (chow SHAYS coo); the Romanians I worked with and befriended were prisoners in their borders. Security agents were everywhere, in every workplace, in every student group, and trust was a rare commodity. Bucharest was gray, life was bleak, the country was isolated, and inferiority reigned. Romanians who captured the attention of the world were few, and greatly celebrated: Brancusi, Enescu, Ionesco, Comăneci.

    And Celibidache. Sergiu Celibidache was born in the town of Roman in 1912. No doubt he grew up immersed in and colored by the rich folk music, which was characteristic and omnipresent; I was only in the country for nine months, and Romanian folk music lodged itself firmly in my heart. Celi left in 1926 to study in Berlin, eventually becoming principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for eight years between Furtwängler and Karajan, and later of orchestras in Stockholm, Stuttgart and Munich. He achieved legendary status for the depth of his musical understanding – specifically of shape, of balance, of color, and of how optimal structuring of the sounds can lead to the most moving, transcendent experience. In Romania he was a demigod.

    Here’s a brief taste of Celibidache in rehearsals for the Faure Requiem:

    And if you’re interested in how Celibidache understood and spoke about music, the clearest unfolding I know of is my own recent book, Looking for the “Harp” Quartet: An Investigation into Musical Beauty (University of Rochester Press; 2011). The basis of the book is a series of dialogues between a younger and older musician, in large part reflecting my own experiences with Celibidache.

    I believe the concert in the video took place in May of 1978 as part of Cântarea României, a festival of Romanian culture organized to promote the socialist ideals. Celibidache returned to Romania – I assume without a fee – to conduct multiple rehearsals with the orchestra and to work with conductors and music students. Having come to know Celibidache a few short years later, I’m quite certain that he came to Romania to make a contribution. I’m also certain that it was a deeply meaningful visit for him to his homeland.

    So this video has great meaning. It is a son of Romania, having left as a young man, returning home a celebrated figure with a great deal to share. It is that son conducting – in the Romanian Rhapsody – a folk music so close to his own heart and so deeply imbued in the hearts of his audience. And it is an audience, in the presence of a national hero, hearing the work of another national hero, Enescu. In a life often bleak and desolate it was a moment of validation. Making the concert even more poignant was that – due to clashes with the communist authorities – it was Celibidache’s last time in the country for many years.

    As for his slow tempi – yes, they tended to get slower as he got older, and yes, I think some were too slow (although I would advise not judging tempi from recordings, because a live performance can easily sound too slow in recordings, when the sound is limited and changed in quantity and quality by the speaker and the room).

  19. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Thanks for these reflections, Markand. I remember you well from our Philadelphia adventure in 1984 with SC. You mention 1926 as the date of the beginning of his Berlin stay. He would have only been 14 then. More details please. I had always assumed that it was about a decade later. Your insider views on Romania and the concert are much appreciated. He was a most remarkable, aggravating, and unforgettable musical artist.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Another question: You say: “eventually becoming principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for eight years between Furtwängler and Karajan”

      Didn’t he succeed Furtwangler in 1945 (with the help of the Allied forces) and was also succeed by Furtwangler after de-nazification? Karajan succeeded Furtwangler, I believe. Other will weigh in to correct if I have erred.

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        This is how it went. After the war was over in May 1945 none of the great conductors were available to conduct the Berlin Phil, they were all either abroad (where money could be earned and not everything was in ruins) or awaiting their denazification (including Furtwängler). The Berlin Phil was led by Leo Borchard, who had survived the war in Berlin but was politically uncompromised as a dissident during the Nazi years.
        He took over end of May 1945 but was shot only a few months later by an American soldier, when his chauffeur did not stop at night at an American checkpoint in the south of Berlin, the soldier aimed at the tires but the bullet hit Borchard in the head…
        Now what to do? One member of the orchestra said “I know this interesting Romanian guy in the academy. Let’s give it a shot and try him out.”. So Celi was asked and he went with his bicycle to conduct the Berlin Phil in a rehearsal and they liked him and he stayed and became the de facto interims principal conductor of the orchestra. Clearly Celi would not have ever been considered by the Berlin Phil in more “normal times”, but the times were anything but normal.
        They did over 400 concerts together in the following years. After Furtwängler was fully cleared to conduct again in 1947 Celi stayed, but the relation between the two was difficult, Celi was very humble and supportive to Furtwängler, but Furtwängler didn’t really fully respect the young Romanian. It took another five years until Furtwängler was appointed again fully as chief conductor in 1952.
        They went on a tour together to Britain, some video documentary here:
        During that time Celi started to have more and more his on mind and had problems and fights with the orchestra, which ended in a final major fight just days before Furtwängler died.
        Then the orchestra chose Karajan, Celi cursed his destiny and would never return to the Berlin Phil, except for that one concert in 1992 on special request by the German President R.v.Weizsäcker.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Many thanks for the clarification. That video clip of SC standing next to WF on the tarmac is priceless. Neither looks particularly pleased.

  20. Novagerio says:

    Romanians who captured the attention of the world were few, and greatly celebrated; Markand, don’t forget other great romanians like Clara Haskil and Dinu Lipatti! :)

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