Revered Conductor Carlos Kleiber Dies, Age 74

Conductor Carlos Kleiber died July 13 after a long illness and was buried four days later in Konjsica, Slovenia. He was 74.

Conductor Carlos Kleiber died July 13 after a long illness and was buried four days later in Konjsica, Slovenia. He was 74.

The Austrian conductor was as well known for his reclusiveness and eccentricity as for his thrilling talent at the podium. During most of his career, Kleiber chose to appear very infrequently as a guest conductor with several of the world's greatest orchestras at his whim rather than take a regular position with any orchestra. Kleiber's official discography is equally spotty, though pirated live performances circulate as well. Fellow conductor, Herbert von Karajan, famously joked that Kleiber only emerged to conduct when his freezer was empty.

The son of another famed conductor, Erich Kleiber, Carlos Kleiber was born in Berlin but grew up in Argentina, after his family emigrated to Buenos Aires during the Nazi era. He began his musical studies in 1950 and debuted as a conductor in La Plata, Argentina, two years later. After the family's return to Germany, the young Kleiber went to Zurich to study chemistry at his father's behest. He returned to music a short time later, and went on to hold positions in Munich, Potsdam, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Zurich and Stuttgart. When he made his European debut in Potsdam in 1954, he appeared under the name Karl Keller. Starting in 1968, Kleiber began appearing at Munich's Bavarian State Opera, and went on to conduct at the Bayreuth Festival, the Vienna State Opera, London's Royal Opera and La Scala.

Kleiber very rarely performed in the United States. He made his North American debut in 1977 at the San Francisco Opera, and did not appear at the Metropolitan Opera until 1988; in total, he appeared at the Met 19 times over two years. He appeared twice at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in 1978 and 1983.

His European concerts were quite sparse as well, though he appeared with such ensembles as the Berlin Philharmonic, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic. By 1994, Kleiber had more or less vanished from public view, emerging only for two concerts in 1996, two in 1997, and five concerts with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on a tour of Spain and Italy in 1999.

The conductor's repertoire was similarly selective: he specialized in performing Haydn's Symphony No. 94; Mozart's Symphonies Nos. 33 and 36; Beethoven's Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, 6, and 7 and Brahms' Second and Fourth Symphonies. Within the operatic sphere, his specialties were Wagner's Tristan und Isolde; Puccini's La Boheme, Bizet's Carmen; Strauss' Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier and Verdi's operas La Traviata and Otello.

During the last decade of his life, Kleiber refused all interviews and public appearances. Despite all of his self-imposed limitations, however, Kleiber stood as one of the most electrifying and revered of all late 20th-century conductors. Ioan Holender, director of the Vienna State Opera, released a statement saying that "the greatest living conductor has left us."

Kleiber was falsely reported to have died twice in the past three years. He is survived by son Marko, daughter Lillian and sister Veronica.