(1912-1996) Orchestra Conductor
Celibidache was born in Roman, Romania, and began his studies in music with the piano, after which he studied music, philosophy and mathematics in Bucharest, Romania and then in Paris. One of the most important influences in his life was his introduction to Martin Steinke, who, being knowledgeable about Buddhism, heavily affected Celibidache's outlook for the rest of his life.
He studied in Berlin and, from 1945 to 1952, he was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. He later worked with radio orchestras in Stockholm, Stuttgart and Paris. In 1970 he was awarded Denmark's Sonning Award. From 1979 until his death he was music director of the Munich Philharmonic. He regularly taught at Mainz University in Germany and in 1984 taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Teaching was a major focus throughout his life and his courses were frequently open to all without fee.
Celibidache's approach to music-making is often described in terms of what he did not do instead of what he did. For example, much has been made of Celibidache's "refusal" to make recordings even though almost all of his concert activity actually was recorded with many released posthumously by major labels such as EMI and Deutsche Grammophon with consent of his family. Nevertheless, Celibidache did pay little attention to making these recordings, which he viewed merely as by-products of his orchestral concerts.
Celibidache's focus was instead on creating, during each concert, the optimal conditions for a what he called a "transcendent experience". Aspects of Zen Buddhism, such as ichi-go ichi-e, were strongly influential on him. He believed that musical experiences were extremely unlikely to ensue when listening to recorded music, so he eschewed them. As a result, some of his concerts did provide audiences with exceptional and sometimes life-altering experiences, including, for example, a 1984 concert in Carnegie Hall by the Orchestra of the Curtis Institute that New York Times critic John Rockwell touted as the best of his twenty-five years of concert-going.
Celibidache was well known for his demands for extensive rehearsal time with orchestras. An oft-mentioned feature of many of his concerts, captured in the live recordings of them, is a slower tempo than what is considered the norm, while, in fast passages, his tempos often exceeded expectations. In Celibidache's own view, however, criticism of a recording's tempo is irrelevant, as it is not (and cannot) be a critique of the performance but rather of a transcription of it, without the ambience of the moment – for him, a key factor in any musical performance. As Celibidache explained, the acoustic space in which one hears a concert directly affects the likelihood of the emergence of his sought-after transcendent experience. The acoustic space within which one hears a recording of one of his performances, on the other hand, has no impact on the performance, as it is impossible for the acoustic features of that space to provide feedback to the musicians that might impel them to, for example, play slower or faster.
That his recorded performances differ so widely from the majority of other recordings has led them to be seen by some as collectors' items rather than mainstream releases, 'one-offs' rather than reference recordings. The reality is that the recordings and their relationship to other recordings are the arena within which his artistic importance is now judged, while the contributions he made in the concert hall fade along with the memories of those who were there.
Notable releases have been his Munich performances of Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Robert Schumann, Johann Sebastian Bach, Gabriel Fauré and a series of live performances with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra.
One controversial incident during his tenure with the Munich Philharmonic was a protracted legal battle to oust principal trombonist Abbie Conant that lasted 12 years, with Conant ultimately prevailing. Ms. Conant alleged sexism in an internet article published by her husband, William Osbourne. The controversy is discussed in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink.
Celibidache died in La Neuville-sur-Essonne, arrondissement Pithiviers near Paris in 1996 at 84.
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