Sergiu Celibidache

Sergiu Celibidache (June 28, 1912 – August 14, 1996) - great Romanian conductor.

Celibidache was born in Roman, Romania. His childhood was spent in the Moldavian town of Iassy, becoming interested in musical composition at an early age. He studied Philosophy and Mathematics at the University of Bucharest. In 1936 he went to Berlin and continued his studies, largely concerning himself with wave mechanics, but also with composition studies at the Berlin Academy of Music (Hochschule für Musik). Two years later he enrolled to study conducting under Walter Gmeindl, and subsequently graduated from the Friedrich Wilhelm University with a dissertation on Josquin des Pres (a 15th-century Flemish composer whose polyphonic works had great influence on 16th-century music). At the same time the young Celibidache became attracted to Zen Buddism, an ancient Chinese (and, later, Japanese) school of thought for guidance in the way of life.

After the end of World War II, Celibidache, fresh from university, was appointed conductor pro tempore of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946, filling in for Wilhelm Fürtwangler (the latter was involved in controversies during the Nazi regime, leading to his withdrawal from the appointment as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic; his name was later cleared). When Fürtwangler resumed his post in 1948, Celibidache became co-conductor. After having rehearsed and conducted more than 400 concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, Celibidache looked set to succeed as conductor after Fürtwangler's death; the Orchestra, to his disappointment, chose Herbert von Karajan instead.

1948 saw the debut of Sergiu Celibidache in London. Then he frequently conducted in Italy. From 1959 he was regularly invited by the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra. From 1960 to 1962 he held master courses at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena; the young conductors were extremely keen to be admitted. In 1962 he became the director of the Stockholm Radio Symphony Orchestra, which he completely rebuilt (until 1971). From 1973 to 1975 he was the primary permanent guest conductor of the French Orchestre National. In 1979 he became the general musical director of the City of Munich and artist director of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, which he made one of the best orchestras in the world. In Munich he held master courses in orchestral conducting. 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. Sergiu Celibidache also composed, but he refused to allow any performances of his compositions. Although his severe illness he didn't stop conducting until a few month before his death.

Among the many honours and awards bestowed on Celibidache are the appointment to an Honorary Professorship of the Federal Capital Berlin and the Bavarian Order of Merit. He is also an honorary citizen of his hometown Iassy and a "doctor honoris causa" of the Iassy Academy of Art. On his eightieth birthday he was awarded the Great Cross of Distinction of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and honorary citizenship of the City of Munich. In 1970 he was awarded Denmark's Sonning Award.

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.

Eccentric and genial, difficult and stubborn, Sergiu Celibidache was the last of the 'Mad Genius Conductors'.


Anonymous said...

he really was a genius. i'm glad that some Romanians are writing something about him. i will always fell like i suffered a loss since i have no chance to hear the music he unleashed at every concert.