In Dialogue with Segiu Celibidache
"Magicians and Tyrants on the podium" 2/2003
Romanian Members of the Distinguished Ensemble
The Munich Philhamonic is welcomed enthusiastically everywhere. In Santa Cruz, hundreds of music lovers could not get a ticket for a meeting with Celibidache. An impressive concert program presented Celibidache's views on conducting and the analysis started with the following sentence: "Filósofo, terórico y Guru, Sergiu Celibidache es un director atípico, tal y como testimonia la atmósfera casi religiosa de sus recentes conciertos en la Opera de la Bastilia." The unique atmosphere that the mind and soul of Celibidache create can be felt from the first bars. In his orchestra one can find musicians from all continents. The concertmaster is a Romanian - Viorel Nasturica. The first bass is Dorin Marc. Any they are not the only Romanians in the distinguished ensemble.
I listened to both of Celibidache's concerts. The first included Haydn's Symphony no. 92 and Schumann's Second Symphony, the second - Mozart's Symphony no. 40 and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. Between the two events I had the happiness of talking to Sergiu Celibidache for two hours in his apartment in a Santa Cruz hotel. It was a privilege hard to obtain. At the beginning of February, a new issue of Spectacolul Muzicii was due to appear and I was glad that I could publish in this weekly a dialogue with the most important conductor of our times.
"It was not easy for me, maestro, to reach you in your apartment here. Your orchestra's administrator is a fierce Cerberus!"
"What can I do? I need to protect my moments of rest."
"Thank you for receiving me. I'm sorry I don't have a recorder. I'll try to write down every word of our conversation. Each of your thoughts is eagerly waited for in Romania.
"I'm glad to be able to talk in Romanian. I've heard you often mention my name in Bucharest, that you broadcast on television moments of the concerts I gave in Romania throughout the years, that you wrote a number of articles about me and that you are even thinking of writing a book."
"I see you are informed on what's going on in our country."
"Bucharest is always in my thoughts."
" Each week your name is printed on the posters of our Philharmonic as you are the honorary director of the institution."
(The maestro smiles, but doesn't say anything.)
"I listened to your versions of Schumann and Haydn last night. I know so many versions of Schumann's Symphony…However, I had the feeling I was listening to it for the first time in my life. If I had known the program, I would have brought the printed version from Bucharest with me. So many new lines, so many new voices that I had no idea about."
"This is Schumann. I haven't in the least changed his score."
"How do you mean? Were there four bassoons in his symphony?"
"That's something else. The modern musical culture forced me to make such changes. I often increase the number of instruments that existed in the composer's original score."
"Do you have the right to make such a personal contribution?"
"They say Schumann was not very good at orchestration."
"That's true. But we must not forget he was a genius as a composer."
"I was telling you I heard unknown details for the first time."
"You should look at the score more carefully. They are all there. It's the conductors that are unable to shape them, to place them correctly in the discourse."
"Weren't some fragments rendered too slowly?"
"Music requires slowness. There is no other way in which we can listen to everything there is in the score. The duty of the conductor is to cast light on the whole and, primarily, on the essence of the composer's thought."
"Would you take the liberty to double the number of instruments in Brahms?"
"You bet I would! Poor Brahms, he couldn't exploit the potential of the orchestra."
"My God, how extraordinary is a recording I have with your version of Brahms's Symphony in E minor!"
"Maybe it's also because of this restructuring. His knowledge of the orchestra was pretty limited."
"How about Beethoven?"
"He had a better instinct."
"I dare ask you this question again. Do you have the right to think like that?"
"I have the duty to do it, not only the right."
"Would Furtwängler have taken such liberty?"
"He often doubled the number of woodwinds."
"How about Toscanini, Ansermet, Mravinski?"
"I have often expressed my views on some of them. I did it at the press conference in Bucharest, too. One of those you have just mentioned knew he could not understand everything and assimilate everything from a score."
"I guess some music lovers will be extremely grieved to see you demolish their idols."
"Let them be. What really matters is the truth. We should not forget that Toscanini was an accurate conductor, he promoted clear intonation. However, he would not organize his ideas. I am increasingly interested in Furtwängler. He was not a very technical conductor. He had, nevertheless a system."
"How about those complex gestures of his?"
"Yet how expressive his sounds could be!"
"In 1945 you reconstructed the Berlin Philharmonic. You had in your hands. Why did you hand it to Furtwängler in 1949?"
"Because it was his. And it was my duty to give him back the instrument he had created."
"If in 1949 you had stayed conducting the great Berlin orchestra, your life would have been different, nay, I would say the very history of interpreting in the 20th century would been different."
"They say that in 1945, immediately after the 9th of May, a Soviet officer, a colonel and a lawyer of Jewish extraction who was a great music lover and was in charge of the administration of a Berlin section gave you a motorcycle with a side car to rebuild the orchestra."
"That's not true. Nobody gave me a motorcycle."
"O, Lord, how many legends there are in the history of music. These are Bacon's idols we must get rid of."
"Exactly. And how much invented stuff I've read about me!"
"Tell me, I have read harsh words you wrote on Mahler. Do you still have that opinion about him?"
"Naturally! He was an amateurish composer. Jotting on paper everything that crossed his mind. He starts an idea and then stops when it really gets interesting. He hasn't got the slightest trace of discipline. He exaggerates everything. The only times he succeeds are those when he uses a text. As for the rest…"
"And how can you explain his popularity everywhere in Europe, America?"
"Conductors, orchestras, the public love him."
"I'm telling you again, there are no explanations for the stupidity and ignorance of our present-day world."
"How about Bruckner?"
"Mahler is the denial of music. Bruckner - its assertion."
"They say, however, that he only wrote a symphony in nine parts…"
"Nonsense. Each of his symphonies is a unique, original construction. Bruckner's inventiveness is overwhelming in each of the pages he wrote."
"Some things may need to be cut."
"Absolutely not…Bruckner is virtually unknown. The poor man didn't even listen to his symphonies. It's only now that we are starting to discover his craft, his greatness."
"I heard you in Tokyo in 1990, in one of Bruckner's symphonies. It seemed to me you played it a little bit too slowly for the people in our century."
"The sound is a solar system that builds up in time. Speed ruins expresion, content…"
"Bruckner is very much loved in Romania, too. Cristian Mandeal is working for the complete series of his symphonies."
"I'm glad to hear that. And don't forget that Furtwängler was one of the first to intuit Bruckner's real force."
"Much has been said at a certain moment about your special love for Josquin des Pres."
"When I was a student I had to write a paper for the history of music course. I incidentally chose Josquin des Pres as my topic. I studied his creation and the epoch he lived in for a long time. That's all."
"Last year , at Palestrina's celebration, I thought you were going to enter the territory of the Renaissance music."
"I haven't got time for that."
"Why are you neglecting Johann Sebastian?"
"Do you really think I wouldn't do? Mathäus? But I have 130 people in my orchestra. They must all study, work. And what am I supposed to do? Use only 27 of them?"
"You said so many things about Karajan. Would you still subscribe to those opinions?"
"Of course. He has left us very few good things."
"There is, however, a captivating meticulousness in many of his recordings. If we compare recordings of the same piece made at different times we notice the very same timing."
"This rigidity is an attribute of amateurs. Music must always sound differently. Here lies the force of interpretation."
"Are you still adamant in your aversion to recordings?"
"I certainly am."
"However, dozens of discs with your name on it can be seen everywhere."
"What can I do? These are unauthorized recording made in the concert hall, on the radio or on television. I never sign any of them. I would not allow them to be sold if I could help it."
"And what remains of your work, of your personality?"
"Need there remain anything? Why?"
"You keep dumbfounding me…Do you remember the Bucharest Philharmonic? You said so many beautiful words at the rehearsals about A.O.Popa, Radu Chitu, Mihai Tanasila, about the whole host of string players!"
"Don't write this. Maybe you shouldn't…I haven't met musicians like ours anywhere. Romanian musicians are full of spontaneity, intelligence, creativity. I had a colleague of my own age. His name was Iarca. How subtly, how flexibly, how exactly he played each musical phrase."
"What do we lack?"
"We didn't have people capable of achieving a synthesis, people able to feel and fight for using these resources. Enescu did not concern himself with Romania. He lacked a constructive spirit."
"Why didn't you stay with us in 1979?"
"I was not accepted. After the concert with the Philharmonic Orchestra, I was ready to come to Bucharest. You know very well what happened. A couple of days before the established date I got a phone call and I was informed that the Orchestra was very busy preparing the 'Song of Romania' Festival. How shortsighted they could be! The answer was typical for the communists. What was left for me to do then? As for you, you were left with the 'Song of Romania'."
" Why did you choose Munich?"
"I had their complete trust. They accepted all my conditions. The choice of the soloists, the choice of the program, two weeks of rehearsals for each concert."
"The orchestra has had a long tradition. It was created in 1893 and was led by Mahler, Löwe, Kabasta. After the war it was led by Jochum, Rosbaud, Rieger, Kempe."
"In the decades after 1945 the attempts of fully exploiting the potential of the ensemble were unfortunately less fruitful. The Orchestra reached its present-day standards after 1979. The Gouvernment gave us their full support."
"What position does Munich occupy among the German Philharmonic orchestras?"
"Undoubtedly the first."
"And the famous Berlin Philharmonica?"
"I conducted them a couple of months ago. They lost their force."
"What did Abbado manage?"
"He seems to me an extraordinarily gifted musician."
"Nothing becomes deeper in his art. And this shows."
"The world has changed. You can see that in the performance of orchestras, in the manner in which music is made, in the preferences of the public."
"That's why we must take great care of this world."
"What do the musicians think about the inflexibility of your judgment?"
"To me, what the world thinks about me is unimportant. What I think about the world really matters."
"I was happy to read the American reviews of your concerts. The musicians and critics of America consider you from a different perspective now. They have a particular respect for you. "
"They are still superficial. They value you according to the duration of the cheers."
"The Americans are increasingly preoccupied with musical activities and institutions."
"But the absence of genuine personalities is extremely serious."
"I would invite you, dear maestro, back to native Moldavia. A couple of years ago I went to Roman and spent a few days in your birthplace. The building now houses a music school. It is, indeed, one of the most beautiful buildings in the old town,"
"I only lived in Roman until the age of two. In 1914 our family moved to Iasi."
"Your parents were Greek?"
"One of my father's ancestors came to our country from Crete at the beginning of the 17th century. My mother was a Bratianu. But I don't know if it was the same family that gave the great politicians."
"Is it true that you have been fascinated by mathematics since childhood?"
"I did, indeed, love mathematics. I also had outstanding teachers."
"I learned from him so much!"
"Did you study at the National High School or at the Boarding School?"
"At the Pedagogical Seminary."
"And you graduated from high school in 1929…"
"And I went to the Bucharest Polytechnic."
"Your father meant for you to be an engineer."
"And only an engineer."
"You were a good piano jazz player."
"I think so. I was enthralled by the domain."
"Do you still love jazz?"
"Very much. It gives you spontaneity, the power to improvise. You cannot play great music and not love jazz."
"Why did you leave Bucharest Polytechnic?"
"Because I wished to study music."
"Did your father agree?"
"On the contrary. He cut off all financial support."
"Who helped you carry on?"
"My unforgettable friend of those years, Trancu-Iasi."
"Do you remember other colleagues of your generation?"
"Bebe Pascu, Georgel Manoliu have always been present in my heart."
"They are brilliant musicians. They also mention you whenever I talk to them. What would have happened if your father had helped you?"
"It is to his inflexible nature that I owe my career as a musician. If I had had the courage to confront him, to ask his forgiveness, my destiny would have been different."
"Who opened the road to Berlin for you?"
"Professor Tiessen. I took part in a composition contest. I sent them a quartet. Tiessen sent me a cable: 'Come to Berlin immediately.' I spent several months in Bucharest, I prepared myself. Trancu-Iasi helped me a lot. I am sorry he died when I could have helped him in return. In the German capital Tiessen gave me a very modest allowance."
"What members of your family still live in Romania?"
"I have a sister in Galati."
"I have so many questions for you…I keep jumping from one topic to another. You are a follower of oriental philosophy, of Zen Buddhism. You are, however, an orthodox Christian."
"There is no incompatibility. The Zen doctrine helps me understand the world. Everything that happens in the world for no personal reason."
"One of the three concertmasters of the Munich Philharmonic is called Nasturica."
"He is an extraordinary artist. He got the job from the very first attempt. When the contest was organized, we were delighted we made such an acquisition. He played Brahms's Concerto. Not even Perlman matches him."
"He was trained in the Romanian school."
"An excellent school for violinists. I invited Professor Stefan Gheorghiu to Munich for a special discussion a couple of months ago. He is an outstanding teacher. I wanted to see how he thinks. I wanted to find an explanation for the excellent results of the violin school of Romania. He is an accomplished musician with a great pedagogical gift. I don't think there has been a violin teacher like Stefan Gheorghiu since Carl Flesch."
"Do you remember the players of Bucharest?"
"How could I forget A.O. Popa for instance?"
"Bucharest also has very gifted conductors."
"That's true. They came, however, ten to fifteen years too late to be able to make a name for themselves in Europe."
"I remember your concerts with the Stockholm Orchestra. Why did you not stay in Sweden?"
"I didn't like it there. They are a people with too many inferiority and superiority complexes."
"Did your famous conducting lessons bear fruit?"
"Too little. I have 15 students in Spain alone. However, they are unable to get to the depths of my conceptions. They failed to understand the 'unity' of my vision. Humanity is nowadays crushed under massive lack of education. The access to metaphysics, to the ultimate truth is difficult."
"You know how much we would like to have you in Romania. We even founded a society 'Pro Celibidache' whose only aim is to bring our beloved maestro back in Bucharest."
"Who are the members of this society?"
"Dan Grigore is its president."
"I never heard him playing the piano. But I know how he thinks. I know his character. He is a remarkable man, there is no doubt about that."
"Answer this question, please. When are you coming home?"
"I want to come with the Munich Philharmonic. I miss Bucharest, I miss Iasi. At my age, this is a trip I must make."
"And who's stopping you from doing it?"
"Nobody. Chancellor Kohl wants us to go on this tour, too. There is no auditorium, however."
"The Athenaeum will be soon ready."
"The stage is too small. For a Bruckner symphony, 120 players are needed. The stage can be extended by sacrificing three or four rows in the stalls."
"I don't know if this is an acoustically acceptable solution. There is a new concert hall in the Parliament Palace, one that has hardly been exploited."
"We'll have to examine that."
"Send an acoustics engineer to check its sonority."
"I will do that."
"We must not let 1995 pass without seeing you back in Bucharest."
"Let's hope it will happen."
"I wish you health in the first place."
"Thank you. My greetings to everybody at home."
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
(Spectacolul muzicii, Bucharest, March 22, 1995, p.4)