Traces to Nowhere, the Conductor Carlos Kleiber/Music Is the Language of the Heart and Soul: A Portrait of Mariss Jansons/Georges Bizet

By Sharpe, Roderick L. | Notes, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Traces to Nowhere, the Conductor Carlos Kleiber/Music Is the Language of the Heart and Soul: A Portrait of Mariss Jansons/Georges Bizet


Sharpe, Roderick L., Notes


Traces to Nowhere, The Conductor Carlos Kleiber. DVD. Directed by Eric Schulz. [Germany]: Arthaus Musik, 2011, 2010. 101553. $28.98.

Music is the Language of the Heart and Soul: A Portrait of Mariss Jansons. DVD. Directed by Robert Neumüller; Gustav Mahler. Symphony No. 2. Mariss Jansons / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Choir. With Ricarda Merbeth, Bernarda Fink. Munich: Unitel Classica, 2012, 2011. 709708. $39.99.

Georges Bizet. Carmen. DVD. Carlos Kleiber / Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. With Elena Obraztsova, Plácido Domingo, Yuri Mazurok, Isabel Buchanan. [Germany]: Arthaus Musik, 2012, 1978. 107263. $29.99.

These German-language documentaries with subtitles portray two of the most important conductors of the latter half of the twentieth century, revealing individuals of widely divergent character, and yet drawing some remarkable parallels between them. They were sons of eminent conductors, each having to assert his identity as a practitioner in his own right. Both had their early lives disrupted by the years surrounding WWII. They share similar approaches to their craft, being meticulous preparers of scores and micromanagers in rehearsal. Kleiber prepared all his own scores and parts, frequently using those he inherited from his father. He also consulted composers' autographs where available and indulged in extensive background research. Jansons, too, prepares and rehearses his repertory thoroughly and pursues ancillary research. Both were protégés of and revered Herbert von Karajan. Both demonstrate a particular fondness for Viennese waltzes, and have conducted the popular New Year's Day concert with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The difference, of course, is that Jansons is able to speak for himself - and does so eloquently. Kleiber (who died in 2004) cannot - nor would he have done, for, as an intensely private man, he shunned all publicity and never gave interviews. Instead, there is a distinguished roster of former friends and colleagues to speak about him. Watching the two films side-by-side makes for a fascinating comparison.

Music is the Language of the Heart and Soul opens in Latvia with Jansons reminiscing at the beach near his childhood home. Although the shadow of German occupation and the postwar Stalinist repression loomed over his early years, his family life and education in Riga and then Leningrad seems to have been happy and saturated in music. He conjectures that his career path was laid out before him "like a sunbeam" although he never felt pressured into it by his parents. It is clear that he was an industrious student. After graduating from the Leningrad conservatory he attended the Vienna Academy of Music and went on to Salzburg to study with Karajan. There is archival footing of him competing in the Karajan Competition in 1971, where he was a prizewinner. After the Soviet authorities summoned him home, he was taken on by the Leningrad Philharmonic under the wing of principal conductor Yevgeny Mravin sky. The film briefly mentions his crucial formative years as director of the Oslo Philharmonic and goes on to document his recent tenure with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and the Concertgebouw. (His seven-year stint in Pittsburgh is never mentioned.) Transformation is a word often used to describe the effect he has on orchestras and audiences. After the death of his father and the serious heart attacks he himself suffered in 1996, Jansons has been attempting to probe ever deeper into the core of the music he performs. He comes across as a genuinely warm and sincere human being. There seems to be just a little too much "padding" in the film in which the camera follows him around old haunts to capture his reactions and comments. This is particularly contrived during a sequence when a young boy appears (a surrogate for the young Jansons?) expressing his wonderment at the doings in the Riga opera house. The film flits from place to place abruptly so that one is not always sure where one is, and some of the editing is somewhat abrupt. …

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