Celibidache! | Chicago Reader

Celibidache!

The title's exclamation mark is indicative of the worshipful tone of this 1996 documentary on the Romanian-born, Berlin-trained conductor Sergiu Celibidache, shot in the last years of his life by his son, Serge Ioan Celibidachi. As the director of the Munich Philharmonic from 1979 until his death in 1996, Celibidache gained a formidable reputation as an interpreter of Bruckner and much of the rest of the German repertoire, his reputation spreading by word of mouth because he insisted he was against recorded performances. Most of this film is devoted to showing him rehearsing the Munich orchestra (in Bruckner's Ninth Symphony and Mozart's Requiem) and teaching a master class in Paris (Mozart and Haydn symphonies)—footage that's intercut with images of him contemplating nature at his country estate, a sign of his Zen Buddhist beliefs. The maestro in his 80s still comes across as intimidating, as a perfectionist who talks about music in abstract, philosophical terms. His son stays away from questions that might shed light on his background, his peripatetic life, his views on other musicians (mentor Wilhelm Furtw√§ngler, rival Herbert von Karajan)—to the end, Celibadache remained in control of his image as the lofty keeper of a sacred flame. If you buy that notion, you'll love every minute of the tedious rehearsals and grand pronouncements that make up this portrait. 145 min.

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