CELIBIDACHE - "You Can't Do Anything - You Let It Evolve"
A Jan Schmnidt-Garre Film

PHILIP GLASS - A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts
A film by Scott Hicks
KOCH LORBER DVD VIDEO KLF DV 3164 (2 disks) TT: 119 min.

TOSCANINI: In His Own Words - A film by Larry Weinstein
MEDICI ARTS DVD VBIDEO 3077928 TT: 70 min.

Director Jan Schmidt-Garre worked with conductor Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) for four years to produce this film about the Romanian conductor who in his latter years was a legendary figure in the conducting world. Films of performances with the Berlin Philharmonic early in his career show the dynamic conductor in a style far removed from the gentle approach of his later years. He idolized Wilhelm Furtwängler and became music director of the Berlin Philharmonic when Furtwängler had to leave, holding that position from 1945-1952. When Furtwängler returned, Celebidache stayed as assistant conductor. When Furtwängler left, Celibidache expected to once again be music director—but the post went to Herbert von Karajan. Celibidache never again conducted the Berlin Philharmonic. However, he appeared with many of the major orchestras, particularly the Munich Philharmonic which he led from 1979 until his death. Many of his performances are available on video and have been covered on this site: Berlioz Fantastic Symphony (REVIEW), Bruckner Symphony No. 9 (REVIEW), Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade (REVIEW), Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 (REVIEW), and music of Debussy and Ravel (REVIEW). Many of these are detailed but stodgy performances—best of all is the Debussy/Ravel collection.

More than a half-century ago when I first moved to Baltimore from Chicago, I shopped at a record store in downtown Baltimore. The owner was a very friendly, knowledgeable gentleman named Ben Glass. He obviously loved classical music, and used to talk with me about recordings and hold copies of new releases for me, including early Epic mono LPs of Eduard van Beinum/Concertgebouw recordings. Ben Glass soon moved his store away from the downtown area into a location where he had more room, and for years his shop was a haven for collectors. I didn't know until many years later that he had a son, Philip, who would become a leading composer of the avant-garde. The first music of Philip I heard was the 1978 recording of Einstein on the Beach. I didn't like it then, and I still don't. Nor have I any interest in most of his music since then, although I can appreciate the physical impact of his stage works with their constant repetition of ideas. If you'd like to know more about Philip Glass, investigate this Scott Hicks film, a documentary to celebrate the composer's 70th birthday in 2007. There are many behind the scenes interviews and features, along with audio commentary by the director. A fine production, for those interested.

I found Larry Weinstein's Toscanini film of little interest. It is based on about 150 hours of conversation in the conductor's home with Toscanini unaware this was being done. Weinstein has developed this into a series of home family scenes with actors playing the parts of Toscanini's children, Walter and Wally, conductor Wilfred Pelletier, Iris Cantelli and Anita Colombo who was a colleague of the conductor at LaScala. Barry Jackson does a reasonable job of impersonating Toscanini, but the others are awkward, the conversation stilted and artificial. Interspersed with this we have various scenes from films made during the conductor's career showing him rehearsing, in concert, and his funeral procession.

R.E.B. (November 2009)