November 28, 2014

New documentary 'Karajan's Magic and Myth' to premiere on BBC Four

The first ever film made for BBC Television about this larger-than-life maestro airs 5 December.

Twenty-five years after his death in July 1989, the controversial Austrian conductor, Herbert von Karajan, remains an enigma. He remains the best-selling artist in the history of recorded classical music. Many of these recordings – of Italian opera, of Wagner and Richard Strauss, of Sibelius, Beethoven and Brahms – are treasured by music-lovers around the world.

This musical profile for BBC Four, written and directed by John Bridcut, captures Karajan at work in rehearsal, exploring the method of his music-making during his post-war years with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, and his long reign as supremo of the Berlin Philharmonic, which in the end went sour.

Karajan was famous not only for his music, but his glittering off-duty moments on the ski slopes, piloting his own jet, sailing his yacht, and driving top-of-the-range fast cars. Yet, at the same time, he was a solitary man with few real friends, who drew his strength from long walks in the Austrian mountains.

In this feature-length profile, the first ever made about Karajan for BBC Television, the musicians who worked with Karajan explain what made him special. The flautist Sir James Galway talks about Karajan's "magic and allure"; conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (who in his youth played the cello for Karajan in Vienna) describes the "unique radiation" he had, which nobody could explain; the conductor Sir Neville Marriner (who was a member of the Philharmonia's violin section) says Karajan's contribution to British orchestral life was "immeasurable". 

The film also features interviews with orchestral musicians of the Philharmonia, Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras, with Karajan's secretary, with his recording producers, with the singers Placido Domingo and Jessye Norman, and the conductors Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder.

In a major undertaking marking the 25th anniversary of his death, Warner Classics remastered Karajan's complete EMI orchestral recordings from 1946-84, across 13 collectors' boxed sets totalling 100 discs.

Karajan's Magic and Myth premieres on BBC Four on Friday, 5 December, 7.30pm.