Romanian-born conductor Sergiu Celibidache spent his early life in Jasí, capital of Moldavia, and in 1936 commenced music studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. At age 33, after winning a conducting competition organized by Berlin Radio, he became conductor of the reconstituted postwar Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and toured with it to the British and American sectors of occupied Germany. In 1952 he shared the podium with the exiled Furtwängler, the Berlin Philharmonic's general music director, on a tour of the United States. Later that year when Furtwängler was cleared of allegations of being a Nazi sympathizer and he returned to Germany, Celibidache's appointment with the Berlin PO was terminated.
Thereafter, the larger part of his career was with the radio orchestras of Stockholm (1964-1971), Stuttgart (1971-1977), and Paris (1973-1975). From 1979 until his death, he was music director of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and general music director of the City of Munich. Between 1983 and 1984, he conducted the student orchestra at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
When a music student in Berlin, Celibidache also attended Berlin University where he studied philosophy and formed the Buddhist beliefs he retained throughout his life. He preferred the immediacy of a live performance rather than recordings and, according to his son, felt that recordings prevented the listener's spontaneous involvement with the music and gave a distorted representation of reality. Thus, though widely admired as an outstanding conductor, many of Celibidache's recordings were unauthorized, and some were of poor sound quality. It was not until after his death that, with the cooperation of his family, EMI Classics and Deutsche Grammophon released a substantial number of recordings, mainly of broadcast performances with the Stuttgart and Munich orchestras, but also with the Mannheim Philharmonic and London Philharmonic Orchestra. The repertoire is almost entirely Romantic and post-Romantic, including Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Tchaikowsky, Respighi, and Berlioz.
It is perhaps ironic that Celibidache should have received his widest exposure through a medium he did not approve. Yet his intense, finely balanced and deeply felt interpretations made him one of the greatest names in twentieth century orchestral conducting. Above all, he was a superb technician. Celibidache could not have asked for a better memorial than the current library of recordings, especially those in The Celibidache Edition, which includes lengthy rehearsal recordings (one lasts for 45 minutes, complete with English translations). Deutsche Grammophon's selection is mainly from earlier recordings made with the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra. Proceeds from both labels are given to the Celibidache Foundation for the encouragement of young musicians and a humanitarian organization he set up to assist needy people in Tibet, Romania, and other parts of the world. His own compositions include four symphonies, a piano concerto, and an orchestral suite which he recorded for UNICEF with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra.