The great Otto Klemperer was born in 1885 in a city long buffeted by the forces of history. Called Breslau, in the Kingdom of Prussia, it had also been part of Bohemia, Hungary, Austria, and Germany—and is known to us today as Wrocław, Poland. Like the city of his birth, Klemperer was subject and witness to great political upheaval, from the abhorrent Nazism he fled in 1933 to the paranoid McCarthyism that forced him out of his adopted United States in the 1950s.
Amid injury, illness, and artistic and personal disagreements, Klemperer brought a notoriously exacting vision to every work he conducted, demanding long rehearsals in pursuit of perfection. Largely averse to being recorded, he nonetheless granted documentarian Philo Bergstein on- and offstage access to make this one-of-a-kind film, featuring insightful commentary by Klemperer himself, plus friends, family and colleagues like Ernst Bloch and Pierre Boulez. The documentary, says Bregstein, is “more than the portrait of a great conductor. The film evokes the musical, cultural and political history of the twentieth century through an exceptional musician, who lived at the center of the events.”