Three Days after he conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Kennedy Center on May 6, Carlo Maria Giulini will celebrate his 65th birthday. (He will be conducting the orchestra that evening in Chicago's famed Auditorium Theatre.)

Giulini looks as if he just stepped out of a glamorous Zeffirelli film. His figure is trim, his bearing svelte. Tonight he conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Kennedy Center, and those who see him on the podium may marvel to learn that he is nearly 65.

Ask Giulini how he got started conducting, and out comes of nearly 35 years in the field, in which most recently he has moved from the post of principal guest conductor, with Sir George Solti, of the Chicago Symphony, whose players wept when he left, to that of music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, whose musicians VIRTUOSO, From N1> cannot believe their great good fortune.

"Officially, you see, I was in the war," he began, looking back to the months in 1944 when the Allied armies were working their way up the Italian peninsula. "After the war I was in the middle of this very difficult, and I can say the word 'tragic,' problem of Italy between the Germans and the Fascists. Everybody had to make strong decisions then. This was a live danger of course."

A reflective look came into his eyes as he remebered those days - and the long period in which he was forced into hiding in Rome.

"I came from a family which was not very very Fascist, I may say. And myself the same thing. And so, I took my position. And I did not see the light of day for nine months. Nine months."

It was with a grim note in his voice that Giulini went on: "A collogue of mine when I was an officer was the head of a kind of commando, a Fascist group. He had told me, 'Every officer that they find who is not with us will have process [trial]. But coolegue they will shoot in front of their relatives immediately, without process.'

"One day, the very day after the liberation, they telephoned my wife and said,'Where is your husband?' and she said,'I don't know. He is not here.'

"Then the concert manager said,'The Orchestra had to start again.' And they didn't know whom to ask to condcut, because the conductors that were there to had conducted during the occupation.

"Well, I had won the competition for conducting before all this , at the Academy of Santa Cecelia. So somebody at the Academy said,"But we had this Giulini."

"So they said again to my wife,'Can you tell us about your husband?'

"And then she answered,'He is here.'

"This was on a Wednesday and they said to me, 'Would you like to conduct the first concert after the liberation. . . on Saturday?'"

Giulini was seeing the light for the first time of nine months - and the first question was, nould he conduct?

"I said 'Yes,' and this was ny concert,. And so I started. Before this I had done things only with a small orchestra, so this is my first time."

What he was easked to conduct that first Saturday was the Brandenburg conceros.

"I had never conducted them. But I was told the people have a need to hear music , and I should conduct the Brandenburg Concertos. So I did. And I Felt afterwards that I should not have done them because I did not know them well enough."

Even Giulini says he has still not conducted much Bach, which brings us to the question of how the conductor goes about preparing himself himself and an orchestra - how he likes to rehearse, and how he prepares a work for the first time.

"I need not only time to prepare, but also for me the time must be right for me to conduct some great work that I have not conducted before. I have to feel it not only here [he lifted both arms] and here [pointing to his head], "but also here" [putting his hand over his heart]. And until I can feel it in my physical body, I cannot conduct it."

Asked if he did not now feel that he was at the point where he could conduct anything he wanted, Giulini gave an emphatic answer many younger conductors would never give: "Oh no!"

As for his rehearsal technique, does he want everything totally prepared, and then performed in without the slighest deviation, Or he like to leave some kind of leeway for the live performance? He paused for a long while, and finally said rather deliberately:

"That question goes to the heart of my feeling about music. In rehearsals I do not like to make everything absolute and final. On the day of a performance, I like the rehearsal in the morning not too heavy, because the musicians must play in the concert that night. But I like to leave a kind of mysterious space - and then I know that in the performance something, an X quality, will come and fill the space. The orchestra and the conductor produce the music, but if all goes well, then there is response from the audience and that is a part of the filling up of this mysterious space."

How about a soloist? Does a particularly inspired soloist also contribute to that process? And could a less than adequate soloist make a great performance impossible?

"Well, I must say that I know almost always the soloist with whom I will be conducting when they are engaged. But - yes, a soloist could make a serious difference. Usually of course the soloist and I agree fundamentally about the way the music go. I think if you cannot agree with a soloist, then it is better not to perform together. But if you have rehearsed and then, by chance, the soloist should be somthing very different, you have a problem to keep together the entire orchestra, who did not expect this change."

Conductors and their techniques have always been so vastly different that it is important to know how why a Giulini acquired his ideas and habits.

"The only one thing I never studied," he began slowly,"is conducting. You see, the point is - can I be very sincere? - in my musical life, I was not one of this kind of talent for whom everything is easy. There are pianists who put their hands on the piano, they play well. When I was a violist, I had to work. When I started composition, I had to work: a fugue was a fugue; a counterpoint in eight parts was eight-part counterpoint. To study a score, I need time. So if you ask me, 'What do you do in conducting?' I do not know. Because I go to the orchestra and I play with them. What I do with my hands I don't know. I don't this technique. What is this technique? This is the only thing in my musical life I do not have to work on.

"I could not tell young conductors what to do differently if I heard them conduct. I could tell them, "What you are doing does not correspond with the result you get.' You see, I had a great privilege, to play with the greatest the greatest conductors secept Toscanini, who was at that time for political reasons in Mew York. I played with Hendemith, Stravinsky, with everybody.

"Can you imagine, for instance, two more different techniques than between Furtwangler and Bruno Walter? They're two different worlds. But the results were there! You could show a young conductor a film of Furtwangler conducting and say to him, 'Everything this man does is absolute wrong - the technique is absolutely terrible. But that 's Furtwangler! And the result was prodigiuous!

"To go to another side, I saw once Danny Kaye conduct. Everything he did was right. He did a lot of jokes, he conducted with a flute, everything he did was right."

"Another thing. . . " By now Giulini was full of the complex challenges of his world. "Often the person involved with music forgets one small thing: that the conductor is the only performer who produces the sound without the physical contact. You know, you make a movement, and through this physical contact, which comes of course from an inside feeling, you produce a kind of sound, more or less. But it's always through a physical contact.

"A conductor: why and how does he produce this sound he hears in his body? And why, when one orchestra is there that plays one piece with a conductor for five minutes, then after that comes another conductor, this same piece, and this orchestra sounds different? For that there is no answer. I should never say to a young conductor - I don't want to say that conductor's schools are wrong. But I have another idea. Different."

"I come from the tradition in Italy where most of the conductors come out of orchestra - Toscanini, Serafin - they were musicians, they think instruments.One thing in my opinion is absolutely fundamental, it is one point on which I insist very much with young conductors, it is to study very very seriously composition: fugue, composition. To write a score, to know with your hands what it means to write a counterpoint.

"Because the reading of the score is different when you have worked with your hands. You know what this means, why this note is here. If you write a score, you understand." CAPTION: Picture 1, Giulini, nearly 65 and looking like he just stepped out of a Zeffirelli film. By Chr. Steiner; Picture 2, "Until I feel it in my physical body, I cannot conduct it." AP