This day marks a year since the death of Claudio Abbado, one of the world’s most prominent conductors. His name is one of the giants in classical music and his work extends far beyond the conductor’s podium into the core of music. Abbado’s vast legacy consists of the extraordinarily large number of recordings he has made, the generations of musicians he has encouraged, the orchestras he has founded and the festivals he has established.
He gave life to countless musical masterpieces, with a particular enthusiasm for Mahler, Debussy, Schubert, Mussorgsky, Verdi and Stockhausen and his time spent with world-class orchestras shaped his career, such as the Teatro alla Scala in his native Milan, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Abbado was born into a musical family in Milan in 1933, where he studied piano, composition and conducting, before completing a postgraduate conducting course in Vienna with Hans Swarovsky in the 1950s. Soon after winning the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Koussevistsky Prize, he made his conducting debut with the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. He went on to win other prizes and worked as assistant to Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic. Soon after, he was invited by Herbert von Karajan to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival.
Abbado was part of some ground-breaking initiatives during his tenure at La Scala from the mid-1960s to the mid-80s: the repertoire was extended to contemporary works, such as works by Stockhausen, commissioned by La Scala, and famous guest conductors were frequently invited to conduct there, opening up Milan as a hive of musical activity. Abbado oversaw the introduction of a new scholarly approach to the music as well as making the performances less exclusively elite and more accessible to students. From 1989 until 2002, Abbado was the chief conductor and artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic, succeeding Karajan. Abbado widely conducted the orchestras that he himself had created, such as the European Union Youth Orchestra, Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the Orchestra Mozart.
His stamp on the musical world was in mammoth proportions and he will forever be remembered as one of the world’s finest masters of his art.
Rachel Deloughry Photo: University Musical Society