Star-conductor Claudio Abbado succumbs to cancer

Posted: January 20, 2014 in Music

Here’s a brief summary of a bulletin I came across in German media:

He was a successor of Herbert von Karajan and had been ill for a long time.  Now the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado has died in Bologna.

The great Italian conductor Claudio Abbado is dead.  Abbado died on Monday in Bologna at the age of 80, as reported in multiple reports from Italian media.  The president of the Abbado fan club, Attila Giuliani, confirmed she had heard it personally from Abbado’s doctor.  He had been sick for a long time.  Abbado was among the most famous conductors in the world and led the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as other orchestras.

The Milan native, son of a violinist and a piano teacher, had worked with the Berlin Philharmonic for the first time in his career in 1966 and two years later opened the opera season at La Scala in Milan.

In October of 1989, Abbado was chosen by the Berlin Philharmonic as the successor of Herbert von Karajan, and five years later was also named as leader of the Salzburg Festival.  In 2002 he ended his term in Berlin and later went to Italy.

Abbado left a deep mark on Berlin.  Visibly suffering from cancer, he returned to the city every year for a concert with the Philharmonic and was warmly welcomed by the audience.

Friend of Contemporary Music

Nonetheless, after his inauguration Berliners initially had to adjust to the Italian, who began with a new style:   ambitious theme cycles and allusions to literature and film, which triggered resistance from musicians as well as listeners.  Abbado had already dedicated himself to contemporary music very early in his career, a commitment that he also viewed as political.  He gave the premieres of a few of the most important works of Italian composer Luigi Nono, and with the pianist Maurizio Pollini he organized concerts for workers and students in the northern Italian region around Reggio Emilia.

Even in Vienna, where he was General Music Director of the State Opera before his time in Berlin, Abbado had to listen to the accusation that he preferred “the difficult and the rare.”  Critics in Berlin also asked whether the model orchestra was losing its characteristic sound.  But performances like Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” or Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” remained in memory as highly-vaunted “miracles of sound.”


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