Friday, November 28, 2014

In Memoriam: Claudio Abbado (1933 - 2014)

No. 175 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast175- Playlist

To conclude our November series of tribute-montages, we now turn to Claudio Abbado. In a way,  this is our second tribute to the Italian maestro, if you count our earlier post on  Verdi's Requiem Mass.

Claudio Abbado is born in Milan (1933) into a family of musicians: his father was a violinist, his mother is a pianist and his brother Marcello will later lead the same Milan Conservatory where his father taught and where Claudio studied piano, composition and conducting after WWII and until 1955.

After Milan, Claudio leaves for Vienna to further study piano (with Friedrich Gulda) and conducting (with Hans Swarowsky). During these studies, he will befriend fellow students Martha Argerich and Zubin Mehta. He will even sing in the Viennese Singverein where he will have a great vantage point to study the conducting of the likes of Hermann Scherchen, Josef Krips, Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan.

In 1958, Abbado enters the Koussevitzky competition at Tanglewood and will win First Prize (over his friend Mehta). He returns to Italy briefly and, in order to kick start a career, chooses to enter a second American conducting competition, the Mitropoulos in New-York, where he will not only win in 1963, but get the opportunity to apprentice under Leonard Bernstein at the New-York Philharmonic. He and Seiji Ozawa will have the opportunity to be featured in Bernstein’s Young Artists concerts, getting instant attention.

Abbado cements his reputation and wins appointments in Europe - La Scala, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Staatsoper and in 1988, he is named Karajan’s successor at the Berlin Philharmonic, embarking in a major overhaul of the orchestra’s membership and programming. His fresh, laid-back approach wins him favour with many around the orchestra, and after 15 years as its Music Director, he announces his plans to step down. At that time, however, Abbado is struck with stomach cancer 0 which he will battle until his death this year. Although he returns frequently to conduct in Berlin, he devotes his energies to the Lucerne Festival and founds the Mozart Orchestra in Bologna.

Abbado’s repertoire – and discography – is quite impressive and diverse. He is at ease in classical and modern music, in concert pieces and operas. Our modest sampling today shows him conducting Tchaikovsky early (with the New Philharmonia) and late (with the Chicago Symphony) in his career. Also from his early days, we feature his stellar collaboration with Martha Argerich in their “reference” performance of Prokofiev’s third piano concerto.

I think you will love this music too.