Music lovers in America woke up Monday morning to the news that the great Italian conductor Claudio Abbado had passed during the night. The beloved maestro died in his home in Bologna at the age of eighty. Soon after the news broke, the Berlin Philharmonic, of which he was the principle conductor for thirteen years, posted its own reaction to the news, saying, “We mourn the passing of an extraordinary musician and human being.”
Abbado’s stint with the Berlin Philharmonic began in 1989, when the orchestra chose him to succeed to the podium after Herbert von Karajan. Abbado brought a youthful vigor to the Philharmonic, instituting themed concert cycles and putting a spotlight on contemporary works.
The maestro’s work was by no means limited to Berlin. He also served as musical director for both the Vienna State Opera and La Scala, and here in the States he was a principle guest conductor for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He also founded two youth orchestras in Europe, and worked to foster the musical growth and education of young people throughout his career.
Abbado is perhaps best known for his personality and approach to the music. He was meticulous, and he did a great deal of research and score study. He was known for conducting from memory, and he has one of the most expansive discographies of any conductor of classical music. His manner and dedication made him one of the most respected conductors of our time. You can see a bit of one of his rehearsals and hear what some of the orchestra members had to say about him in this video:
Due to illness, Abbado stepped down from his post at the Berlin Philharmonic in 2002, and he was succeeded by Sir Simon Rattle. Though his shoes in Berlin have been filled, the music world will be hard-pressed to find another individual who will work as tirelessly in support of contemporary music and the musical education of young people.
You can see part of a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony led by Abbado here:
(Feature photo courtesy of University Musical Society under Creative Commons-Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)