Cultural Italy Blog: Art, Coffee & Love

Claudio Abbado, Conductor, dies at 80

Claudio Abbado is one of those many artists Italy is also known for and proud of. This great conductor – perhaps the greatest in Italy after Toscanini – was born in Milan in 1933 from an educated middle class  family. The father was a talented violinist who guided his two children to the strict, but at the same time free and playful, study of the seven notes.

He graduated in Orchestral Conducting at the Conservatory of Milan. Only three years later came the first recognition, which took him to the United States with the New York Philharmonic: ever since his professional ascent never stopped. Abbado debuts at the Theater La Scala in 1968, where he remains as Director until 1986. At that time, the choice of this young man (he was not even 35 years old) and little-known as the director, was considered surprising – especially if we consider that in those years La Scala seemed to have lost international consideration and his environment was considered to be turbulent and so unreliable to the point that the theater had not had an artistic director since 1956, when the last Director Giulini resigned.

For Abbado’s career and for the history of the theatre a revolution unfolds. He was criticized for its revolutionary ideas, which led him to greatly expand the Repertoire and perform almost forgotten authors such as Alban Berg, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, previously rarely performed. In 1972 he contributed to the creation of concerts for students and workers in order to strip the Opera of its elitist label. His career continued as the conductor of the world’s most famous orchestras: the Vienna Philharmonic 1971, the London Symphony Orchestra (1979-1987), the Vienna State Opera (1986-1991) and the Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra (1989-2002).

What distinguished Maestro Abbado from other talented artists was his open approach, free of complexes and in contrast with the painful image often associated with most classical musicians. In the years of maturity, Maestro Abbado wrote pleasant illustrated books, for the purpose of introducing small children and inquisitive adults to the magical world of sounds. He has said: “I followed a path made of study and experience, cross contaminated by the different civilizations in which I lived and worked. I finally realized that I am very lucky. Not only because of the beautiful things I’ve received: the music, my children, the love for life. But also because the surgery I underwent forced me to slow down and clearly showed me what is important”.

Claudio Abbado died in Bologna on January 20th 2014.

Nicoletta Lucia Paganucci