Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, died this morning at the age of 80. He had been ill for several years, yet continued working until a couple of months ago. He was a greatly loved figure, with a big heart and gentle approach. He often conducted from memory, remarking that the use of a score signified that he hadn’t studied the work enough. His last concerts were in late August 2013 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which he founded, conducting Schubert and Bruckner.
He was the musical director of Milan’s opera house, La Scala, the same city where he was born, and where he received his formal education at the Milan Conservatoire. He was also the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Vienna State Opera, and principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra.
Abbado’s début was at Teatro alla Scala in 1960, and just eight years later he became the theatre’s musical director, a post he retained for eighteen memorable years. He formed the Filarmonica della Scala in 1982, allowing the orchestra to emerge from the pit and perform the symphonic repertoire. Abbado was a champion for contemporary music and introduced much into the theatre’s programming.
In 1971 he became the principal conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, and for five years from 1986 he was the music director of the Vienna State Opera.
From 1979 to 1988 he was the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, and from 1982 to 1986 he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but it was with the Berlin Philharmonic that he made the most impact when he took over from Herbert von Karajan in 1989. He remained with the orchestra until 2002.
Awards and honours received by Abbado include two Grammy awards and four honorary doctorates, and in April 2012, he was voted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame.
After stomach cancer struck him down in 2000, the successful removal of a section of his digestive system allowed him to continue working, and the painfully thin maestro returned to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in 2004. In 2007 he announced that he was cancelling all of his conducting engagements, yet just two months later he once again resumed his career.
Abbado was appointed senator for life in Italy last year, and he donated his salary for scholarships for young musicians.