The great and revered Italian conductor Cllaudio Abbado has just passed away at the age of 80 in his home in Bologna,Italy . It's difficult to believe that such a force of nature , a conductor so filled with energy and enthusiasm , is no more . But he had been struggling with the effects of stomach cancer for some years , while managing to continue conducting , and his appearance had become more gaunt with age .
Many great conductors have been feared by the musicians who played under them ; they were strict disciplinarians who were respected but dreaded . Toscanini, Szell, Reiner , for example . But Claudio Abbado was universally loved by the world's greatest orchestras which he conducted for decades ; the Berlin Philharmonic, the London symphony , the Vienna Philharmonic, the Chicago symphony , to name only those most closely associated with him , not to mention the orchestras of such great opera companies of the great La Scala opera house in his native Milan and others .
Abbado was the gentle giant of the podium ; never bossy, overbearing and imperious , he won the respect of orchestral musicians everywhere with his exceptional musiciaship and quiet authority . He was equally admired by the world's greatest opera singers , with whom he regularly worked , and the most renowned violinists , pianists and other solo instrumentalists .
Claudio Abbado was chosen by the musicians of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic to succede the legendary Herbert von Karajan as their chief conductor in 1989 shortly after the older maestro died that year , and also been principal conductor of the London symphony orchestra , the music director of La Scala Milan and the Vienna State opera . He also served as principal guest conductor of the Chicago symphony orchestra during the 1980s .
As a budding young conductor in the early 1960s he was an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein ,and guest conducted such great American orchestras as the Boston symphony , Philadelphia and Cleveland on occaision, although his main base was Europe .
Later in life, he founded several special more or less ad hoc orchestras such as the Lucerne Festival orchestra , a deluxe, hand-picked festival orchestra chosen from the greatest orchestras of Europe , and the Mozart orchestra of Bologna , as well as the All-European youth orchestra , drawn from the most talented young aspiring musicians of the continent .
Abbado was at home in a wide rnge of orchestral and operatic repertoire , ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to the most important composers of the present day . In opera , he was especially renowned for his interpretations of Verdi and Rossini Mozart, but also conduted operas by Wagner, Alban Berg, Mussorgsky , Debussy and Richard Strauss .
He was a staunch champion of such leading Italian contemporary composers as Luigi Nono and others , as well as the music of other avant-garde European composers as Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen .
Abbado made numerous recordings , mostly for Deutsche Grammaphon , but also for Sony Classical and Decca of a wide variety of works ,and many have become classics , such as his La Scala recordings of operas by Verdi ,including Don Carlos , Aida , Simon Boccanegra, Macbeth and Un Ballo in Maschera . Classic Rossini opera recordings include Il Barbiere Di Siviglia , La Cenerentola (Cinderella ), and Il Viaaggio Reims .
There are also recordings of Bizet's Carmen, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, Wagner's Lohengrin , Debussy's Pelleas& Melisande , and Berg's Wozzeck .
Abbado recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies twice, with the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, and the complete symphonies of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms , Mahler, and Tchaikovsky . There are also recordings of numerous works by Prokofiev, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Berlioz , Bruckner Debussy etc . Numerous live performances of operas and concerts by the maestro are available on DVD .
Few conductors have been so universally loved and admired as Claudio Abbado , by both audiences musicians and singers . And few have been less egotistical and imperious . He will be universally missed , but leaves a great and priceless legacy of great achievements .
Recently, a friend of mine and his wife went to see their first opera , at a not too shabby a venue - the Metropolitan opera . He's a psychologist based in Manhattan and a Jazz buff . But lately, I've been able to increase his interest in classical music and opera , and when he asked me if he and his wife should try a performance at the Met, I said of course , as you might expect from me .
The opera he chose, with my recommendation , was the new Met production of Tchaikovsky's poignant "Eugene Onegin", based on a lengthy verse poem by the great early 19th century writer Alexander Pushkin . It's the story of a bored and cynical Russiian playboy who by chance meets a naive and vulnerable young woman who falls hopelessly in love with him ,only to be rejected because he has no interest in settling down as a married man . Several years later , he meets her again at a ball in St. Petersburg, where she is now the wife of a much older Russian general . He now realizes that he loves her, but is crushed by her rejection of him now that she is a married woman, even though she still feels love for him .
It's a richly romantic opera with plenty of Tchaikovsky's souldful and haunting melodies . Not a bad choice . My friend asked me about what to wear , and I explained that there is no dress code, and the only time that some people dress formally there is on the opening night of the season, which is a gala occaision .
That's right . If you've never been to an opera performance , those scenes in old movies at the opera with everybody dressed in Tuxedos and gowns are nothing like the real experience of going to the opera today . People don't go there to show off their fancy clothes ; they're there to see and hear an opera . A lot of these people are opera fans - just the same way some people are baseball fans , or of football or basketball . Some will always be opera newbies or people who just attend once in a while . There may be some wealthy people in the audience , usually in the expensive boxes , but they too may be big opera fans . There's absolutely nothing stuffy about the opera experience , whatever it may be like .
Opera fans discuss the performances just as hearedly as sports fans . But unlike sports, there are no clearcut wnners or losers . They disagree very often . But ultimately, EVERYBODY there is a winner , whether the cast or the audience .
I also explained that although the opera was sung in Russian by a mostly Russian cast of singers , and the conductor was also Russian, the Met has a system whereby you can see an English translation of whatever opera is being performed on the back of the seat in front of you , and this certainly helped to enhance their enjoyment of the opera .
Many other opera houses use supertitiles, whereby a translation is projected onto the stage . But thew Met stage is so enormous that it's impossible to project a translation so that everyone can see it, hence the ingenious so-called "Met Titles ".
So if you've never had the pleasure of attending an opera performance at any of the who knows how many which exist all over the globe, don't hesitate yourself ! Would my friend and his wife like to go to more Met performances ? The answer was a definite yes !