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January 2014 - Posts

R.I. P. Claudio Abbado , The Gentle Giant Of The Podium

   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 .


Posted: Jan 20 2014, 10:18 PM by the horn | with no comments
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So You're Going To The Opera For The First Time . . . .

  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 !


Posted: Jan 08 2014, 11:01 PM by the horn | with no comments
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