Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Claudio Abbado - A Legacy for Future Generations

I consider myself lucky to have been to several of Claudio Abbado’s concerts.  I never had the chance to meet him but he had the air of a modest and gentle person and, although he was a public figure, he valued his privacy.  In his later years, after treatment for cancer, he was a rather slight presence on the podium and not at all conventionally charismatic and outgoing like Bernstein or (dare I say it) Karajan but, when conducting and with his supreme ability to convey what he wanted to his players, he didn't need any of the mannerisms of the great conductors of earlier generations. 

He earned the appreciation of music lovers worldwide with his empathy with Mahler’s compositions. His generosity of spirit and his sensitivity in interpreting their many twists and turns, as well as his supreme musicianship, created unforgettable performances. Even music critics were bowled over by his later concerts with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Fortunately, recordings of these are available on DVD and Blu-Ray. 

He may have been sparing with his public pronouncements, but whilst conducting he was very generous with his emotions.  It was his ability to explore and communicate the emotional content of musical compositions that set him above many others of his generation and made him loved by the public and admired by the professionals. 

As he said in an interview for Medici TV, Hearing the Silence. 

"In the last few years I have realized one thing very clearly: The more you give, the more you get in return. This is as true of music as of anything else".

Although his global reputation allowed him to conduct the major American orchestras, he worked most extensively with the best European orchestras and he was able to build long term relationships with them so that they knew exactly what he wanted.  He also created youth orchestras such as the European Community Youth Orchestra and the Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchester and took them on tour.

He valued silence before and after performing a piece.  In 1994 I saw him keep the entire Albert Hall silent for more than twenty seconds at the end of Mahler’s 9th Symphony.   It felt like twenty minutes and was followed by a standing ovation.

But it wasn't just Mahler that inspired him and he could bring his creative intensity to even the most well known pieces.

I was very sad to hear that he had passed away on 20th January 2014, and I’m sorry that I’ll never have a chance to see him performing again, but he has left us a legacy of recordings and videos which will set the standard for interpreters of the late romantic repertoire for decades.

See also 
Mahler - A Trancendental Experience 
Two Reviews of Gustavo Dudamel's Mahler 9th


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