Claudio Abbado, the great Italian conductor, has passed away today at age eighty in Bologna, Italy. Click the link for an article, as well as audio from his last few concerts.
Maestro Abbado was known across the world for his work not only as a great conductor, but also as a pedagogue, founding several European training orchestras. The most famous of them is probably the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. My personal opinion is that there is no higher level of musicianship, than when you make the person next to you feel comfortable to make music to the greatest of his or her ability. This is something that the players of the Berlin Philharmonic apparently sense in Abbado, whom they were directed by from 1989 to 2002. In spite of his impressive resume, he doesn’t appear to be what you’d consider to be a tyrant on the podium.
He brought energy and enthusiasm to the podium every time he took the stage, as evidenced by this clip of the ending of the Mozart Requiem last year. The astounding thing in this clip isn’t his silence. It’s the silence of the audience. I’ve played so many performances where the last note isn’t even finished sounding before the audience begins to applaud. While it’s great for the audience to be engaged, some music calls for a response other than applause. Here Maestro Abbado doesn’t even appear to be demanding silence from the audience – he isn’t holding his hands up, or giving any indication to the audience one way or another. But the incredible respect that he generates speaks for itself.
The world has lost a fantastic conductor, and by all accounts, a wonderful human being. Remember him while listening to this late, great account of Stravinsky’s Firebird