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Claudio Abbado (1933-2014)

Evelyn Hofer

Claudio Abbado made his debut in 1960 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where he was music director from 1968 to 1986. He was music director of the Vienna State Opera from 1986 to 1991 and was appointed Generalmusikdirektor of the City of Vienna in 1987.

In 1988, he founded the Festival WIEN MODERN, a commitment to contemporary music which was extended to other branches of the arts over the years. Within its context, an international competition of young composers is being held since 1991.

He conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time in 1966 and was finally elected the principal conductor and artistic director of the orchestra in 1989. In 1994, Claudio Abbado was appointed the artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival. In this position, he added a contemporary chamber music cycle, a composition award and a literary award to the cycles of opera productions and symphony concerts.

Claudio Abbado has always been an avid supporter of young talent. In 1978, he founded the European Community Youth Orchestra, in 1981 the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and in 1986 the GUSTAV MAHLER JUGENDORCHESTER, which unites musicians from all over Europe, and from which the Mahler Chamber Orchestra subsequently evolved.

In 2003, Claudio Abbado was the driving force in the foundation of the new orchestra for the Lucerne Festival – which had originally been founded as a music cycle expressly for Arturo Toscanini before the war – and led the first concert cycle of this orchestra in August 2003. The backbone of the orchestra is the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. In addition, members of the Berlin and the Vienna Philharmonic, internationally renowned soloists and musicians of the Sabine Meyer Ensemble, the Hagen Quartet and of the Alban Berg Quartet are part of the orchestra.

The Orchestra Mozart was launched in Bologna in 2004, with Claudio Abbado acting as the artistic and music director. In November 2004, the Kythera Culture Foundation awarded him the Premio Krythera in Bologna which he used for scholarships for two young musicians of his orchestra.

In January 2005 Abbado began to work with the Simón Bolívar Orchestra in Caracas and Havana. This youth orchestra forms part of the gigantic initiative in which José Antonio Abreu has been active for the past thirty years. The project involves 250,000 (!) young musicians, many of whom come from slums or poor neighbourhoods, and who have been offered a chance to escape a poverty-stricken existence, to play instruments and to receive a good education.

Among the recordings of Claudio Abbado, many of which have received international awards, are the complete symphonies by Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Ravel and Prokofiev, as well as operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Wagner. In 2000, the complete edition of Beethoven’s symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic was released; it was equally celebrated as the cycle of live recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies and piano concertos from the year 2001, which was also released on DVD. In December 2004 Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9 with the GUSTAV MAHLER JUGENDORCHESTER, conducted by Claudio Abbado, was released on DVD, in July 2009 Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 4 (with Juliane Banse) and Schoenbergs’s Pelleas und Melisande.

His recordings have received illustrious awards, such as the International Grammy Award, the Grand Prix International du Disque, Diapason d’or, Record Grammy Prize, Stella d’oro, Orphée d’or and the Grand Prix de la Nouvelle Académie.

Claudio Abbado has received several awards; among them the Freud-Price, the Gold Medal of the International Gustav Mahler Society, the Nicolai Medal in Gold of the Vienna Philharmonic (1980), the Mozart Medal, the Mahler Medal, the Schubert Medal, the Honorary Ring of the City of Vienna, and the Premio Nonino (1999).

The Republic of Italy awarded him the Gran Croce Ordine al Merito and the Medaglia d’oro ai Benemeriti della cultura e dell’arte. He received the French Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur as well as the Great Golden Honorary Medal of the Republic of Austria. In Germany, he received the Ernst von Siemens Music Award and was elected conductor of the year in 2001. Claudio Abbado received the Würth Award of Jeunesses Musicales and the Critics Award of the Association of German Critics (2002). In the same year, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany commended him for the high value of his artistic achievements in Berlin with the highest award of the Federal Republic of Germany: the Great Cross with Star of the Order of Merit. In 2004, he received the Ernst Reuter Medal of the City of Berlin. In 2003, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society. He was elected Praemium Imperiale Laureate of the Japan Art Association and received the award of Italian music critics, “Franco Abbiati”. In 2006, Claudio Abbado received the Yehudi Menuhin Award in Spain. He has received honorary doctorates from the universities of Cambridge, Aberdeen, Ferrara and Basilicata.

Claudio Abbado died in Bologna on 20 January 2014.

Photo: Evelyn Hofer
Biography: Orchestra Mozart



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