January 20 was a marked day of sadness to the musical world, as it lost one of its Italian greats to a lengthy battle with terminal illness. Claudio Abbado was revered throughout the international music community as one of the best conductors to have ever lived. He was remembered in a tribute concert of Beethoven’s Funeral March, played to an empty theater, last night in Milan’s La Scala.
Born in Milan in 1933 to musical parents (his father was his first piano teacher in addition to being a violinist and composer), Abbado’s childhood revolved around notes and scores and when here was merely 16, he began studying conducting at the Milan Conservatory. At the young age of 22, Abbado studied under Hans Swarowsky at the Vienna Academy of Music and won the Serge Koussevitsky Competition for Conductors at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1958, which set him front and center on the international stage and propelled him into a lifetime of musical success.
In the following years, Abbado conducted at La Scala, the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Berlin Philharmonic (he spoke German almost as well as he spoke Italian). Abbado’s genius stemmed from his ability to get in the minds of the composers of the pieces, feel their intention, and then put his own passion and instinct on the piece to make it uniquely his. He possessed what some might name a stereotypical German diligence and attention to ordered detail as well as the unique Italian emotional instinct. The below video depicting his take on Beethoven offers a small insight into Abbado’s musical genius:
With the death of this great conductor, who was named an Italian senator for life last year, hit especially hard at Teatro alla Scala, Abbado’s “home” theater. Their beloved maestro made his debut in 1965 at this famed theater and served as Music Director for 18 years, from 1968 to 1986,. During this time, Abbado also made his mark by pushing to make the music more accessible to the working class and also promoting contemporary opera by weaving one per year into the classic theater’s schedule.
Last night La Scala paid tribute to Abbado with a Abbado per sempre, or “Abbado Forever,” a concert played to an empty hall while crowds of admirers solemnly gathered in the piazza outside the theater to pay their last respects. The powerful event was broadcasted live, and left world of those who live in notes, tones, and sounds, in silence.
La Scala’s tribute to Claudio Abbado