Claudio Abbado has died at the age of 80, following a 14-year battle with cancer. His family has reported that the man known to many as the “world’s most powerful conductor” passed peacefully surrounded by family at his home in Italy.
Abbado was the principal conductor at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) for nine years and also led the Vienna State Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic. Although there is a long list of Abbado’s impressive credits and achievements, his occupancy with La Scala could be his greatest. La Scala is widely considered to feature the world’s best and most prestigious orchestra. Abbado was at the helm of this group for 20 years, beginning in 1968.
Abbado’s life story is a fascinating tale. He was born in Italy in 1933, the son of a violinist and a pianist. Abbado was seemingly born with music fused into his genes. After hearing a concert at La Scala at the age of eight, Abbado decided that he would one day be a conductor. Prior to his death he became known in some circles as the world’s most powerful conductor, and in that way he was a role model for children who believe that they can become anything they wish as they grow older.
Musical talent and achievement seem to be an Abbado family legacy. Abbado’s brother, Marcello Abbado, was a pianist and composer. Marcello’s son, Roberto Abbado, is a professional conductor. Abbado has passed down his own talent to his son Daniele Abbado , an accomplished opera director.
Abbado was also known as an advocate for poor and young musicians throughout his life. He believed in fostering the talents of anyone who had a genuine love for music, no matter what walk of life they came from. Abbado always stood strong in his musical beliefs as well. Even when conservative concert-goers walked out of his productions where he introduced avant-garde composers. Avant-garde music is that which is considered “experimental” or “innovative” and is often thought to be difficult to enjoy for those with a more traditional musical palate. His dedication to young and innovative musicians spurned Abbado’s desire to create the Mahler Youth Orchestra and serve as musical director for the European Union Youth Orchestra.
Last year, Abbado was honored with an appointment as a senator for life in Italy. At any given time there are only allowed five senators for life in the country. They are appointed by the Italian President for “outstanding patriotic merits in social, scientific, artistic, or literary fields.”
Among Abbado’s other awards for his achievements in music are the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award, mulitple Grammy Awards, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Koussevitzky Prize, and a Mitropoulos Prize, as well as many others. In honor of Abbado’s 80th birthday, a compilation of Orchestra Mozart and an astounding 41-CD symphony box set was created.
Abbado was undoubtedly a talented conductor and musician, believed by some to have been the world’s most powerful, but he will also be remembered following his death as a youth advocate and founder of many inspirational organizations. The story of his life and career also has great potential to be turned into a dramatic biographical movie sometime in the future.
By Annie Root-McIntosh