What terribly sad news to wake up to: today Claudio Abbado died at his home in Bologna. He was 80. This should be a front-page news story instead of just a link on the New York Times homepage.
Michael Haefliger, the director of the Lucerne Festival, pays homage to the musician who was a central musical pillar of the festival. The Maestro gave his final concerts leading the elite Lucerne Festival Orchestra, one of the ensembles he was acclaimed for founding:
“Wanderer, there are no paths. There is only wandering.” This quotation, which Claudio Abbado’s long-time friend, the Italian composer Luigi Nono, discovered on the wall of a monastery in Toledo, might also serve as an emblem for the life of Claudio Abbado: not to map out one’s life according to certain paths but rather to proceed, to live, and to remain open to experiencing what is new. In other words, a pathless wandering and searching. In just this sense Claudio Abbado always “pathlessly” sought out the new and unknown in his creative work, and he did so right up until the last second of his very full and fascinating life.
Allan Kozinn describes his self-effacing tendencies:
Mr. Abbado was also known for his disdain for the trappings of a modern, media-driven conducting career. As communicative as his podium manner was, through much of his career he seemed slightly awkward coming on and off the stage. Explaining this in a 1973 interview, he likened himself to the conductor Hans Knappertsbusch, whose habit was to refuse curtain calls.
“I used to be somewhat like that,” he said. “Now I take the time to be polite. Look, I like the reaction of the audience. I’m not sincere if I don’t say that, but it still embarrasses me to take bows. I’m not a showman. I hate all that.”
It was a point of pride for him that he never actively sought the music directorship of any orchestra. But directorships came his way anyway.
The Lucerne project was the zenith of a life in music that had as its essential credo a word that you don’t always associate with conductors, those supposed tyrants of the podium: “listen”… The message of listening was about encouraging every player in the huge ensemble needed to play Mahler’s symphonies to listen to one another, to know the score as well as he did. Their performances of all but the 8th, which Abbado didn’t have the chance to play in Lucerne, are the most revelatory and moving Mahler performances of recent decades – arguably ever.
[W]ith those musicians in Lucerne, Abbado was able to lift the veil on some other realm of experience, to put us in touch with a larger mystery even than the notes the orchestra was playing.
[His final Lucerne concert] was a communion between Abbado and his players of devastating intimacy and astonishing emotional bravery, which asked the most profound questions about what the musical experience, and even what life might be about, with its beginnings and unfinished endings, its questions and unfilled answers, its sounds and its silences. Abbado’s concerts weren’t mere performances of pieces of music, they were searing, transformative existential journeys. That they have come to an end is an unimaginable loss.