Claudio Abbado: a career

Claudio Abbado was born on 26.6.1933 in Milan. His father, Michelangelo Abbado, was a violinist, founder of a string orchestra and teacher at the music conservatoire. His mother, Maria Carmela, née Savagnone, hailed from Sicily and was a pianist as well as a writer of children’s books. He was the third of four children: Marcello is a pianist and was later director of the Milan music conservatoire. Luciana played violin and worked for the Milan publishing company Ricordi. Only the youngest brother, Gabriele, became an architect.

Claudio received private piano tuition and played the organ on Sundays. When aged seven he was taken to La Scala and decided there and then that he would become a conductor.

The fifties

Claudio Abbado studied composition, piano and conducting until 1955 at the Milan conservatoire. His first experiences included conducting and playing with the Orchestra d’Archi di Milano, founded by his father. His connections with Vienna date from this time. After having obtained a scholarship he studied there from 1956 to1958 under the guidance of Hans Swarowsky. His fellow student was Zubin Mehta whom he had first met at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena in a class held by Carlo Zecchi. With Mehta he sang in the choir of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and was thus able to hear rehearsals by Bruno Walter, George Szell, Hermann Scherchen and Herbert von Karajan.
In 1958 he won the Koussevitzky competition in Tanglewood and received invitations to conduct American orchestras, but preferred to return to Europe.
He gave his début in 1959 in Trieste (to which he was to return to in 1962 for Prokofiev’s “Love of the Three Oranges”).

The sixties

In 1960 début at La Scala in a concert celebrating Scarlatti’s tercentenary (Piccola Scala). Between 1960 and 1963 Claudio Abbado taught chamber music at the conservatoire in Parma. After having won the Mitropoulos Competition in New York in 1963 he became Leonard Bernstein’s assistant for a year. He first appeared at the Salzburg Festival in 1965 conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the invitation of Herbert von Karajan (his début in Vienna followed two years later). In Salzburg he conducted Mahler’s 2nd symphony, which he had also performed in Milan that July.

Before this he had conducted in Milan the world première of Giacomo Manzoni’s “Atomtod”.

In 1966/67 Abbado led various productions of Bellini’s “I Capuleti e I Montecchi”, incl. one at the Expo ’67 in Montreal.

His début in Lucerne was in summer 1966 with a concert of the Swiss Festival Orchestra. It was followed in December 1966 by his début with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Also in 1966 he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra for the first time. In September he led them in two concerts at Edinburgh. This marked the beginning of a continuous relationship with this orchestra.

At the same time he started recording for DG and Decca, beginning a collaboration which lead to recordings of many great composers.

He inaugurated the Scala season for the first time on 7.12.1967 with Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” in a production directed by Giorgio De Lullo.


“I Capuleti e i Montecchi” were repeated in January 1968.
From 1968 to 1986, as musical director of the Teatro alla Scala, Abbado thoroughly broadened the repertoire to include classical works of the 20th century rarely played at the time: “Wozzeck” and “Lulu” by Berg, “The Rake’s Progress” and “Oedipus Rex” by Stravinsky, “Moses and Aron” as well as “Erwartung” by Schönberg, “The Miraculous Mandarin” by Bartok and contemporary operas such as Penderecki’s “Paradise Lost”, “Donnerstag aus Licht”, “Samstag aus Licht” and “Montag aus Licht” by Stockhausen, Luciano Berio’s “La vera storia” and Luigi Nono’s “Al gran sole carico d’amore”. Not every opera was conducted by Abbado himself.

In summer 1968 he conducted Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” in Salzburg, a town he remained particularly attached to, conducting there yearly. In the same summer he presented Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at Covent Garden, an opera he took up again in November at the Metropolitan in New York and returned to for the opening of La Scala.

In March 1969 at La Scala it was the turn of Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” (combined with Sophocles’ “Oedipus” and music by Gabrieli) as well as “Lucia di Lammermoor”, both directed by Giorgio De Lullo. In December the Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”, already shown at Salzburg, was presented at La Scala.

In April 1970 “Don Carlo” was taken up again.

In 1970/71 he worked and recorded with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

From 1971 onwards Abbado gave many concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic and as such was responsible for the broadening of the repertoire traditionally offered in the Austrian capital. He also went with them on many tours.

At La Scala in March 1971 he repeated “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” and later that month conducted “Wozzeck”, directed by Karel Jernek. At the Maggio Musicale in Florence as well as in Edinburgh in September he offered “Cenerentola” in a Ponnelle production. In Munich he conducted Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” (stage: Otto Schenk), the opera with which he also inaugurated the 1971/72 season at La Scala, directed by Giorgio Strehler. In April 1972 Abbado conducted Verdi’s “Aida” (De Lullo) at La Scala, which was taken (as this theatre’s contribution) to the Nationaltheater in Munich during the Olympic Games there, as was Verdi’s Requiem.

In 1972 he also became Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

During March and April 1973 Abbado was on tour with the Vienna Philharmonic in Asia, not only in Japan but also in China and South Korea.

In May 1973 Abbado conducted “Cenerentola” in the Theater an der Wien, after having presented it first at La Scala in April.

With Luigi Nono and Maurizio Pollini he founded the series Musica/Realtà in Reggio Emilia. He opened the 1973/74 season of La Scala with Rossini’s “Italiana in Algeri” based on a new critical edition and produced by Ponnelle. Later the same month he took up “Simon Boccanegra” again.
In April it was the turn of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”, directed by Otto Schenk. Still in 1974 he conducted in Moscow “Cenerentola”, “Simon Boccanegra”, “Aida” and Verdi’s Requiem.
At the end of December Abbado presented at La Scala Prokofiev’s “Love of the Three Oranges”, produced by Strehler.

In January 1975, at Covent Garden, he conducted “Un Ballo in Maschera” directed by Otto Schenk. April at La Scala saw the world première of Nono’s “Al gran sole carico d’amore”, produced by Ljubimov and once again “Italiana in Algeri”. Abbado opened the 1975/76 season with Verdi’s “Macbeth” directed by Giorgio Strehler and in the same month also conducted “Cenerentola” (Ponnelle).

In January 1976, still at La Scala, he conducted “Simon Boccanegra” and “Cenerentola” and these two works along with the Verdi-Requiem formed the programme offered by La Scala during the first exchange with Covent Garden in 25 years.

Soon after that came a big tour through Europe and the USA with the Vienna Philharmonic.

It was followed in September 1976 by a Scala-tour to the USA incl. “Cenerentola”, “Simon Boccanegra”, “Macbeth” and the Verdi Requiem for the US Bicentennial.

In April 1977 he presented a new “Wozzeck”, directed by Luca Ronconi. Later on, at the Edinburgh Festival, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a new production of Carmen, directed by Piero Faggioni.

The Scala season 1977/78 opened with L. Ronconi staging Verdi’s “Don Carlo” in a revised version to mark the bicentenary of La Scala. Still in December, still at La Scala, Abbado conducted Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera”, directed by Zeffirelli.

He also began to work (and record) continuously with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


In 1978 Abbado founded the European Community Youth Orchestra (ECYO), which under the name of International Youth Orchestra he had conducted for the first time the previous year. He started going on tour with them and continued until 1988 (nearly) every year.

He repeated Nono’s “Al gran sole carico d’amore” in February 1978, in August/September “Carmen” in Edinburgh and “Simon Boccanegra” in Paris at the Opéra de Paris.

This opera also opened the 1978/79 season at the Scala (Strehler-production), season which also included performances of “Don Carlo”, “Macbeth” and of “Wozzeck”.

In May 1979 Abbado conducted in Paris the Verdi-Requiem, “Wozzeck” and concerts composed of music by Berg. This was part of a Berg-Festival planned since June1975 by La Scala and the Opera de Paris and which culminated in a big exhibition.

From 1979 to 1988 he was music director of the London Symphony Orchestra and as such he incited a series of concerts dedicated to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms as well as in 1985 a decisive festival dedicated to “Mahler, Vienna and the 20th Century”.

He opened the 1979/80 season at La Scala with Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov”, staged by Lioubimov and in April 1980 conducted “Oedipus Rex”, Schönberg’s “Erwartung” and Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin”.

In October/November 1980 Abbado went on a big tour of the USA with the LSO.

Emanated from the ECYO 1981 saw the birth of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, of which he was for a long time Artistic Adviser. The next year he became principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (until 1985).

January 1981 “Boris Godunov” was repeated at La Scala followed by Mussorgsky-concerts.

In June it was the turn of Verdi’s Requiem, first performed in Santo Stefano in Milan and then in Dresden, Prague, Budapest, Sofia and Epidaurus. In September/October 1981, still with the Scala orchestra he was in Tokyo, giving performances of “Simon Boccanegra”, “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” and once again the Messa da Requiem by Verdi.

Claudio Abbado opened the 1981/82 Scala season this time with Wagner’s “Lohengrin”, staged by Giorgio Strehler.

Also in 1982 he founded the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala. For their first concert he chose to conduct Mahler’s 3rd symphony.

This was followed by various orchestra tours, incl. some through England and Europe with the LSO and even (in Spring 1983) a world tour with the London Symphony Orchestra.

In April 1983 in Milan he took up “Lohengrin” again and in December “Italiana in Algeri”.

In October/November 1983 Abbado worked at Covent Garden with Andrei Tarkovsky on a new production of “Boris Godunov”.

In April in Milan he took up “Lohengrin” again and in December “Italiana in Algeri”.

In March 1984 he transferred the Strehler production of “Simon Boccanegra” to the Vienna State Opera, where he at last made his début.

In August, at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Abbado presented the first performance of “Il Viaggio a Reims”, directed by Luca Ronconi. In September he conducted the première of Luigi Nono’sPrometeo” in the Venetian church of San Lorenzo, inside which Renzo Piano built a great structure in the form of a ship.

He opened the 1984/85 Scala season with a newly revised edition of “Carmen” (directed by P. Faggioni) and (still in December) took up again Ponnelle’s “Barbiere di Siviglia”.
In May 1985 he conducted at La Scala “Macbeth” and in September “Il Viaggio a Reims” as well as Nono’s “Prometeo”.

In October, with the LSO, he turned to Schönberg’s piano concerto with Pollini and to music by Berg, Ives and Mahler at the Barbican Centre in the course of the “Mahler, Vienna and the 20th Century” festival.

In 1986 Claudio Abbado’s children’s book “La Casa dei Suoni” was first published in Italy. It was later translated into several languages.


In May 1986 Abbado conducted «Pelléas et Mélisande» during a Debussy-Festival at La Scala (production: Antoine Vitez) and in June a concert including Prélude à l’après d’un faune, La damoiselle élue, Nocturnes and Ibéria. With this programme he took leave of La Scala.

In September 1986 he became Music Director of the Vienna State Opera (until 1991) and founded the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester (GMJO). In October he conducted there “Un Ballo in Maschera”, directed by Gianfranco De Bosio.

January 1987 saw him on tour in Spain and Germany with the LSO and Mahler 9th. In March a big tour of the USA and Japan with the Vienna Philharmonic followed. After this it was the turn of the first tour with the GMJO. Later in 1987 he was created Music Director of the City of Vienna and in June conducted “Wozzeck” (staged by Adolf Dresen) at the Opera. This opera and “Simon Boccanegra” were shown at a visit to Berlin by the Viennese Opera.

On 1.1.1988 in Vienna Claudio Abbado conducted the New Year’s Concert for the first time. He then turned his attention to “Il Viaggio a Reims”, never given in Vienna before. This was followed by a visit to Paris with the Vienna Philharmonic and Beethoven. May saw the first performance of Schubert’s “Fierrabras” directed by Ruth Berghaus with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in the Theater an der Wien and June “Pelléas et Mélisande” at the Opera.

To encourage the performance of contemporary music Abbado founded Wien Modern, where the programme included composers from Boulez to Nono, from Ligeti to Kurtag. After the first year exhibitions and plays joined the
musical manifestations with the collaboration of the German, Italian and French cultural institutes.

The Viennese calendar for 1989 was very full, including in January “Khovanshchina” (produced by Alfred Kirchner), in June “Elektra” (Harry Kupfer) and in October “Don Carlo” (Pier Luigi Pizzi), all at the Opera.

In October 1989 Claudio Abbado was elected principal conductor and artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, succeeding thus to Furtwängler and Karajan.

In November 1989 the Vienna Opera visited Japan and showed “Wozzeck” and “Il Viaggio a Reims”, amongst others.

In January 1990 he presented in Vienna Wagner’s “Lohengrin” (directed by Wolfgang Weber) and in May Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” (staged by Luc Bondy). He had already conducted this opera in Tel Aviv in a semi-staged performance arranged by Lorenzo Mariani. In June “Fierrabras” was taken up again, but played this time by the Vienna Philharmonic.

On 1.1.1991 Abbado conducted the New Year’s Concert for the second time.

On 1.5.1991 Abbado conducted the first European concert of the Berlin Philharmonic. This celebrates the orchestra’s birthday (1882) and has since been given in a different town every year. In 1991 the concert was in Prague.

In May 1991 Abbado conducted the Vienna Philharmonic at the Theater an der Wien in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”, staged by Jonathan Miller. In October the London “Boris Godunov” production by A. Tarkovsky made its appearance at the Staatsoper during a festival dedicated to the great director. Here exhibitions were staged, films from Eisenstein to Tarkovsky shown and compositions by Kurtag, Rihm, Nono and Furrer heard. After the last evening Abbado handed in his resignation from his position as music director in Vienna.


From 1991/92 onwards Abbado transformed the habitual Berlin season. Every year a new theme was chosen which ran like a red thread through the season, knitting together theatre, cinema, literature, dance, photography and for which new works were commissioned by contemporary composers. In the first season the overall theme was the figure of Prometheus, with music by Beethoven, Nono, Liszt and Scriabine. This time there was only one concert.

In 1992 he founded with Natalia Gutman the Berlin Encounters (Berliner Begegnungen), which offered to the most gifted young people the opportunity of playing with great artists such as Gutman herself or Alfred Brendel for example.

As part of the Rossini bicentenary Abbado conducted in February 1992 in Ferrara and in August in Pesaro “Il Viaggio a Reims”, directed by Ronconi and played by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

That summer he conducted Janacek’s “From the House of the Dead”, directed by Klaus Michael Grüber, at the
Salzburg Festival.

During the 1992/93 Berlin season he inaugurated a cycle dedicated to Hölderlin, with music amongst others by Brahms, R. Strauss, Reger, Rihm, Manzoni, Nono, Maderna and Holliger.

In October 1992 he presented in Berlin a semi-staged version of “Il Viaggio a Reims”.

In February 1993 he performed a Brahms cycle including almost all the works of this composer at the Paris Salle Pleyel with the Berlin Philharmonic. Later he conducted at Covent Garden “Pelléas et Mélisande”. It was the same production (by Vitez) which had already been shown at Milan in 1986 and in Vienna in 1988.

From the 1993/94 season onwards the opening of each Berlin cycle was the semi-staged performance of the opera that was to be produced at the next Easter Festival.

In January 1994 he conducted in Ferrara “Le Nozze di Figaro”, produced by Jonathan Miller. As artistic director of the Easter Festival in Salzburg from 1994 onwards he began a cycle called “Kontrapunkte”, which offered performances of contemporary compositions and distributed an annual prize for young composers, writers and artists. “Boris Godunov” is once again on the programme, first as a semi-staged performance in Berlin (November 1993), then (produced by Herbert Wernicke) at the Easter Festival 1994.

That year the theme dominating the concert season of the Berlin Philharmonic was that of Faust, with music by Mahler (Abbado conducted Mahler’s 8th symphony in February 1994), Busoni, Liszt, Schumann and Berlioz amongst others

Claudio Abbado was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in May 1994.

With Strauss’ Elektra (taken up again at Salzburg in a staging by Lev Dodin) he started a Berlin cycle dedicated to Greek myths and classical antiquity. Here works by Brahms, Mussorgsky, Berlioz, Stravinsky, Monteverdi, Benda, Pergolesi and Purcell were performed. These concerts included too the première of Stele by Kurtag.

In January 1995 Abbado conducted, in a Stefano Vizioli production, “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Ferrara.

In May the Berlin Philharmonic took part in the Mahler Festival in Amsterdam.

In November/December 1995 Abbado started a Shakespeare cycle in Berlin with Verdi’s “Otello” (directed by Ermanno Olmi), which was also shown at the Easter Festival in 1996. The Shakespeare cycle also comprised works by Berlioz, Mendelssohn, R. Strauss, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky amongst others. In 1996 “Elektra” was taken up again at Florence (Dodin).

In autumn 1996 Paul Smaczny’s portrait “Claudio Abbado: the silence that follows the music” is shown on television.

In November/December he inaugurated a Berg/Büchner cycle with “Wozzeck” (directed by Peter Stein), taken up again at Salzburg at Easter 1997. This cycle included, amongst many works by Berg, various compositions written for this occasion by Rihm, Kurtag and Vacchi. The same year, 1997, saw the birth of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, emanated from the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester.

In January 1997 he conducted the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” (staged by Lorenzo Mariani). In May “Otello” (Olmi) was taken up again by the Teatro Regio in Turin. On the same tour Abbado also reopened, after a closure of 23 years, the Teatro Massimo in Palermo with a concert given by the Berlin Philharmonic.

Other important fact in 1997 was a book that was published: Claudio Abbado, Musica sopra Berlino. Conversazione con Lidia Bramani. (This was later translated into German.)

With a performance of “Fierrabras” in November 1997 he inaugurated the Berlin cycle dedicated to the theme of the “Wanderer”. This comprised amongst many works by Schubert also compositions by Mahler, R. Strauss, Wagner and Liszt.

On 13th February 1998 Claudio Abbado announced that he would not seek a renewal of his Berlin contract and thus leave the town at the end of the 2001/02 season.

Shortly afterwards he conducted Verdi’s “Falstaff” at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin in a production by Jonathan Miller.

At the Easter Festival 1998 he repeated “Boris Godunov” (Wernicke).

In July at Aix-en-Provence it is the turn of “Don Giovanni”, directed by Peter Brook and played by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Abbado and Daniel Harding took turns in conducting. Abbado left the first night to his young colleague.

The cycle “Liebe und Tod” (during the 1998/99 season) opened with “Tristan und Isolde”, produced by K. M. Grüber and then transferred to Salzburg for the Easter Festival 1999. In the course of this cycle works by Berlioz, Schönberg, R. Strauss, Henze etc. were presented.

In May 1999 the Jonathan Miller production of “Falstaff” was taken to Ferrara, this time with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

A tour with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester that summer led to Tanglewood, Caracas, Havanna, Santiago de Compostela, Edinburgh, Berlin, Munich, Bolzano and Trieste. On this occasion Abbado organized a campaign destined to provide young Cuban musicians with suitable instruments so that they could develop themselves and enter into collaboration with Ferrara Musica.

In the course of the Italian cycle “Amore e Morte” (during the Berlin 1999/2000 season) he presented the semi-staged version of “Simon Boccanegra”, taken up again at Salzburg at Easter 2000 in a production by Peter Stein and a concert dedicated to the myth of Orpheus.

In February 2000 Abbado conducted at Ferrara the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”, staged by Mario Martone.


In May 2000 Abbado went on a tour of South America with the Berlin Philharmonic.

In the summer, due to a major operation, he had to cancel all appearances for three months.

He returned in October 2000 and – against the advice of his doctors – travelled to Japan, where (amongst others) the “Tristan und Isolde” production by Klaus Michael Grüber was given in Tokyo (November/December 2000). The tour was a triumph.

Back in Berlin, Claudio Abbado conducted on January 27th 2001 Verdi’s Requiem, given on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death. He then travelled to Rome and Vienna with the Berlin Philharmonic – and with a programme comprising all the Beethoven symphonies and piano concertos. The rest is history.

The Salzburg Easter Festival 2001 was consecrated to Verdi’s “Falstaff”, produced by Declan Donnellan.

In the season 2001/02, after an emotional tour of the United States in the wake of the tragic events of 11th September, Claudio Abbado inaugurated the cycle “Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit”. This was centred around Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal”, which was given a semi-scenic performance in Berlin (November/December 2001).

A Beethoven/Mendelssohn concert in February 2002 was followed by Schumann’s “Scenes from Goethe’s Faust”.

With performances of “Parsifal”, produced by Peter Stein, at the Salzburg Easter Festival 2002 Abbado’s function as artistic director of this festival drew to a close.

The last concert Claudio Abbado conducted in Berlin as artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic had a very special programme: Brahms (Song of Destiny), Mahler (Rückert-Lieder with Waltraut Meier) and Shostakovich’s music for Shakespeare’s “King Lear” with projection of Grigory Kozintsev’s film.

Before leaving the city the President of the German Republic conferred on him the highest German order, the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic.

He went on a final tour of Italy and to Vienna with the Berlin Philharmonic. The concerts were composed alternatively of Mahler’s 7th symphony or of the Rückert-Lieder (with Waltraut Meier) and Schönberg’s Pelléas and Mélisande. The exception was the European Concert given in Palermo’s Teatro Massimo. There Beethoven’s Egmont, Brahms’ Violin Concerto (with Gil Shaham) and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) were played, followed by a very appropriate encore, Verdi’s overture to “I Vespri Siciliani”.

The last two concerts in Vienna (May 12th and 13th) gave not only the audience but also the musicians the opportunity for a great demonstration of love and affection. In fact, May 13th 2002 was one of the greatest evenings the concert hall of the Musikverein had witnessed. About 4000 flowers were thrown and the ovations lasted well over half an hour.

In Paris, on May 25th and 28th, Claudio Abbado conducted the Chamber Orchestra of Europe to mark their 20th birthday. The very special programme included Schubert-Lieder orchestrated by various composers. These concerts, with Anne-Sofie von Otter and Thomas Quasthoff as soloists, were recorded and the CD was published in spring 2003.

After that Abbado took part in the Musical May held in Florence, conducting “Simon Boccanegra” (producer: Peter Stein) with the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale in the pit.

The 2001/02 season came to an end with the summer tour of the Gustav Mahler- Jugendorchester. This included Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal” (in the Peter Stein production in Edinburgh and in a concert version in Lucerne) as well as concerts with works by Bartok, Ravel and Debussy.


After several months rest Claudio Abbado offered two concerts in Ferrara and one in Reggio Emilia to the Italian public, all with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (February 2003).

In spring he was awarded the Premium Imperiale by the Emperor of Japan. It is one of the world’s most prestigious prizes, distributed to artists worldwide.

In June he celebrated his 70th birthday, which was marked by numerous articles in the international press.

On August 14th 2003 Abbado inaugurated the Lucerne Festival at the head of the latest of the orchestras he had created, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. This is composed of internationally acclaimed soloists who follow his views (Sabine Meyer and her Ensemble, Natalia Gutman, the Hagen Quartett, Emmanuel Pahud, Georg Faust, Kolja Blacher, Wolfram Christ etc.) and members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. The programme of the gala concert consisted of works by Wagner and Debussy. This was followed by a concert of chamber music (Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos) and Mahler’s 2nd symphony. The success was tremendous and greeted by a press rarely so unanimous and enthusiastic. For all the journalists present the creation of this orchestra constituted the beginning of a new era of classical music.

In September first broadcast of „Hearing the Silence”, second portrait by Paul Smaczny, which then went on to receive several prizes.

In October concert in Ferrara with the MCO and Kolja Blacher (Berg, Stravinsky, Beethoven), concert which is repeated in Potenza (minus the Stravinsky) where an honorary doctorate was awarded to Claudio Abbado by the University of Basilicata. He took the opportunity to announce the creation of a Gesualdo Festival there.

Journey to Tokio to receive the Premium Imperiale from the hands of the Japanese Emperor.

In December journey to Cuba, Dr. h.c. of the University of Havana and a concert with a local orchestra as a token of thanks.

In February 2004 “Cosi fan tutte” is repeated in Ferrara, Modena and Reggio Emilia with the MCO and a young cast.

Also a concert is performed in Ferrara including, amongst other works, Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto played by Martha Argerich and the MCO.

Recording of “Sempre Libera” with Anna Netrebko and the MCO in Reggio Emilia, a CD which caused quite a stir.

In April tour with the GMJO to Bolzano, Budapest, Bratislava, St. Petersburg, Reggio Emilia, Trieste and Rome. On the programme: Mahler’s 9th Symphony and (in some places) the “Abschied” from “Lied von der Erde” sung by Anna Larsson.

June saw a triumphal return to Berlin to play F. Martin’s “Sechs Monologe aus Jedermann” (sung by Thomas Quasthoff) and Mahler 6th Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic.

August meant again Lucerne: second season of the LFO with R. Strauss, Wagner, Beethoven, Mahler and a concert with the MCO (Hindemith, Beethoven).

In autumn concerts with the MCO in Italy.

Big campaign (with a positive outcome) to enable Arte to be received free of charge in Italy.

November saw the creation of the Orchestra Mozart in Bologna, founded to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth in 2006. First successful concerts.

Prix Kythera awarded to Claudio Abbado by Gabriele Henkel.

In December 2004/January 2005 there was intense activity in South America: journey with the MCO to Venezuela and Cuba for a number of concerts (Beethoven).

Formation in Venezuela of the Latin-American Youth Orchestra and first concerts in Caracas and Havana. Claudio Abbado received the Cuban National Award in Havana.

In February Claudio Abbado is granted the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Midem Classic festival in Cannes.

Abbado received the Prize of the President of the Republic of Italy.

In April 2005 in Reggio Emilia and in Ferrara Claudio Abbado conducted (for the first time) Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” with the MCO in the pit and produced by Daniele Abbado. In May this production went to Baden-Baden.

This was followed by the second triumphal return to Berlin, this time with Berg (Sieben Frühe Lieder sung by Renée Fleming) and Mahler’s 4th Symphony.

A series of concerts with the Orchestra Mozart in Italy took place in June.

Claudio Abbado was named Conductor of the Year by the jury of the Echo Classic Prize (for the recording of Mahler’s 2nd symphony and Debussy’s La Mer).

In August another immense success in Lucerne with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (LFO) and a programme including Beethoven, Bruckner, Schubert and Nono.

Abbado is made an honorary citizen of Lucerne.

Performances (and recording) of the “Magic Flute” took place in September in Modena with the MCO whereas concerts with the Orchestra Mozart were offered in Bologna.

The first foreign appearance of the LFO – in Rome – followed in October. Roughly the same programme was given as in Lucerne. The tour was a great success.

November brought more concerts with the Orchestra Mozart in Italy.

Concerts with the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in Caracas started the year 2006 (Beethoven 9th symphony et al.).

Back in Europe there followed two concerts with the MCO in Ferrara and Reggio Emilia.

The Easter Tour of the GMJO through Europe (Bolzano, Munich, Madrid, Vienna, Paris, Torino) had a gorgeous programme: Schönberg’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” as well as Mahler’s 4th symphony.

May saw concerts with the Orchestra Mozart in Italy, followed by Berlin for performances of Schumann’s “Manfred”.

More concerts with the Orchestra Mozart in Italy in June.

Great success again in Lucerne in August with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (LFO) – this time with Mahler’s 6th and Bruckner’s 4th symphony, amongst others.

Abbado took up again the “Magic Flute” at the end of the summer, this time in Edinburgh.

Back in Italy in September he conducted concerts with the OM and with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (SBYO) in Palermo and Rome. Each time Abbado conducted only half a concert, handing over the second half to the young Gustavo Dudamel.

Second foreign tour of the LFO in October, this time to Tokyo (Suntory Hall) with the Lucerne programme. Great success.

After that Abbado took part in Vienna in a memorial concert in souvenir of Thomas Kakuska (viola of the Alban Berg Quartet).

More concerts with the Orchestra Mozart in Italy in November.

On 7th December 2006 the MCO gave a concert in Ludwigshafen at the invitation of BASF.

Abbado was awarded the prestigious Gramophone “Record of the Year” and the Echo Classic-Prize – both for the recording of Mahler’s 6th symphony.

The year 2007 began once again with concerts with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (and partly with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra) in South America.

These were followed in April by a tour with the Orchestra Mozart playing the Bach Brandenburg Concertos in various Italian towns.

A month later the now yearly return to Berlin followed, with Kolja Blacher as soloist.

August meant once again Lucerne, this time with two big symphonies on the programme: Beethoven’s 9th and Mahler’s 3rd – which was repeated at the end of August at the Proms.

But Abbado was forced to cancel the following concerts of the LFO in New York.

He only conducted one more programme that year – in November in Italy with the OM.

In April 2008 in Reggio Emilia Claudio Abbado conducted for the first time Beethoven’s “Fidelio” – with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. He had asked the young German film producer Chris Krause to take over the staging.

The production continued to Madrid and to Baden-Baden.

Due to a fire on the roof of the Philharmonie the three Berlin concerts were reduced to one, which was given at the Waldbühne, the big outdoor arena.

Lucerne that August was dominated by a French and a Russian programme. This was (nearly identically) repeated in September in Vienna.

This was followed by a spectacular event in Bologna in November: Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (with Roberto Benigni) and Berlioz’s Te Deum in a big hall in Bologna.

To round up the year there were performances of “Fidelio” in Ferrara and Modena.

Concerts in Caracas with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra marked the beginning of 2009.

After returning to Europe in March there were concerts with the Orchestra Mozart in Bologna as well as Naples and Claudio Abbado became an honorary citizen of Bologna.

In April concerts in Ferrara, Reggio, Torino and Bolzano (1.5.) with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra followed.

On the programme of the annual return to Berlin in May were Schubert, Mahler and (for the first time with this orchestra!) Debussy’s “La Mer”.

The Orchestra Mozart gave concerts in Jesi (Pergolesi), Bologna, Florence and L’Aquila (Schubert, Mozart) in June.

As now normal August was spent in Lucerne with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. This year’s programme included Prokofiev, but above all Mahler (1st and 4th symphony).

The autumn tour with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra this time headed to Peking. Four concerts in the National Center of Performing Arts.

In Bolzano (31.10.) and Bologna (2.11.) concerts with the Orchestra Mozart and the Bolzano Haydn-Orchestra (Berg, Bruckner). Then concerts in Bologna and Cagliari with the Orchestra Mozart which closed the year (Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn).

Claudio Abbado spent the winter 2009/10 in South America, in Venezuela to be more exact. There he conducted two concerts of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in February.

In March he brought this orchestra to the Lucerne Easter Festival. They played three concerts there – of which two were conducted by Gustavo Dudamel and Diego Matheuz respectively.

At the end of March 2010 it is the Orchestra Mozart that Claudio Abbado conducted in two programmes, first in Rome then in Bologna.

Then it was the turn of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra who gave two concerts (in Ferrara and Reggio Emilia resp.) under his direction in April. Yuja Wang was the soloist.

The now traditional return to Berlin followed in May 2010. On the programme this time various composers, including Brahms and his cantata “Rinaldo”, sung by Jonas Kaufmann.

Soon afterwards Claudio Abbado had to be hospitalized and to cancel his return to Milan, which everybody in the town had been so looking forward to.

But he could take up his activities in August again and at the Lucerne Festival he and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra had a very special programme. First a concert version of “Fidelio” with Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme (amongst others). Then Mahler’s 9th symphony – a work Abbado conducted like nobody else.

In September the Orchestra Mozart played Bach in Bologna with Claudio Abbado (once in the Church of San Stefano, once in the Auditorium Manzoni) as well as concerts in Modena, the Abbey of Morimondo and Jesi.

The annual autumn tour of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra took them this time to Madrid and Paris – with exceptional performances of Mahler’s 9th symphony.

The year 2010 ended with concerts of the Orchestra Mozart in Bologna and Ferrara. On the programme compositions by Schumann and (in Bologna only) also the Beethoven violin concerto with Isabelle Faust as soloist.


The concert season started late in 2011 as it was April already before Claudio Abbado picked up his baton again. Concerts with the combined forces of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra Mozart (for the first time united) were given in Ferrara, Bologna, Reggio Emilia and Rome – together with Martha Argerich (playing the Ravel concerto).

May, as usual, found Abbado in Berlin, this time for two programmes: the first with (amongst others) Maurizio Pollini, the second to mark the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death. On 18.5.2011 Claudio Abbado conducted the Adagio from Mahler’s 10th symphony and Das Lied von der Erde with the Berlin Philharmonic, Anne Sofie von Otter and Jonas Kaufmann.

In June Claudio Abbado conducted concerts of the Orchestra Mozart in Bologna, Ravenna and Brescia. With some soloists of this orchestra he undertook an excursion to Spain to receive the “Don Juan de Borbòn de la Musica” prize. Still in June and still with the same orchestra he inaugurated the Teatro Farnese in Parma after its renovation.

The August concerts in Lucerne with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra comprised mainly works by Brahms, Mahler and Bruckner.

September held in store magnificent concerts by the Orchestra Mozart in Bologna and Bolzano with in particular Schubert’s so-called “Great” symphony in C major. This was followed by the first concerts, equally excellent, of the orchestra in the Goldener Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna.

October took the Lucerne Festival Orchestra to Baden-Baden, Paris and London. After that the Orchestra Mozart played in Frankfort. Later Claudio Abbado would receive the prize for the best concert of the year from the Royal Philharmonic Society for his interpretation of Bruckner’s 5th symphony in London.

A month later there were two concerts in Rome and Bologna of “King Lear” with music by Shostakovich, which the Orchestra Mozart played as part of its “Cinema Russo” programme.

Yet another month later, two days before Christmas, Claudio Abbado was in Florence to inaugurate the new theatre of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with Brahms’ Schicksalslied and Mahler’s 9th symphony. The orchestra was composed of the orchestra of the Maggio Musicale and musicians of the Orchestra Mozart. Thus ended an exciting year.

The year 2012 started with various concerts first of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and then of the Orchestra Mozart. With the latter also concerts at the Lucerne Easter Festival.

The programme in May in Berlin comprised compositions by Berg and Schumann.

At the end of July one more concert in Salzburg figured on the programme: the Orchestra Mozart played masses by Schubert and Mozart (thus repeating a programme given in Bologna the previous month).

Lucerne that summer offered Beethoven, Bruckner and Mozart. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra travelled with a similar programme in September to Vienna, Moscow, Hamburg and Ferrara (a benefit concert for the theatre which had problems due to an earthquake).

In October the new concert hall in L’Aquila was opened with a concert given by the OM.

On 30.12.2012 at long last Claudio Abbado returned to Milan, an event the town had been looking forward to for a long time. The combined forces of the orchestra of the opera house and members of the Orchestra Mozart played Chopin’s 1st piano concerto (soloist: Daniel Barenboim) and Mahler’s 6th symphony. It was a very emotional return.

The Orchestra Mozart travelled again to Vienna in November and in December went on tour with a Bach-programme to Frankfort, Baden-Baden- Munich, Genoa and Palermo.

From March 2013 onwards there were several concerts, still with the Orchestra Mozart, incl. a visit to the Lucerne Easter Festival and a tour to Zaragoza, Madrid and Budapest.

This was followed in April by the last concerts with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

In May last return to Berlin with a programme of extracts from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and (for the first time with this orchestra!) Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.

The last concerts with the Orchestra Mozart were in Bologna followed by one in Paris.

On 26.6.2013 Claudio Abbado celebrated his 80th birthday – accompanied by congratulations from the whole world.

In August he returned to Lucerne where that year they had cause for many celebrations: 75 years Lucerne Festival, 80th birthday Claudio Abbado and 10th birthday of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. As usual there were two programmes: one with Brahms, Schönberg, Beethoven, the other with Schubert and Bruckner.

On 26.8.2013 Claudio Abbado conducted “his” Lucerne Festival Orchestra in a programme consisting of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Bruckner’s 9th Symphony. It turned out to be his last concert…

He was made Senator for Life by the Italian President on 30.8.2013.

During the autumn all the planned concerts were cancelled one after the other. Claudio Abbado’s health deteriorated and his life drew slowly to a close.

Claudio Abbado passed away on 20.1.2014 in Bologna.