The CAI STORY OF THE CAI, STORY OF A PASSION
To talk about Claudio Abbado is to talk about a passion which has lasted for 45 years and which will surely not disappear with him, although he died on 20th January 2014, mourned by many and not only because he was a great conductor. Claudio, as he wanted to be called, was the tireless organizer who founded many orchestras (European Community Youth Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Filarmonica della Scala, Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Orchestra Mozart), the musician who helped lauch the career of young artists such as Daniel Harding or Gustavo Dudamel, who revolutionized the interpretation of Mahler, but also of Beethoven and Rossini, who offered contemporary music to a traditional Scala audience and who gave concerts in factories thinking always along the lines that you only have to want something strongly enough…
From 2000 onwards, after having survived a tumour which changed him radically (physically as well as personally) his interpretations took on an even greater intensity and depth. He then offered many new interpretations. At the same time there was this private and timid person who, at the bottom of his heart, would have liked to have been a gardner. The passion for nature and plants never left him, be it in creating a lovely garden around his house near Alghero (of which he was very proud) or in planting flowers in his rooftop flats in Milan, Vienna, Berlin or Bologna. Not forgetting of course the trees he wanted planted in Milan instead of a fee upon his return to that city (plan which unluckily never materialized and which Renzo Piano is trying to take in hand again).
The souvenirs come tumbling out, one after another. In particular now that we cannot hear him anymore in the flesh. For his great power was the magnetism which seemed to flow between the artists and the audience. This was never a simple concert but always a authentic experience. We came out of his concerts always full of emotions but we always also discovered something new. Claudio Abbado was never the same. We understood him instinctively, understood the intensity with which he had worked to enable us to hear this wonder. In particular his Mahler-interpretations will remain with us for ever.
Claudio Abbado was also this generous artist who helped for many years this other exceptional human being: Antonio Abreu, he who created “El Sistema”. Thanks to him a whole network of youth orchestras was founded in Venezuela to prevent young people slipping into crime. This model has been exported to other countries (incl. Italy) and it is a great comfort to know that young musicians will grow up and follow the paths of conductors like Dudamel or Matheuz or become a soloist in some famous orchestra.
Add all this to my personal experience from the first time I queued for a ticket in “the gods” on 7.12.1968, the day of the first night of the 1968/69 season. Claudio Abbado conducted Verdi’s Don Carlo – accompanied by the student revolts outside the door, the slogans and famously the eggs pelted at the fur coats of the ladies who hurried to get inside.
It was also the year in which I was 18 and the year in which I was totally converted to music, a passion which has never left me. But that evening marked also the beginning of another passion: that for a conductor, Claudio Abbado, who that evening appeared to me to be brillant and infectious. That same year he had become musical director of La Scala and he was to stay there until 1986. Those were extraordinary years in Milan – with Abbado handing over his baton (even for the first night) to colleagues like Bernstein, Boehm, Kleiber, Maazel, Muti.
The repertoire offered in those years bore the stamp of the intelligent mingling of personalities of high intellectual capacity like Claudio Abbado, Paolo Grassi and Giorgio Strehler. There was the knowledge that behind the works offered there were ideas, projects and a vision. The results were not long in coming.
For these and other reasons, even before Claudio left Milan, a group of peple had spontaneously decided to follow him – and be it only to Padua, where the historic birth of the CAI, the Club Abbadiani Itineranti, took place in 1981. Since then ever more afficionados have joined the ranks and followed Claudio around Italy and Europe.
Then came the Viennese period, which allowed us to breath the (not only musical) air of the Austrian capital. The memory of performances of Lohengrin, Ballo in Maschera, Don Carlos, Fierrabras, Nozze di Figaro, Viaggio A Reims, Elektra, Boris, Khovanshchina mixes for me and many friends with the taste of Sachertorte, the sausages bought at the booth in front of the opera, the visits to Grinzing always on the look out for a typical restaurant and the historic and/or literary memories of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the heart of Mitteleuropa.
After that came the Berlin years, when Abbado was elected music director of the Berlin Philharmonic (to whom he famously presented himself with the words “I am Claudio”). He immediately put himself on the same level as his musicians, thus demonstrating that he was the opposite of the dictator as conductor.
In between, ever since the first journeys, the group of loyal fans had grown – until (in the middle of the 90s) we felt sure enough of ourselves to found a club, whose official date of birth is 7th December 1995. We kept deliberately the name which the first group, with a touch of fun, had given thenselves: Club Abbadiani Itineranti.
Since then, from the first 12 founding members, more than 400 others have joined us. They come from 12 different nations, among them Japan and Australia. We have travelled around the world – to Cuba, Caracas, New York and other American towns, Tokyo and Peking.
Alas now of course the travels will never be the same, but the association would like to continue under its name to support initiatives and projects which were close to Abbado’s heart. Also we would like to organise our archives. We already have a list of the performances he conducted, from the 50s till to the last concert in Lucerne – on 26th August 2013. There are more than 3400 items in that list! Amongst them the one that is perhaps the closest to my heart: the concert of 30th October 2012 when Claudio Abbado, after an absence of more than 20 years, returned to La Scala. On the programme that evening, amongst others, Mahler’s 6th symphony, “Tragic”. Perhaps that was a premonition, but on that evening we were just happy and travelled around Milan enthusiastically in a tram with the banner “Bentornato Claudio”.