Claudio Abbado is a member of the second great generation of post-war conductors. He is a conductor of remarkable versatility and artistic interests and he is a master of both the orchestral and operatic repertoire. His concert programs are as likely to include works of more difficult, unpopular modern composers such as Arthur Schoenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Luciano Berio, as Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. Indeed thanks to his initiative, modernist and avant-garde opera was first performed at La Scala, the tradition-conscious home of Italian opera. Abbado has committed himself to nurturing younger musicians, most notably in the European Union Youth Orchestra the Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchestra, both of which he founded. Abbado takes pains to unite different areas of the arts. His seasonal orchestral programs frequently include thematic concert series, for example, the Faust legend, or Hölderlin’s poetry. As an artistic director of the famous Salzburg Festival, Abbado inaugurated competitions for literature and fine art to complement the prizes for musical excellence.
Abbado was born into an old Milanese family, where music was almost second nature. His father was a violinist, his mother a pianist, his brother a pianist and composer who eventually became the Director of the Milan Conservatory, his sister studied violin. “After the war, we were living in three rooms, all full of music,” Abbado told Robert Chesterman in Conductors in Conversation.
A visit to the La Scala opera house as an eight-year-old boy fired Abbado’s musical imagination. After the visit, he threw himself into learning how to play piano and before long he was playing piano-violin duets with his father. By the time he was 15, he was earning money playing organ in church. That trip to La Scala also gave him other ideas. “I decided to become a conductor when I was eight,” he told Stephen E. Rubin of the New York Times. “I remember Antonio Guarnieri conducting the La Scala Orchestra… After hearing his performance of Debussy’s Nocturnes, I wrote in my diary, this is one piece I would like to conduct when I am old.” The decision was not an easy one, however. Dedicating his life to conducting, entailed not dedicating his life to composition or piano, which he studied at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan. From there, he went to the Vienna Music Academy where from 1956 until 1958, he studied under Hans Swarowsky, an experience that decided the issue once and for all in favor of conducting.
While in Vienna, Abbado became friends with another student who would go on to become a world-class conductor, Zubin Mehta. The two were anxious to observe the great conductors of the 1950s preparing an orchestra for a concert. However, rehearsals were closed to the public. Undeterred, they auditioned for the Musikverein Chorus and were accepted into the bass section. Once in the chorus, they were able to
Born on June 26, 1933, in Milan, Italy. Education: Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory (Milan), piano and composition; Vienna Music Academy, conducting.
Invited by Herbert von Karajan to perform at Salzburg Festival, 1964; became permanent conductor at La Scala, Milan, 1968; became musical director at La Scala, 1971; founded European Union Youth Orchestra, 1978; served as principal conductor of London Symphony Orchestra, 1979-88; founded the Orchestra della Scala, 1982; became musical director of Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera, 1986; founded Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchestra, 1986; appointed chief musical director of the city of Vienna, 1987; founded Wien Modern Festival, 1988; named principal conductor and artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic, 1989; gave up his position as music director of the Vienna State Opera, 1991; became artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival, 1994; received Ernst von Siemens-Musikpreis, 1994; announced his intention to give up directorship of Berlin Philharmonic, 1998.
Awards: Koussevitzky Prize, 1958; first prize, Dimitri Mitropoulos competition for conductors, 1963; Mozart medal, Vienna Mozart Gemeinde, 1973; Vienna Philharmonic Ring of Honour, 1973; Grammy Award, Best Classical Performance Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (With Orchestra), 1979; Golden Nicolai Medal, 1980; Gold Medal, International Gustav Mahler Society, 1985; Legion d’Honneur of the French Ministry of Culture, 1988; Evening Standard (London, England) Opera Award, 1989; Gran Croce of the Italian Republic, 1984; Bundesverdienstkreuz, 1992; Ehrenring der Stadt Wien, 1994; International Ernst-von-Siemens-Musikpreis, 1994; Grammy Award, Best Small Ensemble Performance (With Or Without Conductor), 1997.
After their courses at the Vienna academy were concluded in 1958, Abbado and Mehta traveled to the United States, where they spent a summer working at the Tanglewood Festival near Boston, Massachusetts. While there, Abbado beat out Mehta to win the Serge Koussevitsky award for conducting. The prize brought him an offer to take over as conductor of an American orchestra. Abbado turned it down, however, to return to Europe and study more.
Abbado returned to the United States in 1963, where he won another prestigious prize for conductors, the Dimitri Mitropoulos competition. The award was completely unexpected; Abbado felt he had conducted poorly in the early rounds. The prize included $5,000 and a year working as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic in its glory days under Leonard Bernstein. The time in New York was difficult for Abbado. He didn’t feel confident about his English and he didn’t particularly care for life in Manhattan. When the year was up, he returned once again to Europe.
Back in Europe, Abbado’s career took off. Herbert von Karajan heard Abbado with the RIAS Orchestra Berlin, and invited the young conductor to appear at the Salzburg Festival, of which Karajan was the artistic director. Abbado directed the Vienna Philharmonic, an orchestra with whom he would later forge important ties, in a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony. A year later in 1965, he conducted the debut of Giacomo Manzoni’s Nuclear Death at La Scala. It was a work that once might have been considered conducting unbefitting of La Scala, but Abbado pulled it off. In 1968, he was named La Scala’s permanent conductor, and in 1971, he became its musical director.
Abbado seemed equally at home conducting orchestral concerts or opera. Even early in his career, he boasted a repertoire that extended from Classical and Romantic composers like Mozart and Tchaikovsky, to Viennese modernists like Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, to experimental composers of the post-war era like Stockhausen, Berio, and Ligeti. One of his stylistic trademarks was his penchant for conducting from memory rather than using a score, even for difficult twentieth century pieces. Abbado had learned the importance of eye contact with his players from the other great Italian maestro Arturo Toscanini. “I tried once to use the score, but for me it meant that I didn’t know it,” he told Rubin. “Contact with the orchestra is much better without a score. And with opera, if you’re looking at the score, you can’t see the stage.” He also believes that if the unexpected occurs, a conductor’s ability to respond is greater if he is not dependent on the score.
By the 1970s, Abbado was one of the busiest conductors in the world. In 1971, he was named the permanent conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. As musical director at La Scala, he founded the Orchestra della Scala, which was dedicated to performing works of the orchestral concert repertoire. He expanded the performing season at La Scala into the summer months. In addition to his other positions, he was the principal guest conductor of the London Symphony, and began touring regularly with the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras.
He was actively interested in politics, particularly in Italy. He organized a concert at La Scala to oppose the Italian Fascist Party prior to an election. Eventually he became aligned—in the minds of journalists in particular—with the Italian Communist Party, even though he was never a party member. “I voted with the Communists simply because they were in the opposition to the Fascists,” he told Rubin. “My line is very clear. I’m for freedom. Everything that is not for freedom I protest.” Abbado’s political engagement had its roots in his mother’s opposition to the Fascists during the Second World War. “I remember one of my passions was Bartok,” he told Chesterman. “I was writing on the wall of the street Vive Bartok.’ And the Gestapo came to the house to ask, ‘Who is the Partisan Bartok?’ They didn’t know about music.”
Abbado also organized special concerts for workers, students, and others who would not normally hear classical music. He presented films at La Scala, free of charge, of operas the house had presented in past seasons. He was equally committed to encouraging young musicians. In 1978, he founded and began serving as musical director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, a group of players between the ages of 14 and 21 from all over Europe. He founded the Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchestra 1986. In the 1990s, while serving as the musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic, he helped organize the annual series, Berliner Begegnungen (Encounters in Berlin), which brought together experienced professional musicians and talented young instrumentalists.
In the 1980s, Abbado diversified his fields of performance. He was named musical director and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He held the latter post until 1988. In 1981, Abbado resigned his post at La Scala, although he continued to conduct at the Milan opera house occasionally. Five years later, he took over the post of musical director of Vienna’s State Opera and of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Small wonder that in 1987 he was named the city’s chief musical director.
In the fall of 1989, Abbado was elected the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic by the orchestra’s musicians. The news surprised many in the world of classical music who believed that either Lorin Maazel or James Levine would win the post. Abbado became only the fifth chief conductor in Berlin’s history, succeeding Herbert von Karajan and other luminaries such as Hans von Bülow and Wilhelm Furtwängler. The announcement caused disappointment and some anger in New York, where it was said Abbado had made a verbal agreement to succeed Zubin Mehta at the New York Philharmonic.
The 1990s did not see any reduction in Abbado’s frenetic work pace. In addition to the Berlin Philharmonic, he was the artistic consultant to the Vienna State Opera and, beginning in 1994, as artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival. He regularly recorded both orchestral and operatic programs with both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, and on occasion the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
In 1994, Abbado was awarded Ernst-von-Siemens-Musicpreis, Germany’s most prestigious music award which included a cash prize of 250, 000 DM. By the end of the decade, however, Abbado had reached his mid-60s. He was beginning to feel the strain of three and a half decades of relentless music making. In early 1998, quite unexpectedly, he announced that he did not intend to extend his contract with the orchestra when it expired in 2002. He had no complaints with the orchestra; he merely wanted more time for himself, according to the Berlin newspaper, Die Tageszeitung, “to read more, go skiing and sailing.”
Still, in spring 2000, before he left the Philharmonic, Abbado publicly criticized the Berlin Senat, which funds the orchestra, for not doing enough to prevent the loss of many good musicians. Unfortunately, Abbado was forced to cancel most of his engagements for the latter half of 2000 when he fell ill and had to undergo emergency surgery for an intestinal ulcer in July.
With the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Mozart: Mass K 427, Sony Classics, 1991.
Mahler: Symphonie No. 1, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1992.
Mozart: Posthorn Serenade, etc., Sony Classics, 1993.
New Year’s Eve Concert 1992, Sony Classics, 1993.
Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1994.
Prometheus-Beethoven, Nono, Liszt, Scriabin Sony Classics, 1994.
Schumann: Scenes from Goethe’s Faust, Sony Classics, 1995.
Mozart: Symphonies 25 & 31, etc., Sony Classics, 1995.
Mahler: Symphonie No. 8, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1995.
Kurtág: Grabstein, Stele; Stockhausen: Gruppen, Deutsche Grammophon, 1996.
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9, Sony Classics, 1996.
Mussorgsky: Night on Bare Mountain, etc, Sony Classics, 1997.
Mozart: Flötenkonzerte 1 &2, etc., Emd/Emi Classics, 1997.
Verdi: Overtures, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1999.
Mozart, Debussy, Takemitsu, Emd/Emi Classics, 2000.
Rossini:ll Barbiere di Siviglia, etc., Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 2001.
With the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Mahler: Symphony No. 3, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1987.
Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1992.
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1996.
With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2, etc., Sony Classics, 1987.
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5, etc., Sony Classics, 1987.
Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture, etc., Sony Classics, 1994.
Mahler: Symphonies No. 2 & 4, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.
With the London Symphony Orchestra
Mendelssohn: Symphonies 3 & 4, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1990.
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1991.
Ravel: Boléro, Daphnis et Chloé, etc., Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1995.
Chopin, Liszt: Piano Concertos, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1996.
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 & 2, etc., Uni/Deutsche Gram-mophon, 2001.
With other ensembles
Bizet: Carmen, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1987.
Berg: Wozzeck, Uni/Deutsche Grammophon, 1989.
Abbado Edition [BOX SET], Uni/Philips, 1992.
Viva Verdi-A 100th Anniversary Celebration, Uni/Decca, 2000.
Chesterman, Robert, Conductors in Conversation, Proscenium Books, New York, 1992.
Billboard, Sept. 22, 1990, October 21, 1989.
Die Tageszeitung, September 25, 1998.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, February 10, 1995.
New York Times, February 4, 1973; March 1, 1987; November 8, 1989.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 3, 1994; April 6, 1996.
National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, http://www.grammy.com (March 13, 2001).
—Gerald E. Brennan
Italian-born conductor Claudio Abbado (born 1933) established a reputation for musical excellence on the fine edge between scholar and performing genius. A meticulous reader of scores, he mastered symphonic detail to such a degree that his conducting has often overshadowed the lead singers. Devoted to artistry, he has ventured beyond the safe German favorites—Johann Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner— to modern opera by Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Born on June 26, 1933, in Milan, Abbado began training under his father, Michelangelo Abbado, before entering Milan's Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory to study piano. After graduation in 1955, he continued piano classes with Austrian concertist Friedrich Gulda and began learning conducting from Antonio Votto, a specialist in Italian symphonic music. Over the next three years, Abbado pursued conducting with Hans Swarowsky, conductor of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. In class at the Vienna Academy of Music, Abbado sometimes sang in the Singverein choir under Herbert von Karajan, his mentor and role model. Abbado further refined his orchestral skills at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena under Alceo Galliera, conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and Carlo Zecchi, leader of the Czech Philharmonic.
Attained a Balance
Abbado first took the baton at the Teatro Communale in Trieste, conducting Sergei Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges at the age of 25. Still unpolished and uncertain of his own identity as an orchestral interpreter, Abbado displayed a mature regard for the markings of the composer's original score. Strong of arm, he forced both instrumentalists and singers to stay within the bounds of a precise, balanced presentation that was both historically correct and artistically pleasing.
Abbado's debut prefaced a noteworthy entrance into a profession that quickly introduced his promise to the world. At Tanglewood, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he earned the Koussevitzky conducting prize in 1958. He first encountered American music lovers that April at a concert with the New York Philharmonic.
Broadened His Perspective
For Abbado's early mastery of a wide repertory of classical and romantic music, he won the Mitropoulos Prize for conducting in 1963, shared with Pedro Calderon and Zdenek Kosler, both older and more experienced artists. At the time, critical opinion had not reached a firm consensus on Abbado, but critics soon acknowledged that he possessed the talent of another Arturo Toscanini. In 1965, von Karajan signaled formal acceptance among the music community by introducing Abbado at the Salzburg Easter Festival conducting Mahler's Second Symphony. Abbado valued the older musician's guidance and compared him to a sage, compassionate father. After twelve years at the Teatro alla Scala, Abbado made a significant career move by leaving his country in 1965 to lead the Vienna Philharmonic. He returned in triumph in 1968 to become opera conductor of Milan's La Scala, the mecca of Italian opera.
Up the orchestral ladder, Abbado retained the respect of his peers by guest conducting for the London Symphony in 1972 and for a tour of China and Japan with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1972 and 1973. That same year, he won the Mozart Medal of the Mozart Gemeinde of Vienna. Entering his peak years, he took the La Scala company to the Soviet Union in 1974 and led the Vienna Philharmonic and the La Scala company in the United States in 1976.
Master of Self
The main attraction at an Abbado concert is leadership, a character trait he claims to have derived from Wilhelm Furtwangler, one of Germany's most beloved maestros. Unlike the prima donnas of an earlier generation, Abbado throws no tantrums, yet manages to elicit from orchestra, choir, and soloists a high quality of sound and delivery. With the caution of a true connoisseur of the arts, he subdues his urge to venture into individual interpretation by consistent reproduction of the original music.
Remaining at the head of La Scala until 1980, Abbado strove for new challenges. For programs such as the 1976 presentation of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra at London's Covent Garden, he earned praise for achievements that boosted the cast's reputation and elevated classical opera itself. Dissatisfied with seasons that polished old gems he insisted on breaking new ground with at least one new contemporary title each year. For his final production at La Scala, Abbado chose an original score of Peter Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, which was repeated after his promotion to director of the 1994 Salzburg Easter Festival. For the second performance, he arranged post-modern staging that echoed the demoralization of Russia in the mid-1990s.
Abbado's globe-trotting schedule has placed him before the world's major symphonies to direct a variety of demanding music. For all his promotion of a broad range of works, he has exhibited an affinity for Italy's beloved Giuseppe Verdi, whose works he interpreted before adoring fans at Covent Garden. Equally at home among opera lovers at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Abbado has developed style and performance capabilities that suit most opera houses. In Austria in the late 1980s, he led the Vienna State Opera in a virtuoso performance of Alban Berg's grimly atonal Wozzeck, the basis of a CD that collectors immediately ranked a classic.
Built Opera's Future
Energetic and visionary, Abbado began leaving his mark on the musical scene by establishing the European Community Youth Orchestra in 1978 and by conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe three years later. After serving as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1979, he earned the Golden Nicolai Medal of the Vienna Philharmonic the next year. In 1982, he established Milan's La Filarmonica della Scala. Returned to the United States, he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony from 1982 to 1986.
Late in the 1980s, Abbado kept up the pace of fine music by serving from 1983 to 1988 as the London Symphony Orchestra music director. He won the Gran Croce in 1984 and the Mahler Medal of Vienna the next year. Concurrently with his other projects, he assumed the baton of the Vienna State Opera in 1986, the year that he founded Vienna's Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. At his height, he received France's Legion d'Honneur in 1986. The following year, Abbado produced a masterful Le Nozze di Figaro, one of Mozart's most beloved works. In 1988, he established Wien Modern, an annual festival showcasing the contemporary arts.
A World-Class Conductor
In 1989, Abbado succeeded his friend and mentor Herbert von Karajan as the first Italian-born artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic and inaugurated a twelve-year career marked by variety and flexibility unknown under past masters. Of his qualifications, a music critic at the Economist called him "reserved and outwardly unassuming but also intensely ambitious," perhaps in reference to his recording contracts with competitors Deutsche Grammophon and CBS/Sony. Instrumentalists under his direction discovered a taskmaster devoted to removing even a hint of imperfection or uncertainty with long hours of rehearsal and refinement. To ready the next generation of attentive musicians, in 1992, he collaborated with cellist Natalia Gutman in initiating the "Berlin Movement," an annual chamber music festival combining the talents of adult professionals with young and untried instrumentalists.
Left His Mark
Still perfecting his art, Abbado lent a professional touch to a delicately atmospheric 1993 performance of Claude Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande; a textured, intimate dramatization of Richard Strauss's Elektra; and a melodic 1995 performance of Robert Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust. Abbado energized the 1996 Salzburg Easter Festival with a dynamic dramatization of Verdi's Otello, an operatic version of a moving Shakespearean tragedy. In 1998, Abbado continued to refresh musical favorites with a conscientiously lyric suite of Verdi arias, an energetic presentation of Felix Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a dramatic, unified rendering of Mozart's Don Giovanni, which Abbado enhanced with graceful embellishments to balance the terror of the protagonist's descent into Hell.
As conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, which most Europeans consider the height of orchestral attainment, Abbado astounded arm-chair critics by departing from the paths of his predecessors, Furtwangler and von Karajan. The fifth of five Berlin conductors, Abbado had made a smooth transition and promised ticket-holders a succession of inspired seasons. In 1998, he chose not to renew his contract. His resignation, effective in 2002, dismayed the German musical elite, who expected their maestros to die in office. To public consternation, he insisted on reserving more time for books, sailboats, and vacations on the ski slopes. Murmurs that he had grown slack sounded more like sour grapes than honest critiques of the man who had broadened the orchestra's horizons, hired younger instrumentalists, invited a higher percentage of female vocalists to perform, and occasionally lent his baton to star conductors as well as newcomers to the podium.
Maintained High Standards
In 1999, Abbado showed no sign of slowing down. He continued a demanding schedule of the best in symphonic music. He refined Wagner's Tristan und Isolde for the Salzburg Easter Festival and added to a growing canon of recordings an expert performance of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The new millennium brought additional treasures from Abbado, who performed Richard Strauss's works with superb emotional clarity, from languorous to passionate. In August, a public squabble with director Gerard Mortier caused the disbanding of a fine cast and prevented further staging of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Still very much in control, at the age of 68, Abbado again challenged his musicians to perform a spirited version of Verdi's Falstaff, which unsettled the audience with its rapid-fire phrasing.
Almanac of Famous People, 7th ed. Gale Group, 2001.
Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 2001.
Debrett's People of Today, Debrett's Peerage Ltd., 2001.
International Dictionary of Opera, 2 vols. St. James Press, 1993.
Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 1984.
The Economist, October 21, 1989; March 14, 1998.
The Independent (London), August 29, 1998.
National Review, July 14, 1989; July 9, 1990.
New York Times, March 1, 1987; October 9, 1989; November 8, 1989; February 28, 1991; October 11, 1991; May 8, 1992; May 12, 1992; May 24, 1992; January 17, 1993; October 24, 1993; October 30, 1993; November 2, 1993; April 9, 1994; June 26, 1994; March 14, 1996; March 15, 1996; October 4, 1996; October 5, 1996; October 9, 1996; December 29, 1996; August 2, 1998; October 1998; June 20, 1999; September 15, 1999; October 27, 1999.
Notes, December 1993.
Opera News, February 13, 1993; August 1993; September 1994;December 24, 1994; September 1995; October 1995; August 1996; January 11, 1997; August 1997; January 17, 1998; May 1998; December 1998; August 1999; October 1999; February 2000; August 2000; August 2001.
Wall Street Journal, December 13, 1989; March 13, 1996; October 9, 1996; November 10, 1999.
"Claudio Abbado," The Alden Theatre,http://www.wgms.com/conductor-abbado.shtm (October 22, 2001).
"Claudio Abbado," The Artistic Director,http://berlinphilharmonic.com/engl/2orch/b20201c-.htm (October 22, 2001). □
Abbado, Claudio, eminent Italian conductor, brother of Marcello Abbado and uncle ofRoberto Abbado; b. Milan, June 26, 1933. He began violin lessons at age eight with his father, the violinist, conductor, and pedagogue Michelangelo Abbado. After piano lessons from his mother and brother, he entered the Milan Cons, and studied with Enzo Calace (piano), Bettinelli and Paribeni (composition), and Votto (conducting). In 1955 he attended Gulda’s piano classes at the Salzburg Mozarteum. He pursued training in conducting with C. Zecchi and Galliera at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena (summers, 1956–57), and with Swarowsky at the Vienna Academy of Music (1956–58). In 1958 he made his formal conducting debut in Trieste with The Love for 3 Oranges, and completed his training in conducting at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, where he won the Koussevitzky Prize. In 1963 he was one of the three co-winners in the Mitropoulos Competition in N.Y., which led to his appointment as an asst. conductor of the N.Y. Phil, in 1963–64. In 1965 he made his first appearance at Milan’s La Scala as a sym. conductor, was a conductor with the Vienna Phil., and made his British debut with the Hallé Orch. in Manchester. Abbado became closely associated with the Vienna Phil, in subsequent years, appearing frequently with it in Vienna, on tours, and on recordings from 1972. In 1967 he made his first appearance as an opera conductor at La Scala, and in 1968 he became its principal conductor and music director, later serving as its artistic director from 1976 to 1986. During his tenure, Abbado raised artistic standards to great heights. In 1968 he conducted II Barbiere di Siviglia at the Salzburg Festival, and also made his debut at London’s Covent Garden. On Oct. 7, 1968, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in N.Y. conducting Don Carlos. In 1972 Abbado became principal guest conductor of the London Sym. Orch. In 1979 he assumed the position of its principal conductor, and then was its music director from 1983 to 1988. He founded the European Community Youth Orch. in 1978 and conducted it until organizing the Chamber Orch. of Europe in 1981, which he subsequently served as artistic advisor. In 1982 he founded La Filarmonica della Scala in Milan for the purpose of giving concerts at La Scala. From 1982 to 1986 he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Sym. Orch. In 1984 he conducted Simon Boccanegra at the Vienna State Opera. He was chief conductor of the Vienna State Opera from 1986 to 1991. In 1987 he was honored with the title of Generalmusikdirektor of Vienna. In 1988 he founded and became artistic director of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orch. in Vienna. From 1989 to 2000 Abbado was artistic director of the Berlin Phil, where his tenure was particularly noteworthy for his efforts to broaden its repertoire. He also toured and recorded with it. In 1994 he was artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival.
Abbado has demonstrated a capacity for drawing forth fine performances from his musicians in both the symphonic and operatic repertory. His command of the repertory extends from the Classical masters to the latest representatives of the avant-garde. Among his many honors are the Mozart Medal of the Mozart-Gemeinde of Vienna (1973), the Golden Nicolai Medal of the Vienna Phil. (1980), the Gran Croce of Italy (1984), the Gold Medal of the International Gustav Mahler Soc. of Vienna (1985), the Cross of the Légion d’honneur of France (1986), honorary doctorates from the univs. of Aberdeen (1986), Ferrara (1990), and Cambridge (1994), the Bundesverdienstkreuz of Germany (1992), and the Ring of Honor of the City of Vienna (1994).
H. Grünewald, H.-J. von Jena, and U. Meyer-Schoellkopf, Das Berliner Philharmonische Orchester mit C. A. (Berlin, 1994).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire