Claudio Abbado Obituary







by Michael Haefliger


Lucerne, 20 January 2014. Claudio Abbado was born in Milan on 26 June 1933; this morning, to our great sorrow, he left this world. For LUCERNE FESTIVAL this means the sad end to a long-lasting and incredibly inspired partnership that resulted in the most remarkable artistic successes. It all began in the summer of 1966, when Claudio Abbado made his debut with the Swiss Festival Orchestra, and culminated in the re-establishment of the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA in the summer of 2003: a turning point that was crucial in leading LUCERNE FESTIVAL to a level of artistic achievement that very few other festivals have been able to experience. This “orchestra of friends,” as he himself called it, within a very short time developed into one of the great beacons of hope amid the varied cultural landscape of symphony orchestras. It was the unadulterated embodiment of Claudio Abbado’s attitude toward art and of his unique aesthetic of interpretation. At a far remove from any orchestral bureaucracy, from the very start the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA represented an ideal symbiosis of artistic devotion and interpretive excellence: a symbiosis such that each performance became a unique, indeed almost existential experience that transcended temporal norms, in which the musical moment was transformed into a kind of unbounded eternity. And all this in the context of a profound and natural friendship between conductor and orchestra.

With this venture, Claudio Abbado’s distinctive understanding of the chamber music-like aspect of music making, his love for the ensemble, came unmistakably into the foreground. Instead of a huge single entity or even a musical mass, an orchestra was and is a collective comprising smaller and larger ensembles which join together, all the while preserving their high degree of differentiation, under the guidance of the principle primus inter pares – first among equals – and which pursue a shared musical path. Claudio Abbado believed in this ideal more than anyone: indeed, he began his own musical career in the realm of chamber music.

And if Claudio Abbado’s musical credo arose from chamber music, which is to say from a sense of musical intimacy, this very credo was deeply anchored in his own “school of listening.” He wasn’t a man of big words, nor was he a fan of long rehearsal discussions; instead, the artistic process that took shape when he conducted consisted of a kind of silent close listening – to and with one another – all based on the confidence that it was only during the live performance of the concert itself that the ultimate pinnacle of interpretation was to be found. This includes those unforgettable moments of profound musical silence that we experienced during his brilliant performances of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner in Lucerne.

It was with a sublime, deeply moving moment of unending musical silence that Abbado concluded his artistic work on 26 August 2013 in Lucerne, with a performance of the Ninth Symphony of Anton Bruckner, a musical fragment. There was a sense in the hall on that evening that it might possibly be his final concert, so far removed and deeply transfigured did Claudio Abbado seem to all of us on this unforgettable evening, in this moment of unfathomable silence. Today, to our deep and overwhelming sorrow, this inkling became a reality.

“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. 

And now this path of one of the greatest artists of our time has reached its end on earth. LUCERNE FESTIVAL is profoundly grateful to Claudio Abbado for all the magnificent, unforgettable, and indescribable experiences that he gave us in the past 47 years. We hope to remain faithful to his artistic path and credo in the future and thus to create an everlasting remembrance of him and his great art.


Michael Haefliger, Executive and Artistic Director LUCERNE FESTIVAL





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