A historic concert this week (again) – this time it’s the legendary Claudio Abbado guest conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony Number 6 – broadcast on November 6, 1972.
Claudio Abbado was one of the most celebrated and respected conductors of the 20th century, particularly in the music of Gustav Mahler, he served as music director of the La Scala opera house in Milan, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Vienna State Opera, founder and director of Lucerne Festival Orchestra, music director of European Union Youth Orchestra and principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra.
Abbado studied piano, composition, and conducting at the Milan Conservatory, and graduated with a degree in piano in 1955. The following year, he studied conducting with Hans Swarowsky at the Vienna Academy of Music, on the recommendation of Zubin Mehta. Abbado and Mehta both joined the Academy chorus to be able to watch such conductors as Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan in rehearsal. He also spent time at the Chigiana Academy in Siena.
In 1958, Abbado made his conducting debut in Trieste. That summer, he won the international Serge Koussevitzky Competition for conductors at the Tanglewood Music Festival, which resulted in a number of operatic conducting engagements in Italy. In 1959, he conducted his first opera, The Love for Three Oranges, in Trieste. He made his La Scala conducting debut in 1960. In 1963, he won the Dimitri Mitropoulos Prize for conductors, which allowed him to work for five months with the New York Philharmonic as an assistant conductor to Bernstein. Abbado made his New York Philharmonic professional conducting debut on 7 April 1963. A 1965 appearance at the RIAS Festival in Berlin led to an invitation from Herbert von Karajan to the Salzburg Festival the following year to work with the Vienna Philharmonic. In 1965, Abbado made his British debut with the Hallé Orchestra, followed in 1966 by his London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) debut.[
Abbado taught chamber music for 3 years during the early 1960s in Parma. His early advocacy of contemporary music included conducting the world premiere of Giacomo Manzoni’s Atomtod, on 25 March 1965, in Milan.
In 1969, Abbado became principal conductor at La Scala. Subsequently, he became the company’s music director in 1972. He took the title of joint artistic director, along with Giorgio Strehler and Carlo Maria Badini, in 1976. During his tenure, he extended the opera season to four months, and focused on giving inexpensive performances for the working class and students. In addition to the standard opera repertoire, he presented contemporary operas, including works of Luigi Dallapiccola and of Luigi Nono, in particular the world premiere of Nono’s Al gran sole carico d’amore. In 1976, he brought the La Scala company to the USA for its American debut in Washington D.C. for the American Bicentennial. In 1982, he founded the Filarmonica della Scala for the performance of orchestral repertoire by the house orchestra in concert. Abbado remained affiliated with La Scala until 1986.
On 7 October 1968, Abbado made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera with Don Carlo. He began to work more extensively with the Vienna Philharmonic (VPO) after 1971, which included two engagements as conductor of the orchestra’s New Year’s Day concert, in 1988 and 1991. He was a recipient of both the Philharmonic Ring and the Golden Nicolai Medal from the Vienna Philharmonic.
He served as Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) from 1975 to 1979 and became its Principal Conductor in 1979, a post he held until 1987 (he was also the LSO’s Music Director from 1984 until the end of his principal conductor tenure). From 1982 to 1985, he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). In 1986, Abbado became the Generalmusikdirector (GMD) of the city of Vienna, and in parallel, was music director of the Vienna State Opera from 1986 to 1991. During his tenure as GMD in Vienna, in 1988, he founded the music festival Wien Modern.
So sit back and enjoy the concert – Claudio Abbado conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in Mahler’s 6th.