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AFP has reported that the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado has died at the age of 80. Attilia Giuliani, head of the Abbadiani Association, confirmed the death earlier today. “I found out half an hour ago from his personal doctor. This is such a painful moment," Giuliani said. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said that the death of Abbado "is a source of strong emotion and pain for me personally, and a profound loss for Italy and for (our) culture".
Abbado, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2000 successfully survived the invasive surgery which necessitated the removal of a portion of his digestive system. He remained in fragile health for the last decade.
Tributes have flooded in with Sir Antonio Pappano tweeting, "Claudio Abbado was a unique spirit and a visionary. He is by any standard a giant". Riccardo Muti said: "I am deeply saddened by the loss of a great musician who, for many decades, has marked the history of conducting and musical interpretation in international institutions. His disappearance will strongly impoverish the world of music and art", while incoming La Scala chief Riccardo Chailly said: "From today, Italy is poorer... (His death) leaves a great void in the history of musical interpretation. For we Italians, Claudio has been a landmark...capable of representing the best of our tradition".
The Berlin Philharmonic posted this warm message from Sir Simon Rattle: "We have lost a great musician and a very generous man. Ten years ago we all wondered whether he would survive the illness which has now claimed him, but instead, he, and we as musicians and public, could enjoy an extraordinary Indian Summer, in which all the facets of his art came together in an unforgettable way.
He said to me a few years ago, 'Simon, my illness was terrible, but the results have not been all bad: I feel that somehow I hear from the inside of my body, as if the loss of my stomach gave me internal ears. I cannot express how wonderful that feels. And I still feel that music saved my life in that time!' Always a great conductor, his performances in these last years were transcendent, and we all feel privileged to have witnessed them. Personally, he was always immensely kind and generous to me, from my earliest days as a conductor, and we kept warm and funny contact together even up to last Friday. He remains deep in my heart and memory.”
Daniel Barenboim too took to the Internet, posting this on his website earlier: "I have known Claudio Abbado since the beginning of the 1950s, at the time he studied the piano with Gulda at the Salzburg Mozarteum. In 1956, we both participated in a conducting course in Siena and since then, we have shared a long musical and human friendship. I treasure many special memories, most recently of course of his return to the Scala in Milan in 2012 when we performed together in concert.
With Claudio Abbado, we lose one of the greatest musicians of the past 50 years and one of the very few musicians who had a very strong connection with the spirit of music across the different genres. His commitment to contemporary music was particularly noteworthy, as he worked closely with composers such as Nono, Ligeti and Kurtag and performed their works during his tenure as Music Director at the Scala in Milan.
Perhaps most significant, however, was his support of young musicians through his founding of many important youth orchestras. In this sense, he was a pioneer who worked with young musicians, challenged and supported them, throughout his entire career. With this, he set an example for the world, maintaining that young and inexperienced musicians can make music at the highest level when they work with the right attitude and commitment. We owe him this, and so much more."
Born in Milan in 1933, Abbado studied piano, composition and conducting at the Milan Conservatory before making his La Scala debut in 1960. He went on to be one of its leading and longest serving Musical Directors from 1968-1986. He became principal conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1971, principal conductor of the London Symphony orchestra from 1979 to 1986 and conductor of the Vienna State Opera from 1986 to 1991. He also served as the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1989 to 2002.
Abbado was deeply committed to the next generation of classical musicians founding a whole series of orchestras like the European Community Youth Orchestra in 1978, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in 1981, and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in 1986 (the latter going on to become the Mahler Chamber Orchestra). In 2004 he became artistic director of the Orchestra Mozart, an organisation where experienced soloists and leaders of major orchestras play alongside younger musicians.
Abbado enjoyed a prolific recording career ranging from the Classical period (particularly his Mozart) through the main Romantic works (Beethoven and Schubert) and on to Bruckner and especially Mahler. His opera work was legendary – he may well have been the leading Verdi conductor of his generation.
Abbado was honoured last year when he was made a life member of the Italian Senate by President Giorgio Napolitano.