Born and raised in Milan, Abbado studied with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna. He made his La Scala debut in 1960 and was the house’s music director from 1968 to 1986. He headed the Vienna State Opera (1986-91), London Symphony Orchestra (1979-87) and succeeded Karajan at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic (1989-2002). He founded the European Union Youth Orchestra, Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and re-established the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, and is closely associated with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Recently he has started working with the period-instrument Orchestra Mozart of Bologna.
Abbado: a tribute by Douglas Boyd
'I think that what makes Claudio a great artist is his humanity, his extraordinary ability to change the sounds of the orchestra just with a gesture, and an incredible focus on the concert. In other words, the rehearsal is just a process and everything – all the energy – goes into the concert itself.
'At their best, his performances can be life-changing. In addition, he’s always got the big picture in view – the large concept and landscape of a piece – in a way that is quite unique to him. In my youth orchestra days, Mahler symphonies with him were quite extraordinary. But I think that another important aspect about Claudio in terms of repertoire is that he continues to grow and develop, which is the sign of a great artist.
'If you listen, for example, to his Beethoven and Mozart recordings today compared to his Beethoven and Mozart of 30 years ago, there is an unbelievable transformation and a continuing growth, which comes through a mix of his fascination with performance practices that have emerged in the past 30 years and his own fantasy and imagination.'
'Interviewing Abbado' (Gramophone, August 2010) by Geoffrey Norris
10 Great Recordings with 10 different Orchestras by James McCarthy