Remembering Claudio Abbado

20 January 2019

The Mahler Chamber Orchestra remembers Founding Mentor Claudio Abbado on the fifth anniversary of his death. Claudio Abbado is, without a doubt, the central decisive figure in the orchestra’s history: he gave its founding members the impetus, courage and vision to embark on a new journey and create their own identity.

In the 2018/2019 season, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is honoured to pay tribute to Claudio Abbado through two concerts in the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation’s “In Memoriam Claudio Abbado” concert series (he was Principal Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker from 1990 to 2002). These concerts celebrate two important aspects of Claudio Abbado’s lasting legacy at the MCO, which remain alive and strong in the 21 years since the orchestra’s founding: a firm foundation in opera and a perceptive, chamber music style of music-making among its musicians.

In July 1998, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra made its electrifying international breakthrough at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence under the direction of Claudio Abbado. With his support, the MCO would return to Aix-en-Provence every summer for unforgettable opera productions – including Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Britten’s The Turn of the Screw – that became a defining element of the its early years.

Claudio Abbado with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Aix-en-Provence (1998)

November 2018 saw the Mahler Chamber Orchestra performing the semi-staged concert version of George Benjamin’s highly acclaimed opera, Written on Skin, at the Berliner Philharmonie under the baton of the composer himself. The MCO gave the opera’s world premiere in 2012, also at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence; since then, it has taken the piece – in both staged and semi-staged versions – to venues all around the world. The MCO is thrilled to be so closely tied to the history and development of this work, which has been hailed as the defining opera of the 21st century.

The MCO performing Written on Skin under George Benjamin in Berlin's Philharmonie (2018)

Claudio Abbado also instilled a strong sense of active listening in the musicians of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. For him, and for the MCO, the essence of music-making lies in listening intensively to others, as though one were playing chamber music in every moment – regardless of orchestra size, repertoire or constellation – and to forever be acutely aware of one’s musical surroundings. 

Claudio Abbado conducting the MCO (2003)

This chamber music style of music-making has blazed new paths for the MCO: in addition to collaborating with conductors who marvel at the orchestra’s alertness and agility, the MCO has established a reputation for performing challenging orchestral repertoire under the leadership of its concertmaster.
The MCO performing under the leadership of concertmaster Matthew Truscott (2017)

In MOZART MOMENTUM 1785/1786, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s new ground-breaking project with Leif Ove Andsnes in which the pianist directs the orchestra from the piano, this style of “MCO listening” once again takes centre stage. It becomes even more tangible for audiences taking part in UNBOXING MOZART, the project’s integral Education & Outreach component in which participants – with the aid of soundboxes on a live walk – temporarily assume the role of a musician and experience being part of the MCO. This landmark project, spanning four years, will be launched in May 2019 and includes a performance in the Berlin Philharmonie’s Chamber Music Hall.

Leif Ove Andsnes and the MCO during a recording session for UNBOXING MOZART (2018)

Claudio Abbado played an indispensable role in the creation of the MCO, in shaping its musicianship and leading the orchestra to where it is today. Five years after his passing, and many memorable milestones later, it is evident that his spirit still lives on in each MCO musician and in every MCO concert. He is sorely missed.

Claudio Abbado conducting the MCO (2004)

Photos: Marco Caselli Nirmal / Elisabeth Carecchio / Adam Janisch / Vivanne Purdom / Geoffroy Schied / Holger Talinski / A. Aneschi