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Abbado

Claudio Abbado first conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in January 1971, leading three weeks of subscription concerts. For the next twenty years, he was a frequent visitor—both before and after his tenure as second principal guest conductor from 1982 until 1985—also leading the Orchestra in concerts at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Abbado’s numerous residencies included collaborations with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, recording sessions, and performances with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

On May 24, 25, and 27, 1984, Abbado led the Orchestra’s first performances of Berg’s landmark opera, Wozzeck. The principal cast included Benjamin Luxon in the title role, Hildegard Behrens as Marie, Alexander Malta as the Doctor, Jacque Trussel as the Drum Major, and Gerhard Unger as the Captain. Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by associate director James Winfield, members of the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus were prepared by Doreen Rao, and the concert staging was directed by Robert Goldschlager.

Abbado with the Orchestra onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

Abbado with the Orchestra onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

“Sung by an extraordinary cast and played with surpassing beauty and intensity by the Orchestra, this first CSO performance of the Berg masterpiece served as a resoundingly successful climax to the season,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “In a wondrous score that shifts between Straussian contrapuntal complexity and a translucence of texture worthy of Debussy, Abbado was masterful. His limning of detail was extraordinary, and he never stressed the agonized lyricism at the expense of passion or intensity. Given orchestral playing of power, shimmer, and clarity, Berg’s tight formal structures supported a vocal performance of shattering dramatic impact.”

Abbado and the cast onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

Abbado and the cast onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

“Claudio Abbado, who conducted without a score (an achievement appreciated by all who have studied this music) took advantage of the simple setting to permit the work to develop with symphonic continuity, one scene flowing directly into another, and the cumulative effect was tremendous,” raved Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. “There are occasions when despite our rich diet of superlative music, you say to yourself, ‘This is a historic moment. People will be talking about this for years to come.’ And they will. Abbado and the CSO, in all their years of association, have never done anything finer or more important.”

This article also appears here.

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Claudio Abbado

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of Claudio Abbado, who served as our principal guest conductor from 1982 until 1985. Abbado died peacefully on Monday, January 20 in Bologna, Italy, following a long illness. He was 80.

A frequent and beloved guest conductor, Abbado made his debut with the Orchestra in January 1971, leading three weeks of subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall as well as a run-out concert to Milwaukee:

January 7, 8 & 9, 1971
January 11, 1971 (Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
BERG Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216
Josef Suk, violin
BRAHMS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

debut program

. . . and Abbado’s program book biography

debut program page

January 7, 8 & 9, 1971, program page . . .

January 14 & 15, 1971
MAHLER Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Helen Watts, contralto
Women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Barbara Born, director

January 21, 22 & 23, 1971
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No. 2
Maurizio Pollini, piano
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 1 in C Minor

He returned to Chicago frequently, both before and after his tenure as principal guest conductor—also leading domestic tour concerts including stops at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and New York’s Carnegie Hall—and his final appearances with the Orchestra were in March 1991. Abbado’s residencies included numerous collaborations with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and he also led the Civic Orchestra of Chicago on multiple occasions.

His repertoire with the Orchestra covered a broad spectrum including symphonies by Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky; concertos by Bach, Bartók, Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Bruch, Chopin, Hindemith, Mozart, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Schoenberg, Schumann, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky; as well as twentieth-century works by Boulez, Ligeti, Rihm, and Webern. Some of Abbado’s most memorable concerts included complete performances of Berg’s Wozzeck, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, Schoenberg’s Ewartung, Stockhausen’s Gruppen for Three Orchestras, Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and Pulcinella, and Verdi’s Requiem.

Abbado acknowledges applause following a performance of Berg's Wozzeck on May 24, 1984 (J. Wassman photo)

Abbado acknowledges applause following a performance of Berg’s Wozzeck on May 24, 1984 (J. Wassman photo)

Abbado collaborated with a vast array of soloists including instrumentalists Salvatore Accardo, Carter Brey, Natalia Gutman, Yuzuko Horigome, Zoltán Kocsis, Cecile Licad, Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, Shlomo Mintz, Viktoria Mullova, Ken Noda, Ivo Pogorelich, Maurizio Pollini, David Schrader, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Josef Suk, and Pinchas Zukerman; vocalists Francisco Araiza, Hildegard Behrens, Gabriela Beňačková, Rockwell Blake, Claudio Desderi, Maria Ewing, Donald Gramm, Aage Haugland, Marilyn Horne, Gwynne Howell, Philip Langridge, Benjamin Luxon, Carol Neblett, Margaret Price, Ruggero Raimondi, Samuel Ramey, Hanna Schwarz, Ellen Shade, John Shirley-Quirk, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, and Helen Watts; narrator Maximilian Schell; and CSO members Victor Aitay, Dale Clevenger, Willard Elliot, Adolph Herseth, Samuel Magad, Frank Miller, Mary Sauer, and Ray Still.

Following his last CSO guest conducting engagement in 1991, Abbado returned to Chicago on three occasions with the Berlin Philharmonic:

Berlin program

Abbado’s final appearance in Chicago, with the Berlin Philharmonic on October 10, 2001

October 22, 1993
MAHLER Symphony No. 9 in D Major

October 18, 1999
MAHLER Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Anna Larsson, contralto
Women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Emily Ellsworth, director

October 10, 2001
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

Statements on Claudio Abbado’s passing from Maestro Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found on CSO Sounds and Stories.

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With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Georg Solti conducted Beethoven’s Missa solemnis on three sets of concerts:

November 1, 2, and 3, 1973, at Orchestra Hall
Victor Aitay, violin
Wendy Fine, soprano (November 1)
Sarah Beatty, soprano (November 2 and 3)
Julia Hamari, mezzo-soprano
George Shirley, tenor
Theo Adam, bass (November 1 and 2)
Thomas Paul, bass (November 3)
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director

There were multiple cast changes due to illnesses, both before and after the programs were printed. About a week before the performances, George Shirley replaced Peter Schreier. Karl Ridderbusch was replaced the day before the first performance by Theo Adam, who was in town for Wagner’s Siegfried at Lyric Opera; he sang the first two performances and Thomas Paul sang the third. Following the first performance, Wendy Fine was replaced by Sarah Beatty.

May 5, 6, and 7, 1977, at Orchestra Hall
May 13, 1977, at Carnegie Hall
Victor Aitay, violin
Lucia Popp, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director

Following the Carnegie Hall performance, the work was recorded for London Records with multiple sessions in Chicago’s Medinah Temple. Ray Minshull was the producer and Kenneth Wilkinson, John Dunkerley, and Michael Mailes were the engineers.

The recording won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

January 12, 13, and 14, 1984, at Orchestra Hall
January 16, 1984, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Samuel Magad, violin
Felicity Lott, soprano
Diana Montague, mezzo-soprano
Siegfried Jerusalem, tenor
Simon Estes, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director

Available reviews are here (1973), here (1977), and here (1984).

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