The Italian/EU flags have been lowered at Teatro alla Scala's austere facade today in remembrance of Claudio Abbado, the Milanese maestro who passed away in Bologna yesterday morning at 80-years-old. Italy's newspapers have cleared front page property to detail the heartbreaking news, along with multi-page features and editorials bearing witness to Italy's beloved and cherished maestro.
From his four children and a longtime friend-of-the-cloth: "He's departed for the mysterious voyage but he'll remain with us always."
The last couple months, following cancellations, he had been resting at his Bologna home, surrounded by his family and friends. His family decided against a public funeral and his ashes will most likely be scattered in the garden of his adored seaside home in Alghero. In Bologna, until tomorrow at noon, mourners have been gathering at his Bologna church, Basilica di Santo Stefano, including musicians from his Orchestra Mozart.
Milan honors Abbado with a concert of the Funeral March from Beethoven's Eroica with Barenboim and the Filarmonica della Scala on Monday at 6pm. The auditorium will be kept empty with doors open to the streets -- a message that would have been supported by Abbado, who was always on the public's side and carried a deep sense of social responsibility. It's a La Scala tradition as well, reserved for ex-musical directors, as Abbado served from 1968-1996. The last time was in 2005 for the passing of Carlo Maria Giulini.
Through elegance, wisdom and temperance, Abbado impressed emerging generations of talented conductors. Remembrance pours forth from colleagues and friends such as Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly, Antonio Pappano and Riccardo Muti (we'll get to that in a bit).
Some sweet Abbado anecdotes are from Correrie della Sera:
At ten-years-old, while WWII brought on a resurgence of "Viva Verdi" patriotism, Abbado was crazy for Bartok and was caught writing "Viva Bartok" with chalk on his house in Via Fogazzaro, which began an inquest by the Nazis who read the graffiti as a partisan message.
During the war, Abbado's mother adopted the son of Jewish friends who were hiding-out in Switzerland, under the guise of a long-lost 'cousin'. He was eventually caught but saved by an Italian SS who was trained by Claudio's Sicilian grandfather.
Abbado, who held Furtwaengler in the highest esteem, treasured his Berlin years as von Karajan's successor. With the Berliner, he was regarded as a 'father figure'. Because of his taciturn, sage-like calm and his deep spirituality, many colleagues turned to him with personal problems and advice -- 'the psychologist' they called him.
Growing up with impressions of Furtwaenger was a dream. The most moving moment in those years was when Furtwaengler's widow Elisabeth had attended a Lucerne concert, and in anticipation of an upcoming Geneva concert, she wrote Abbado a letter. "As the successor of my husband, I invite you to live in my house." To see himself addressed as "the successor of Furtwaengler" written by Elisabeth was a proud moment.
Young Abbado played with a chamber orchestra founded by his violinist father. His parents went often to Toscanini's house in Milan (on via Durini) because his father's teacher was Enrico Polo, an in-law of Toscanini and the pupil of Brahms' most loyal friend, Joachim. One night, Claudio played at Toscanini's house, conducting from the piano while playing a Bach concerto. Afterwards, Toscanini wrote him a note, "You will be very successful.".
Abbado would go to Scala to catch Toscanini rehearsals: "I remember rehearsals were really tough and he treated the orchestra terribly. 'Dogs' was the reoccurring phrase that he used often. Toscanini had a really strong personality, he knew how to discipline an orchestra. But already I had more appreciation for Furthwaenger, who gave deeper significance to every note, and knew how to elicit a more democratic participation."
In addition to recounting Abbado's greatest anecdotes, no one's forgotten about the circus of Abbado's first bid for a Milano-Scala comeback in 2010 after his last appearance with the Vienna Phil in 1986. In exchange for the two 2010 summer dates, he asked Milan's then-current mayor, Letizia Moratti, for approval to plant 90k trees around the city as a gift of green sustainability backed by the seasoned blueprints of Renzo Piano, a longtime friend. It was totally shot down. The two dates were cancelled but Abbado eventually made his comeback concert in October 2012 with Chopin and Mahler. Grey Milan still has its green pockets but there's no living memorial to Abbado.