Chief conductor 1990–2002
When Claudio Abbado talked about music, the words “ascoltare” and “insieme” were often used. In fact, mutual “listening” and working “together” on a piece was fundamental to his approach to music. The Berliner Philharmoniker discovered this when Abbado became their chief conductor in 1989. Compared to his rather distant predecessor, Herbert von Karajan, Abbado placed more emphasis on interpretations developed from an exchange between colleagues. The result was often a chamber music-like transparency that enhances the style of the Berliner Philharmoniker to this day.
There were also important programmatic choices. Under Claudio Abbado, Gustav Mahler became a focus of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s repertoire, he invited new guest conductors such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt and established the series of European Concerts with which the orchestra annually celebrates its founding – on 1 May 1882 – in a different cultural centre each time. The Abbado era was also marked by cycles of concerts based around a literary theme, such as Prometheus and Faust.
In 2002, Claudio Abbado left the Berliner Philharmoniker, the orchestra he first conducted in 1966. Fortunately for all concerned, the connection remained fruitful and cordial until Abbado’s death in January 2014. Every year he returned to the Philharmonie, and was celebrated by both orchestra and audiences alike. However, reliving earlier successes was not enough for the maestro: Full of the joy of discovery, Abbado continued in exciting repertoire couplings and tried out new works, thus ensuring that the partnership between the Berliner Philharmoniker and their former director kept its dynamic freshness.
A film by Paul Smaczny
Claudio Abbado: The silence that follows the music
Interview with Claudio Abbado, Maurizio Pollini and Anna Prohaska