Claudio Abbado - Parsifal
Edinburgh Festival - Proms
summer has been one of the happiest
of my entire life because I am spending
much of my time at the Proms.
It’s funny how completed addicted
I have become. To see Claudio
Abbado conduct was one of the most
emotional and privileged experiences
I have had throughout this amazing
summer. “The Man in Red” was
there in burgundy. I was sitting
between “Mr. Stone Cold” and a delightful
couple who live at the Barbican.
I mentioned to “Mr. Stone Cold” that
I was intrigued by the way “The Man
in Red” dresses. “Stone Cold”
said, “he doesn’t always wear red,
but all sorts of blue too!”
My Malaysian friend calls him “The
Man of One Colour”. Very often
I sit next to the Barbican couple;
she is a GP (Doctor). Today
she invited me to her house for the
afternoon, which was incredibly nice
and extremely sweet; this is the first
invitation I have received from an
English person since the first time
I came to London in the 60’s.
She invited me because of our connection
through the love of music. The
invitation really touched me, but
I could not go because I was meeting
my cousin Vera for the afternoon in
Claudio Abbado’s concert was mesmerising!
The concert was taken on tour by Abbado
with Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester
that he founded in Vienna in 1986.
All the musicians were in their early
20’s coming from 27 nationalities
across Europe, with guest musicians
from Cuba and Venezuela. The
extraordinary programme included Bella
Bartok’s (1875-1937) Piano Concerto
in G Major (1929-31) with soloist
Martha Argerich on piano. She
played with incredible technical brilliance,
as she always does. Argerich
was loved by most of the people at
Proms, but she did not warm “Mr Stone
Cold”. (I call him Mr Stone
Cold because if you ask him a question
he will always say ‘stone cold’.)
In the programme there was an amazing
photograph of Ravel on his 53rd
birthday playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody
in Blue for its composer.
The programme also included Claude
Debussy’s (1862-1918) La Mer
(three symphonic sketches – 1902-5).
I really love La Mer by Charles
Trenet, who to my despair died last
They played two encores,
one of which was the Good Friday Music
from Wagner’s Parsifal. An
extraordinary concert, perhaps the
most poignant of this year’s Prom’s
Festival. Parsifal, a
sacred music drama in three Acts,
was the last opera composed by Richard
Wagner (born in Leipzig 22.5.1813,
died in Venice 13.2.1883). The
text was also written by Wagner based
on the legends of the Holy Grail.
Parsifal’s first performance
was on 26 July 1882 in Bayreuth.
I read in my opera book:
“Parsifal was a subject
long in Wagner’s mind: it appears
in Lohengrin (who is Parsifal’s son)
and he saw at one time the ‘sin’ of
Tannhauser passing through Tristan
to rest in Amfortas. When he finally
came to write Parsifal, Wagner was
old and exhausted. Despite the
opera’s musical subtleties and the
stamp genius on its best pages, some
saw signs that Wagner was worn out
and defeated. Wagner called
Parsifal a Sacred Festival Play, and
he wanted it played only in Bayreuth;
a wish his widow Cosima obstinately
tried to carry out. But inevitably
the opera went out into the world.
It is perhaps the most controversial
of Wagner’s mature works; there is
a religious atmosphere about which
frequently offends, but for many it
represents Wagner at his most subtle
Abbado received cheers
from the audience and applause for
more than 15 minutes. The trumpet
and gigantic bells and this young
orchestra that Abbado has toured with
since leaving the Berliner Philharmonic
fascinated me. The goodbye from
the Berliner Philharmonic was on 26
April 2002; Abbado was given the highest
award from the Germans, rather like
the Nobel Prize for music. The
Berlin audience gave him a standing
ovation of 20 minutes, stamped their
feet and threw flowers at his feet.
On 1 May the concert was televised
throughout the world. He then
went on tour with the Berliner Philharmonic
in Italy; they played in Palermo,
Napoli, Firenze, Ferrara, Brescia
and Torino. Then the tour moved to
Edinburgh and London; the tour will
end in Bolzano on 29 August.
(Before finishing the tour Abbado
conducted Parsifal in Lucerna).
Abbado said of Parsifal, “Parsifal
is very much for the present time:
it is necessary to overcome to religious
and cultural in the name if universal
Abbado first conducted
Parsifal last year with the
Berliner Philharmonic on 29 November
2001. It was taken to Saltzburg
Easter Festival under the direction
of Peter Stein with the smell of incense
and real bells made of aluminium and
based on the design of those used
in the Tibetan temples, produced by
a foundry in Heilbronn. It was
a concert performance with chorus
of the Rundfunkchor Berlin and Tolzer
Knabenchor. Abbado received
standing ovations in Berlin and Strasbourg.
The Saltzburg Festival, popular with
the jet-setting European super-rich,
was founded by Herbert von Karajan
as an Easter Festival and as a means
of raising money for his Berlin orchestra;
he charged the highest prices for
classical music in Europe.
Two years ago, Abbado
presented Tristan and Isolde for the
cycle Liebe und Tod (Love and Death),
themes also present in Parsifal.
His collaborations with the Berliner
had lasted 12 years until May 2002
ending with the aforementioned tour.
Parsifal was Abbado’s final
performance as the conductor of the
Berliner Philharmonics. Simon
Rattle, who for his first performance
will be conducting Fidelio,
will take his place. (Last year Abbado
conducted Beethoven and toured with
the Berliner Philharmonic. He
conducted all Beethoven symphonies.
Is favourite is the Six Symphony
– The Pastoral. There were
six concerts at the Auditorium of
the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
over eight days – all symphonies and
piano concertos, with soloists Brendel,
Argerich, Kissin, Pollini, and Gianluca
Back to the Proms…..I
simply have to talk about the most
elegant and best-dressed man there.
He had beautiful clothes and, darlings,
the original Panama hat that he folds
and puts in his pocket. And,
of course, he has been to Bayreuth
this year. So, I asked him,
“How was it?” And he said three
times, “Glorious, glorious, glorious.”
Each time that I asked him about Bayreuth
I got the same answer. He told
me what surprised him the most was
how perfect the sound and acoustics
were and that the stage and auditorium
was completely in darkness giving
you a very mystical experience.
I asked him how he got a ticket.
He said, “A friend of a friend.”
I said, “Bayreuth is not an Italian
Theatre, Darling!” Then
I asked, “What did you see there?”
“Die Meistersinger”, he replied.
Darlings, believe it or not I am rubbing
my shoulders with Bayreuth people!!!
I saw a TV program
a few weeks ago with Michael Portillo,
the Conservative MP (who was once
a Minister). The program was
about his passion for opera and a
large part of it was dedicated to
Bayreuth. He asked the PR of
Bayreuth why he was able to get tickets
when he was a Minister but can not
get them anymore. Most unbelievable!
When in Bayreuth Stranvinsky described
the place as, “Art as religion and
the theatre as a temple.” To
my Brazilian friends I can tell them
that D. Pedro went to the opening
of Bayreuth and signed the hotel book
stating his procession as “Emperor”.
Bayreuth was the first
of all European festivals of opera.
The foundation stone was laid in 1872
and Wagner conducted Beethoven’s 9th
on 13 August 1876 at the first festival.
The first Ring Cycle was launched
in the admirable wood and brick theatre,
with it’s superb acoustics and covered
orchestra pit. Among the audience
were kings and great composers.
Cosima Wagner ran the festival from
1883 to 1908, keeping more rigidly
to the master’s blueprint than Wagner
himself. I like the story of
Cosima, daughter of Liszt and wife
of the pianist and composer Hans von
Bulow. Wagner formed a triangle
in Cosima’s marriage and finally after
she had Wagner’s 1st daughter
in 1870 she obtained a divorce from
Hans von Bulow and married Wagner.
It was thanks to King
Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-56) that
Wagner got his theatre. King
Ludwig had his bedroom and walls of
his castle decorated with images of
Wagner’s opera. The King devoted
his life and the State’s coffers to
Wagner. I should have asked
the best-dressed man at the Proms
is he visited the garden of the villa
Wahnfried in Bayreuth where Wagner
Claudio Abbado is one
of the “top tier” of today’s conductors.
He is comfortable with opera as well
as the concert podium, with contemporary
music that goes from classical to
Romantic periods. He was born
in Milan on 26 June 1933. I
remember I was in Italy during the
“Abbado era” at La Scala 1968 to 1986
when he was Music Director and Manager.
He was often in despair trying to
find money to upkeep the opera house
and stage the operatic productions.
During this time he founded the Orchestra
della Scala, which was purely for
concerts. They started playing
only Italian music then diversified
into other music. (Abbado conducted
in June 2002 Simon Boccanera,
a production from La Scala of 1971
that he did with Giorgio Strehler
and the Maggio Fiorentino in Florence.
Abbado has chosen for this year’s
theme to be connected with destiny,
death and a sense of frustration –
it was all a triumph for him this
He was also at the
Vienna State Opera from 1986-1991.
In 1987 he was named General Music
Director of the City of Vienna.
He established the Wien Modern Music
Festival in 1988. He also founded
the Berliner Begegnungen (Berlin Encounters)
with Natalia Gutman in 1992.
He founded the European Community
Youth Orchestra in 1978 and in 1986
the GMJO and is an Artistic Advisor
to the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
But the highlight of his career was
the first time he conducted the Berlin
Philharmonic in 1966 and became their
Principal Conductor and their fifth
Artistic Advisor in 1986. Abbado
graduated from the Vienna Music Academy
in 1958. Zubin Mehta was at
the same Academy during that time
and their careers and friendship have
been very close. They were considered
outstanding in Viennese music circles.
Abbado preferred to remain in Europe
despite an invitation from an American
orchestra. He has learned a
great number of scores by heart and
can conduct virtually everything in
his vast repertoire from memory.
He has a prodigious memory.
Abbado said, “I’m sure that there
is music going on in my mind all the
time. Even music I haven’t conducted
for years must be playing somewhere
in the back of my head. Take
Wozzeck for example.
When I first studied it in 1971, I
took months and months learning it,
and it was really difficult to memorise.
I conducted it gain in 1977,
and in May-June 1979, when I though
‘Oh, God, this is terrible, I can’t
remember a single note!’ But
after two or three days it came back
to me and this is something mysterious,
something I don’t understand.
I have no photographic memory, I don’t
know how everything comes back.
Dimitri Mitropoulos, whose ‘live’
recording of Wozzeck is fantastic,
by the way, could glance at a score
and memorise it almost on sight.
I can’t. And I don’t really
know how it happens.”
Abbado has suffered
3 ulcers in the past and 18 months
ago underwent an operation for stomach
cancer. Riccardo Muti has written
in the Corriere della Sera an open
letter inviting Abbado to return to
conduct at La Scala whenever he felt
that he was well enough to.
I must say that I was
completely surprised to see Abbado
conducting at the Edinburgh Festival.
I could see his backbone through his
suite; he looked so fragile.
His face was gaunt and I found it
sad to see such obvious pain in and
throughout his frail body. But
I noticed he still has the same passion
for music and he entered with a huge
smile on his face. Being back
at the orchestra is probably a tonic
itself. At the end of this tour
he will be taking a year of to tend
to his health and spend more time
with his children and grandchildren.
When he’s back in a year’s time he
will return with a new orchestra –
the Orchestra of the Festival of Lucerna,
that he has created from the best
soloists of the Berliner. (In
German law, musician cannot be in
an orchestra and also teach, but in
Lucerna they can.) The Orchestra
will also comprise musicians from
the Mahler Chamber and Sabine Mayer
and her ensemble and the Quaretto.
Every year Abbado will dedicate part
of the Festival Programme to Wagner
because it was at the Villa Triebschen
on the lake Lucerna, Wagner used to
spend much of his time.
The Orchestra of Lucerna
was originally created before the
war for Toscanini. The
Maestro Claudio Abbado, a legend in
conducting, I can only say, “Grazie,
Maestro Abbado for all the9 pleasures
I have got from your beautiful music!”
Michael David said of Abbado, “…(Abbado)
is outside the music, as if he is
standing back and listening.
But his concerts are a different story
altogether. He generates tremendous
intensity, electricity and emotion,
and you can see that he feels the
music very, very, deeply, that he
is giving it absolutely everything
he’s got, and that he is inside it,
a hundred percent involved.”
I have made Michael David’s words
my own to describe to you the pleasure
I experienced during Abbado’s concerts
this summer in the U.K.
I will leave you with
the words of Abbado; “I can never
put into words what music is to me.
But everything I do, everything I
say, is about it.”
Ciao Maestro Abbado!