Opinion

Editorial, February: The loss of Claudio Abbado

- 1 February 2014

Towards the end of last year I attended the British Composer Awards, where Basca chairman Sarah Rodgers opened proceedings by reflecting on the deaths in 2013 of Jonathan Harvey, Richard Rodney Bennett and John Tavener. Any loss, she said, can feel like ‘a shift in the cosmos, a rent, small or large, in the fabric of the universe we inhabit, which for a while puts things out of kilter’.

I suspect many people in the classical music world will have felt something along those lines at the news of Claudio Abbado’s death on 20 January ‒ it is difficult to think of anyone who is genuinely his peer in commanding universal respect as a musician but also as a much loved mentor and educator. He leaves a precious legacy, both tangible ‒ stacks of recordings from across his long career ‒ and intangible, in the people he taught, inspired and influenced, all the way from Sir Simon Rattle to the thousands like me who were brought closer to a piece of music through his interpretation.

The Southbank Centre, as predicted, has tried to capitalise on the success of The Rest Is Noise by touting its 21st-century credentials in its 2014/15 season announcement. While admiring the spirit,

I wonder whether the touting has been slightly overdone. The headline ‘20 new works’ sounds ok but once it’s spread across an entire year featuring a percussion festival (necessarily new music heavy), four resident orchestras and two visiting ones, and includes London and UK premieres as well as world ones, well: would it be churlish to suggest that it begins to look like more of a nod to the contemporary than a warm embrace? I appreciate that these things are planned well in advance and that the true legacy of TRIN was unlikely to manifest itself immediately. In fact, it looks like a splendid season in all sorts of ways – but a ‘focus’ on 21st-century music? Hardly.

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