The COE and Claudio Abbado

 

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From the very moment James Judd passed the baton to Claudio Abbado at our inaugural concert in May 1981, we embarked on the most exciting of musical journeys which spanned twenty one years. Whether on or off the stage, it has been our great good fortune to share with Claudio in the creation and the development of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Over those years from 1981 to 2002, we gave a considerable number of great concerts with Claudio throughout the world. Our legacy is now the astonishing list of award-winning recordings. For those of us who came to know Claudio well, there was something remarkable about a man of so few words who nevertheless had such a truly profound impact on the musical lives of so many.

Moments of pure magic...

Many members of the COE expressed their sadness at the news of Claudio’s death, and offered many personal tributes reflecting a deep warmth of feeling for this extraordinary man. Claudio’s spirit will continue to live on through his exceptional music making which has touched all our hearts.

It feels like one of the most important chapters of my musical life suddenly ended that Monday morning. It took me a while to realise. Losing a dreamer like him means having one less fundamental inspirational figure… It is a big responsibility to keep this spirit alive. I feel very privileged and thankful I could be part of his world. If I was speaking in Italian just now he would be making fun of my Tuscan accent. Then he would lift his left arm and “dolce” would be the sound coming from his gesture.

Lorenza Borrani, Leader

Life-changing is the expression which comes to mind. As a fairly ignorant 19 year old I will never forget the first rehearsal of Bruckner 7 with the European Community Youth Orchestra and the realisation that he was changing the entire sound of the orchestra with a gesture. His idealism and love for the music were the inspiration for a group of us to decide that this is what music making should be about for the rest of our lives. It is the reason that the Chamber Orchestra of Europe came into being.

Concerts were always an event, characterised not only by his dynamism and energy but by the beauty of his conducting and his special gift of pacing, his sense of the epic journey of a large symphony.  Lots of memories too off the platform, of late night parties all over the world and especially wild ones in Ferrara, often paid for by Claudio – which might include a bottle of treasured Sassicaia. But it is the concerts that I will most remember – our first European tour which established the quality and reputation of the COE, many concerts which left both musicians and audience moved to tears; the joy of Viaggio a Rheims in Pesaro with a world-class cast that Claudio had assembled; triumphant tours of the US and Japan, including one tour that literally circumnavigated the world.

My last concert as an oboist was at the Cité de la Musique in Paris with Claudio Abbado in 2002 – Anne Sofie von Otter and Thomas Quasthoff performing transcriptions of Schubert songs and the last two symphonies by Schubert, a composer with whom Claudio was completely at ease. He was just recovering from his first illness and was so gaunt and skeletal. To share a platform with Claudio and Thomas, both of whom had suffered such debilitating conditions and see them make wonderful music together is a memory I shall always treasure.

Douglas Boyd, Former Principal Oboe

Fiona Brett, Violin
Will Conway, Principal Cello
Charlotte Geselbracht Walterspiel, Former COE Violist
Iris Juda, Violin
Joe Rappaport, Violin
Peter Richards, Horn
Lutz Schumacher †, Double Bass
Enno Senft, Principal Double Bass
Dorle Sommer, Viola
Nick Thompson, Principal Trumpet
 

In 1988 Claudio had the idea of inviting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe to become resident at the newly renovated Teatro Communale in Ferrara. He had worked closely with the Mayor of Ferrara and many others to create Ferrara Musica, and indeed he conducted the first concerts of Ferrara Musica in April 1989 with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Maria-Joao Pires as soloist in Schumann’s piano concerto.

He then returned every year until 1998 to join the COE in Ferrara with a great range of projects including four opera productions – of Rossini’s Viaggio a Reims and Barber of Seville, and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.   He also conducted numerous concerts with soloists including his friends Evgeny Kissin, Radu Lupu and Maurizio Pollini, as well as a host of celebrated singers including Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.

His last appearances at Ferrara Musica with the Orchestra were for performances of Don Giovanni, recorded by Deutsche Grammophon, and including as soloists both Simon Keenlyside and Bryn Terfel, a recording which won great critical acclaim and which brought to a close the COE’s residency in Ferrara.

Ferrara Musica provided a platform for the COE to work regularly with Claudio, and indeed Ferrara soon became a second home for many members of the Orchestra, who will never forget their wonderful years of making music together in such a beautiful city.

Peter Readman
Co-Founder and Chairman of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
March 2014

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