Claudio Abbado, a conductor whose refined interpretations of a large symphonic and operatic repertory won him the directorships of several of the world’s most revered musical institutions — including La Scala, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna State Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic — died Monday. He was 80.
The death was confirmed by an employee of the Italian Senate. In a career that began in late 1950s, Abbado was known for the directness and musicality of his performances. He almost always conducted from memory, insisting that using the score meant that he did not know the work adequately.
He was considered a particularly lyrical interpreter of Mahler, whose richly emotional language he had absorbed as a student in Vienna. But he was also regarded as a distinguished conductor of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, and had a flair for Russian symphonic music.
Throughout his career he maintained a fondness for the music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, and he championed new works by Luigi Nono, Goffredo Petrassi, Pierre Boulez and Giacomo Manzoni.
Abbado was born in Milan on June 26, 1933, to a family that traced its roots in the city back to the 13th century. His father, Michelangelo, was a violinist and teacher at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan; his older brother, Marcello Abbado, eventually became director of the school.
Among Abbado’s many honours were the Gran Croce, Italy’s highest civilian honour; the Legion of Honour from France; and the Bundesverdienstkreuz from Germany.