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Claudio ABBADO – A Portrait
The Silence that follows the Music

A Film by Paul Smaczny
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado
Directed by Paul Smaczny.
recorded in February 1995 at Gran Teatro Fenice April 1995 (Chamber Orchestra of Europe) at the Festspielhaus, Salzburg, Easter Festival April 1995 (Berlin Philharmonic), and the Cité de la Musique, Paris in August 1995 (Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra) (DVD).
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 048 [60 mins]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS


This documentary film of the conductor Claudio Abbado is a fascinating document of a well travelled famous conductor at work and play. It was filmed before his well documented serious illness and is an illuminating study into what makes him tick.

The film features three notable European ensembles, the Berlin Philharmonic of which at the time he was principal conductor, and with two other ensembles that he founded some years ago and with which he still has very close links the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra.

The film is a mixture of music excerpts and interviews with the conductor himself, and colleagues in each of the ensembles and with friends in the music industry, principally Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta and Maximillian Schell.

The Berlin Philharmonic is shown rehearsing sections of Elektra (with Deborah Polaski, Karita Mattila, Marjana Lipovsek and Ferrucio Furlanto) and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. One is able to see how he works with artists rather than in a dictatorial manner to achieve the results he is seeking. Given an ensemble which is renowned for its musical abilities and standards, the results of a period of rehearsal are remarkable. There have been some well publicised conflicts between Abbado and the orchestra, some of which he refers to in the documentary, but these seem to be well behind them now. I firmly believe that the orchestra, and the music-loving public will miss him immensely when he moves on to other things.

The Chamber Orchestra of Europe is shown rehearsing and performing excerpts from Il Barbiere di Siviglia Overture, Schubert’s Symphony No. 2 and Arnold Schoenberg’s Kammersinfonie No. 1. Throughout these performances, one can sense the close rapport between the conductor and ensemble and the respect the players have for him in their work together. Particularly with the Schubert, which Abbado has recorded very successfully with this ensemble. the corporate ‘togetherness’ is outstanding and to see the end of the work in finished performance is heart-warming. In the documentary part of this programme, Abbado is asked "how do you achieve the results you require?" The answer is unequivocal – "I work with the orchestra and accept gladly any suggestions they may have to make the performance better, since their interpretative ideas are just as good as mine, why shouldn’t I take notice?" This attitude seems to work wonders with his orchestras, and it becomes clear that the Berlin Philharmonic found this both refreshing and extremely frustrating after many years under Herbert von Karajan, who, as we know, had very clear ideas exactly how a piece should go and go it would.

Even so, when he believes he is right, he can be firm to the point of obsession. The excerpts with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra also show this feature very clearly in the rehearsal with Maria João Pires. A passage in the Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto is under rehearsal where pianist wants one thing, and conductor the other. Discussions, try-outs and finally Pires has to agree that Abbado’s way is better – a fascinating study of man management. The last excerpt is of Bruckner’s 9th Symphony and the Gustav Mahler Orchestra give of their all for their Music Director.

A wonderful DVD and well worth watching – highly recommended.

John Phillips


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