How often do you see the members of an orchestra weep openly? The Lucerne Festival Orchestra's memorial for Claudio Abbado on 7th April is now available complete and free on arte.tv. This is infinitely more than an ordinary concert. What makes it unique - and compelling - isn't "just" the music. Every player here knew Claudio Abbado personally and worked with him. Everyone in the audience had memories, too. There are people who think music should be judged purely in musical terms. This concert proves that without the human spirit, notes alone are meaningless. Without vision, without endeavour, without feeling, we are nothing. Claudio Abbado taught us a lot technically about the music he conducted, but even more so, I think, about being human.
The programme: Franz Schubert (1797-1828) «Allegro moderato» de la Symphonie n° 7 en si mineur D 759 Inachevée, Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) Elegie Brot und Wein (Pain et Vin), Alban Berg (1885-1935), Concerto pour violon et orchestre A la mémoire d’un ange, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Finale de la Symphonie n° 3 en ré mineur. Each piece chosen because they were closely associated with the conductor, but also because each touches upon some aspect of the human condition. They also reference the idea of artists being taken before their time. Not death so much as the loss of what might have been. Thank whatever power gave us Abbado's finest years, after his near fatal cancer. "Half the stomach, twice the soul" someone once quipped
Significantly, the concert formally ends with the Finale of Mahler's Symphony no 3, soaring ever upwards, higher and higher until the very sounds dissolve into infinity. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra might have picked the Finale of Mahler 6th or Mahler 9th but the Finale of Mahler's 3rd is perhaps right in context: the Alps around Lucerne, but even more what mountains symbolize. Mountains endure, when mortals pass on. Most of us never reach the pinnacle, but we're lost if we don't dream.
Here is the text of the Hölderlin Elegy. Again a brilliant choice. The poet famously lived in a tower, contemplating the moon. His work became hugely influential on 20th century composers, long after his death. Why poems in a concert, and horror of horrors not in English, as some would say. To paraphrase Mahler, speaking of the young know-it-alls of his time, "Have they read Dostoevsky"
Listen to the concert - not just to the sounds the orchestra is playing, but also to what might be happening in your heart. That, I think, is the real gift of musicianship, and Claudio Abbado's enduring legacy. There are many different ways to show emotion. The members of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra are not afraid to hide their feelings. Even the concert master gives in to his. I've watched this several times over, thoroughly gutted.