Claudio Abbado has been admitted to a clinic in Berlin for treatment that is likely to last several weeks, according to his doctor’s statement. The conductor, 76, had a large part of his stomach removed a decade ago in the course of cancer treatment, shortly after stepping down as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.
His musical recovery has been miraculous and his Mahler performances with his own hand-picked orchestra at the Lucerne summer festival have been a cultural highlight of the European calendar.
The undisclosed illness has obliged Abbado to cancel a sentimental return next month to La Scala, where he was music director from 1968 to 1986, and there is no suggestion at this point that he may also pull out of Lucerne. Three years ago, he cancelled all engagements ‘in the near future’, but bounced back within two months. Everyone who cares about music will be praying that his present recovery is just as swift and complete.
But who fills in while Abbado is out? There is an opportunity here for a 30-something to step up. In the absence of Mariss Jansons, who is undergoing cardiac care, his fellow-Latvian and only pupil Andris Nelsons has leaped in at the Vienna Opera and various German venues. Being a good pupil and a decent man, Nelsons insists that he is only keeping the seat warm for Mariss’s return, but the appearances have greatly boosted his continental career, beyond the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where he is music director.
Abbado, however, has no obvious substitute. If the music business runs to form, it will plunk in some Zubin Mehta or Lorin Maazel to please the front-row fat-cat donors. But if the future of music matters to summer festival organisers, they should be rummaging among a talented crop of up-and-comings, all in their 20s and 30s, certainly the most gifted pack since Abbado, Muti, Levine and Barenboim were strutting their youthful stuff.
I could name names, but I’ll save them for another post.